While it’s a terrific starting point, having a sound business idea isn’t enough on its own to get things off the ground. There’s the little matter of money.
Having loaned $28 million to more than 700 businesses since its inception in 1985, Community Futures Peterborough (CFP) has provided much-needed dollars for start-up or expansion. While that alone is very impressive, a showcase of Eastern Ontario Development Program (EODP) funding recipients held Thursday (March 2) at the Ashburnham Reception Centre shone a light on the CFP-administered program that has benefited another 557 initiatives over the past 14 years.
Managed by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, EODP funding is non-repayable — it’s a grant, not a loan — but accountability on the part of recipients is paramount.
“They are required to deliver on what they committed to do and report,” noted CFP board member Gord James in his opening podium remarks.
“No one should think that just because it’s a non-repayable contribution that every one of the dollars we deliver to these programs is not respected. I picture the dressing down I’d get from my 88-year-old mom if she thought we were being frivolous with even one of her tax dollars. That quickly clarifies things for me.”
While presented as a “celebration” of EODP success stories, the event had a secondary purpose: to urge advocacy for the program with its end scheduled for December 31, 2018.
“This is a good program working and it is working,” said James. “We will disburse about $300,000 this fiscal year. That is not insignificant. What we need to do is be making the case for this program and its positive effect. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Pick up a pen and write a letter to the Minister (of Innovation, Science and Economic Development).”
Later, James expressed his optimism that EODP funding will be extended beyond the looming end date, saying “We need to ensure that the minister and his staff understand the benefit. If we do that job well, I’m comfortable the right decision will be made.”
A key voice in that effort will be that of Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef. Along with Mayor Daryl Bennett and Peterborough County Deputy Warden Mary Smith, she pledged her support of the program, noting $80 million has been invested in more than 7,600 businesses and community development projects in eastern Ontario as of 2016.
For his part, Mayor Bennett termed EODP funding one of the most worthwhile endeavours ever taken on by any level of government, adding, “this is (not only) an expenditure of tax dollars, this is an investment.”
But the proof remains in the pudding and this day saw plenty of pudding dished out. Along with the opportunity to view displays and several recipients of EODP dollars, four business owners sang the praises of the funding their initiatives received.
“Traditional funding institutions are only prepared to do so much,” noted Marty Laskaris, co-owner of Publican House Brewery at Charlotte and Rubidge streets.
“In 2015, speaking to the folks at Community Futures, they suggested we take a look at the EODP program. At the time, we were really struggling with packaging. It was all manual at the time. We produced a lot of waste; it was slow and expensive and it was the key contributor in our inability to meet demand.
“Shortly after being advised that our application had been approved, we went out and bought our first bottling machine. The results that we’ve got from this machine as a result of the funding has been exceptional for us. We’ve more than doubled our bottling efficiency. We’ve reduced our waste from over 10 per cent to less than 1 per cent. That alone has meant thousands of dollars to our bottom line.”
Laskaris also pointed to the “non-measurable benefits” of the EDOP funding that Publican House received.
“We gave our employees a better working environment. So, rather than them getting frustrated trying to do something on a machine that wasn’t designed to do it originally, they saw us invest, and the community invest, and the government invest, in a machine that was going to help them do their jobs better.”
Also speaking was Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA) executive director Terry Guiel, who noted EODP dollars enabled the recent Win This Space initiative to get off the ground. Guiel was joined by Tina Bromley of Tiny Greens, the winner of a one-year lease for a downtown Peterborough storefront.
“With the funding we got, we were able to secure $60,000 in sponsorship, 35 sponsors,” Guiel said. “We were able to include 10 different (lease) locations, 10 different landlords.
“Not only is Tina going to be announcing soon where she’s going to open, but some of the others who didn’t win are already negotiating (with those landlords) and you’ll see some of them open as well. Wow! All from a small investment.
“Years ago, in order to get to work, I needed to get a car, so I went to my dad and he gave me the $2,000. We knew we wanted to do Win This Space, but we needed a ‘dad’. It started with our dear friends and an incredible organization, Community Futures Peterborough. I am their greatest champion. I’ve seen what it does in the community.”
Also relating their EODP funding experiences were Andi Van Koeverden with The Mount Community Centre and Karen Jopling with the County of Peterborough, who is working on a three-year EODP-funded contract as project manager for the Peterborough County Agricultural Heritage Building to open this September at Lang Pioneer Village.
“We have secured more than $2.5 million, created three full-time contract jobs and 15 sub-contract jobs, engaged more than 50 investors, and have engaged more than 50 youths at Fleming College” since that funding was received, Jopling noted, adding, “don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you grow. We have sown so many seeds.”
For his part, Noblegen president Eric Howe noted the company received EODP funding early on its growth for lab development and “to find a product we could actually start to commercialize.” He added that without EODP funding, Noblegen “never would have had the opportunity to move to the next stage” of its business plan.
“Leverage your government contacts,” he advised any business seeking financial assistance. “There’s lots of funding out there to help corporations depending on the sector you’re in. You need to get your name out there; you need to have your contact network to really leverage that.”
James concurred, advising EODP funding applicants to “think it through” before applying.
“There has to be some logic to it. We have to see that they understand the various aspects of the project, what’s going to make it work; but also the risks that they could face. We also have to really understand the long-term benefit for the community: good jobs that are going to stay over the long run.”
For more information on EODP funding guidelines, visit communityfuturespeterborough.ca/eodp/.