In April 2020, Northern Development launched the Small Business Recovery Consulting Rebate (SBR) program in response to the impacts of the forestry sector downturn and COVID-19 pandemic on businesses in the Trust’s service region. In less than three months, Northern Development committed more than $700,000 to 42 businesses through the program.
SBR was introduced to help businesses reduce the barrier to accessing professional expertise and recover the costs of third-party consulting projects that focused on ways to sustain the business during the current economic downturn. Eligible businesses were encouraged to apply for a rebate of up to 85 per cent of their project, to a yearly maximum of $25,000 per business.
Above: A breakdown of the project types approved through SBR.
As the Trust’s business development team reviewed applications and spoke with clients, three major project themes quickly emerged. The SBR intake closed on June 18, 2020 and 31 per cent of applicants were pursing projects regarding e-commerce and website development. Marketing strategies/market development and increasing operational efficiencies rounded out the top three themes with 26 and 21 per cent of applications falling into each respective category.
For Rebel Fit Nutrition, a Dawson Creek-based vitamin and supplement retailer, the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on their business’s cash flow and inventory. Sales uncertainty was at an all-time high and forced them to reduce their product order size, which subsequently increased wholesale prices and led to significantly reduced margins. Through Northern Development’s SBR program, they are developing an active online storefront to serve existing customers and gain new clientele.
“We’re so grateful to utilize Northern Development’s rebate program to help our business weather these extremely challenging economic times,” said Tyler Ollenberger, owner of Rebel Fit Nutrition. “Receiving 85 per cent of the cost of implementing an online store to serve people across Canada is a significant help that will benefit our business for years to come and help us reach our future goals. Northern Development realizes the challenges facing Northern B.C. businesses and is ready to promptly help – we were approved one week after submitting our application. This timeliness allows us to begin on our road to economic recovery.”
In Valemount, Robson Design Build is utilizing a $25,000 rebate from Northern Development to hire a business consulting firm to train and mentor Andreas Thoni, owner and chief executive officer. The economic downturn and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 has caused projects they were contracted to complete to be postponed, reducing revenue and employment opportunities for people in the Robson Valley.
“We are planning on growing and pivoting the company to do much more than building trails and bridges,” said Thoni. “After completing a $1.4 million bridge contract for Parks Canada this spring, we realized that in order to continue doing these larger scale jobs we need training in business management and contract management. There are many large construction projects coming to Valemount over the next few years that currently no local construction business has the capacity to bid on. The skills we will receive from our consultant will enable us to bid on large construction projects that would otherwise typically get awarded to companies from Edmonton, Vancouver or Kamloops.”
The introduction of SBR is just one of the ways that the Trust responded to the needs of businesses in their service region during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Learn more about SBR: https://www.northerndevelopment.bc.ca/funding-programs/business-development/small-business-recovery-consulting-rebate/
In spring 2020, Madelaine Swift completed her 12-month local government internship with the City of Quesnel and transitioned into a full-time position with the Takla Nation as executive political assistant to the chief. Swift moved from Hazelton to Prince George to graduate from the University of Northern British Columbia with a political science degree before moving to Quesnel for her internship.
During her time with the City of Quesnel, Swift experienced a well-rounded internship and contributed to a variety of departments, from the airport to job shadowing the executive assistant. Swift also participated in interesting and relevant training opportunities, including the North Central Local Government Association Conferernce, Municipal Administrators Training Institute (MATI) Foundations, Policy Development Workshop, Management Skills for Supervisors and more.
“I strongly believe that this internship helped me determine that I would like to have a career in local or First Nations government,” said Swift. “Had I not participated in this internship, I’m not sure that I would feel as strongly about specifically working in this field.”
“Working for the City of Quesnel has allowed me to participate in and observe the many exciting projects that will benefit the community, “added Swift. “ I believe that working for and serving the public is very rewarding and something I would love to continue doing.”
Since 2013, Northern Development has been offering recent post-secondary graduates the opportunity to complete an internship with local governments in its service region. As with Swift, and so many others, it provides young professionals with the opportunity to experience the unique world of local government and helps launch their successful careers.
For host governments, it provides temporary increased capacity to help complete tasks to serve the community. The City of Quesnel hosted their first intern through the Trust in 2014 and Swift was their fifth intern. Throughout the years they have seen the benefits of the program for communities throughout central and northern B.C.
“The intern program has been very successful in achieving its goals of creating managers for the North,” said Kari Bolton, Swift’s mentor and director of corporate and financial services with the City of Quesnel. “From the City’s first intern, Gerald, who is now a CAO, to Madelaine who is now working for a First Nation government, I can definitely see the value of this program. From the City’s perspective, it gives us extra resources to complete a lot of policy and bylaw work that normally gets put aside when things get busy.”
Northern Development will be offering the Local Government Internship program once again in 2021. Local governments who are interested in applying are encouraged to consider the obligations of this program as they are preparing annual budgets. Applications for host governments and interns are due early in 2021. For more information on all of the Trust’s internship programs, visit northerndevelopment.bc.ca/internships.
Swift at a City of Quesnel booth during a job fair.
Photo credit: Valemount and Area Recreation Development Association
Since March 18, 2020, B.C. has been under a provincial state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many Northern B.C. residents, they are taking the time to rediscover their backyards and enjoy the high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities that have been built and maintained by keen user groups.
While it continues to be critically important to follow the orders from the Provincial Health Officer, the Valemount and Area Recreation Development Association (VARDA) offers some additional tips for those looking to get outside and explore the trails in the Valemount Bike Park and other recreational areas.
Curtis Pawliuk, general manager at VARDA, offers the following suggestions to help people enjoy their time outside in a safe manner if they decide to go out on the trails:
In Valemount, and many other communities throughout Northern Development’s service region, the introduction and development of mountain biking trails have made the trail networks desirable destinations for mountain biking enthusiasts from around the province and beyond.
“We have brought travelers into our community, not just through it, which has been a long-time issue in our community,” said Pawliuk. “We are supported heavily by our community, local First Nations and local government. I believe we are tackling a community challenge by taking our future into our own hands and developing opportunities other than forestry. We are not just building recreational trails here but developing our local economy as well. In a time of a major downturn in forestry, the boost of mountain bike tourism has made an extremely positive impact by creating jobs, new startup businesses and bringing in much-needed dollars. We have seen three new businesses created in Valemount due to the popularity of the trail system.”
Northern Development is one of the organizations that supports VARDA. Since 2014, the Trust has committed to investing more than $160,000 into VARDA’s work of developing outdoor recreational opportunities in the area around Valemount. Much of this funding has come from the Trust’s Community Halls and Recreation Facilities grant program.
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