Community Futures Huron marks 25th anniversary - May 3, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
Community Futures Huron, formerly the Huron Business Development Corporation, has undergone a few changes recently, including its name and location, but it continues to serve Huron County business ventures in the same way it has for 25 years.
The group recently marked its silver jubilee at its annual general meeting, held at NJS Design Event and Party Rentals in Clinton as part of its annual open house week. Shortly after, General Manager Paul Nichol explained to The Citizen how the organization has changed over the last quarter century.
“We moved to Brussels on Jan. 1 and the name change happened at a similar time,” he said.
Nichol explained that Community Futures is actually the blanket term for the organizations, as it receives its funding from the federal government under that program. He said there are 268 Community Futures organization across the country, and, while they may not all use the same language, aligning with the Community Futures brands has some benefits.
While Community Futures Huron marked its 25th anniversary last week, Community Futures is five years older, and Nichol said that, with a 30-year-old brand, it just made sense to use it.
As for what the organization does, Nichol said that offering lending options for businesses is just a means to an end and its real goal is to create economic growth and jobs in Huron County.
He said that, while he could point at the approximately 2,000 business partnerships that have been formed in 25 years of business, it would be better to look at the fact that there are currently 7,500 jobs in Huron County as a direct result of Community Futures Huron.
“One-third of the jobs in Huron County have been created or helped along by loans,” he said. “That’s net, we keep track of the jobs and, if someone closes up shop, we subtract them.”
Those 2,000 partnerships have represented more than $32 million being invested in Huron County over the years.
Using those numbers, Nichol said it costs $3,275 to create each of those 7,500 jobs, a good investment for the federal government.
“That money is earned back by the federal government in six and a half months between the business and income taxes,” Nichol said.
Not all the loans are for big businesses, either, Nichol said.
“Actually, they are all for small- and medium-sized enterprises, but some of the loans are as little as $5,000 to $10,000,” he said. “We’re here to help companies and entrepreneurs find financing when they might not be able to get it elsewhere, whether it’s a large loan or a smaller one.”
He explained that knowing those numbers is essential to the organization, as, being a federally-funded organization, transparency and results are a priority.
“We also like to look at the fact that our success rate is fairly impressive,” Nichol said. “Eighty per cent of the business ventures we support last three years, while 60 per last 10 years. Those are significant statistics.”
Nichol said further evidence of that is the fact that past business and individual partners are seeking loans from Community Futures Huron to help with succession planning with businesses being passed from parents to children.
“We’re helping to grow Huron County, one mom and pop business at a time,” he said. “It’s important to remember that, behind every one of those partnerships there is a family, a workplace and an entrepreneur finding success they might not have on their own.”
Some of the biggest success stories, Nichol said, are pretty local to The Citizen: Vital Imagery and the Blyth Festival.
Nichol said Vital Imagery, run by Charlie Hoy in Brussels, was supported by Community Futures Huron and is now the second largest supplier of digital images in the world.
“That’s a real feather in this organization’s cap and the county’s cap,” he said. “Vital Imagery would probably be the first to say they couldn’t have done it without us.”
The Blyth Festival also benefitted from a partnership with the organization, having to find funding in 1995.
“We came to the rescue,” Nichol said. “Board members gave personal guarantees and we were able to bail it out.”
Community Futures Huron relocated, as of Jan. 1, to the upstairs of the Brussels Medical Dental Centre and the move was driven by fiscal responsibility, Nichol said.
“Most of the organizations in the Community Futures program faced cuts, and we were no exception,” he said. “We had a big office, two storeys, and didn’t have the partnerships we once had, so we were looking for a more affordable location.”
The hunt for the location that ended in Brussels saw Community Futures consider 36 different sites before it moved to Brussels, and Nichol is happy with the development.
“Brussels is a place that’s going to pop,” he said, referring to the development of the Four Winds Barn and the businesses that are growing or being created as a result of the change. “It’s nice to be where the action is. There is a ton of business opportunities.”
He said Brussels is a great place for the organization because there are a great many projects in the community that has benefited from partnerships with Community Futures Huron.
Right now, Community Futures Huron is working on several big projects that Nichol was excited to tell The Citizen about.
The first project includes two local mills, one at Gorrie, which will be renamed the McGuire Mill, and the Brussels Mill, a project The Citizen has highlighted in the past.
Nichol said both projects are “shovel-ready” thanks to Ontario Trillium Fund partnerships.
“The architecture work is done and budgets are prepared to bring those mills back to life,” he said. “Right now we’re looking at ways to fund the restorations.”
One way Community Futures Huron is considering getting the restorations done is to use both buildings as living classrooms for local skilled trades.
“We can train in restoration right where the work is happening,” he said. “We’re also looking at forming a board to get the work done, anyone interested can contact Community Futures Huron.”
Second, the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity in Blyth, part of the Blyth Arts and Culture 14/19 Inc. Initiative, is also something Nichol said Community Futures is “keeping an eye on”.
“The centre is a wonderful opportunity, so we’re keeping that on our radar,” he said. “It excites me.”
The final project, which until now has been mostly under wraps, is a study of Brussels highlighting recent business growth, creation and succession, resulting in many business ventures starting or transitioning to female entrepreneurs.
“We hired Matt Armstrong, a videographer of Wingham to tell the story of Brussels right now,” Nichol said. “We have 10 new business ventures in the last year and a half, some new, some established, but through succession, are being run by business women.”
Nichol said the film, which will be called “Enterprising Women: 10 Tales of Gumption” will focus on why Brussels has suddenly become the place for female entrepreneurs to open up shop.
“We’re starting right now,” he said. “Our first candidates for interviews have been contacted.”
He said he hopes to have the video ready to debut it at the next Rural Talks to Rural Conference hosted by the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity later this year.
For more information on Community Futures Huron, search for the organization on Facebook, visit cfhuron.ca or call 226-889-8256.