Business support firm braced for downturn

The services of the Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation could become more in demand depending on what happens with the Terrace Bay mill closure. This week, the development corporation received $1.7 million from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario (FedNor) through its Community Futures Program. The money is aimed at supporting their operating costs for five years. Ron Salo, general manager of the Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation, said the organization gives access to capital with their lending services, business advisory services and support for community economic development and strategic planning. "We have small businesses in Terrace Bay and Schreiber that we've assisted along the way, who could be knocking on our door and maybe asking to reduce their loan payments because it has gotten very quiet," Salo said. "We're just kind of waiting." Salo suspects that the mill being so "tight-lipped" on plans of idling, permanent closure or reopening is the reason businesses aren't making decisions or requests. "When the mill shut down in Red Rock, we saw an increase in the number of people looking to start their own business to create their own job," he said. "But (in Terrace Bay) that hasn't really happened yet and I think that's because the mill is not giving them a definite answer if they're shutting down for good . . . in two months, they might call everybody back." Salo says it's now a waiting game. "Why would you come in for $50,000 to start a business and then in two months, you get called back to your old job? Salo added. "We're on that cusp waiting to find out what's going to happen and then that will influence how it impacts us here." The development corporation has a staff of four people who are available for any small business that wants to start in the region. "We can help them from the idea or the concept right through to developing a business plan, and to opening their doors," he noted. "We provide service after their doors are open with marketing and other business concerns. We also are available for access to capital. So if somebody needs to borrow money to start their business, we're available for that." For more than 35 years, the development corporation has loaned in excess of $23 million to small businesses in 12 surrounding communities from to Biigtigong, east to Nishnaabeg and Manitouwadge in the north. In the last five years, they have assisted 66 regional businesses, organizations and startups by providing $3,453,743, which has ultimately created and maintained 71 new jobs. The funds continue to grow through reinvestment into business and the interest paid back on the loans. "Because we're not a bank, we can do things a little bit differently," Salo said. "We can help them when they need to do seasonal payments, or if they're really struggling, we can help them by maybe diverting a couple of payments through a rough time, like right now where it's quiet and nobody's spending any money."

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal