Local Businesses Flourish with Invaluable WBEDC Support
When Malcolm Setter finally decided to start his own business - Wood Buffalo was his top choice. The CEO of Get Energy Corp., a utilities and Internet providing company, Setter credits the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation (WBEDC) with not only helping him expand his business, but also for helping him feel at home in the region.
Originally from British Columbia, Setter first began commuting to Wood Buffalo in 2005 from Calgary when he was working as a journeyman electrician. In 2009 he moved here permanently with his wife, Jenelle. Five years later the Setters founded Get Energy.
“We provide electrical and natural gas services to the entire province of Alberta, and have several thousand customers. Due to the virtual flexibility in our business, we could have lived anywhere, but we chose Wood Buffalo. We love it here. The region has a small town feel with big city opportunities. It’s easy to build relationships, both personal and professional,” explained Setter, 35.
Get Energy has one full-time employee. When the time came to automate the Internet-providing arm of the business, Setter reached out to the WBEDC, which provides supports to local small businesses thanks to post-wildfires funding from The Canadian Red Cross. Their three programs are: Business Coaching, Keyano College Voucher Program, and Group Learning Events.
As described by the WBEDC website: “The Business Coaching Program directly connects a business owner and/or managers with one-on-one business coaching and advice with a Certified Management Consultant. The Keyano College Voucher Program will provide eligible businesses direct financial support to register in any existing program offered by Keyano College. The purpose of this program is to provide educational opportunities that encourage expanded business knowledge.” Lastly, group learning events are free learning opportunities for not only business owners, but social profits, and the general public.
“I found out about the Keyano Voucher program through a WBEDC email. I was looking to grow our Internet business – which is easy when it comes to connecting and providing services to clients, but the difficult part is invoicing/tracking payments as well as communication,” recalled Setter.
He was working with QuickBooks, an accounting package software, and the Keyano Voucher program helped immensely. Setter completed the initiative this March attending twice a week for six weeks.
“I’m an electrician, not an accountant. The Keyano Voucher program helped so much with quick payments and administrative automation, which is key to providing good value. We are more affordable than our big name competitors. I highly recommend it. Without the WBEDC’s help, the Internet expansion project for our company would not have been successful,” he commented.
Indeed, the WBEDC has helped create many success stories for local small businesses. The corporation was launched in 2018 and in April of 2019 amalgamated with Fort McMurray Tourism. A “wholly-owned entity of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, (RMWB) (it is) governed by an independent Board of Directors, and tasked with increasing the growth, innovation, prosperity and resilience of the economy of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.”
Natasha Hartson, Director, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, with WBEDC, has been with the RMWB’s Economic Development team/department since 2014, and was on the inaugural team hired by the WBEDC. She noted, there were over 3000 licensed businesses in the region, and explained more on the partnership with The Canadian Red Cross to help small businesses.
“Following the 2016 Horse River Wildfire, our team worked closely with The Canadian Red Cross to build a responsive and unprecedented program that provided direct financial support for the business community. Additionally, we have continued to work with the Red Cross to identify programs that further support recovery efforts including access to local college courses, business coaching and free business seminars and workshops.”
“These programs have directly impacted the business community by providing them with opportunities to participate in top quality events, which they otherwise may not have access to. Additionally, this has allowed us to offer one-on-one coaching to business owners to help them identify an action plan based on a particular challenge faced by their business,” Hartson added.
For Setter, one such opportunity came this October when he pitched the idea for bringing the ScaleUp summit simulcast to Wood Buffalo. Held in Anaheim, California, the full-day intensive workshop helped local business owners learn more about the next steps to attaining success and expanding.
“Supported by the WBEDC, this was an important event for businesses to learn from. The event had us wondering: What is your next big goal? What can you do to expand? This summit helped business owners think big along that line of thought,” Setter continued.
“Wood Buffalo has so many supports. Everyone should take advantage of them,” he emphasized.
Patrick Hibbitts, co-owns YMM Cosmetic and Laser Clinic along with his wife Dr. Erin Hibbitts. He is also the Business Manager for the clinic. He agrees on the many supports available through the WBEDC. Hibbitts took advantage of the Business Coaching program offered by the WBEDC this February.
“YMM Cosmetic and Laser is a non-surgical, advanced medical aesthetics clinic with a reputation as being the top skin injection centre and laser clinic in Fort McMurray,” as described by the website.
Hibbitts first began commuting to the region in 2006 for an industry job. In 2010 his wife, Erin joined him and the duo, who have two little girls began calling Wood Buffalo home.
“Erin was a family physician, but dermatology was always her interest. She used to give treatments at a local spa a few days a week. Then filled for another dermatologist, and that began her passion for the field,” explains Hibbitts.
In 2015 they started their own clinic, which they quickly outgrew. During the 2016 wildfires evacuation – the couple worked on purchasing the current Main Street location downtown.
“We were in Edmonton, and made the building purchase happen. This is a million dollar investment for us,” shared Hibbitts who has an MBA.
Like many Wood Buffalo residents, and small business owners, the Hibbitts were impacted by the wildfires. According to the Financial Post 4000 Alberta small businesses were affected that May. (https://business.financialpost.com/news/economy/small-businesses-affected-by-fort-mcmurray-wildfire-offered-recovery-funding-programs). And, to put it into perspective how invaluable small businesses are to the economy, Statistics Canada will tell you “in 2014 small businesses contributed an average of 30 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) of their province. Small businesses in British Columbia and Alberta contributed the highest share to their provincial GDP at 33 percent and 32 percent respectively.”
In addition, Alberta small businesses contribute more GDP per capita than small businesses anywhere else in the country. Not only do they provide good jobs in our hometowns and communities, they inject about $100-billion a year into our economy. (alberta.ca/small-business-resources.aspx).
Clearly, WBEDC’s assistance in getting small business owners up and running is invaluable.
“Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Despite an MBA, I needed the help post wildfires. So an outside perspective helped with growing and sustaining our clinic. Thanks to the guidance from our business coach, we hired a full-time nurse from Keyano College. And, an even bigger thanks to the WBEDC, we were matched with the right kind of coach, who had experience with healthcare business,” explained Hibbitts.
Today, the Hibbitts’ business is growing. In 2017 Dr. Hibbitts left family medicine to pursue dermatology, aesthetics and procedures full-time. She also sees patients with skin cancer, and other skin issues along with cosmetic procedures. YMM Laser has 6,000 patients in Wood Buffalo with a staff of five. The couple now has another clinic in Yellow Knife – with 2000 patients and a staff of three. While the local branch deals with both dermatology issues, and cosmetology, the Yellow Knife location is strictly for cosmetic procedures.
“Business owners find it often hard to take the time away, but it was so worth it to get help from the WBEDC. I highly recommend it to everyone,” he emphasized.
Jenn Ross shared these sentiments. A born and raised Fort McMurryite, Ross owns Original Basket Bows and Gifts (previously the Original Basket Boutique franchise), a home-based business. This March she made it a privately-owned business.
Ross has been in the business for over nine years with hundreds of corporate and individual clients ordering gift baskets for every occasion. However, when the economic downturn hit the region in 2015, Ross felt the impact. And, then the 2016 wildfires made things worse.
“Clients who were getting, say, 100 baskets at Christmas, were suddenly ordering hardly 60. When times get tough, people cut the extras first, and gift baskets are extra,” she shared.
Late last year she finally decided to get help from the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation, and joined the Business Coaching program. The six-week initiative assisted her with the accounting side of business, as well as making cost-effective decisions.
“The coach helped me understand about profit and loss, and how to smartly implement cost-cutting strategies. I can’t wait to see the results. Thanks to WBEDC, it was good to have someone from the outside help you with a different perspective. I have also attended WBEDC’s Group Learning events, and found the workshops beneficial. The roundtables, discussion of (different ) concepts really helps someone like me who is a one-person shop. I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. It’s wonderful to have this community support,” Ross noted.
This “community support,” is what keeps Nayef Mahgoub coming back to the WBEDC. Founder and Managing Director of Akron Engineering, a consulting firm with a staff of six, Mahgoub has been in Wood Buffalo for 10 years. He moved to the city to join Suncor Energy, and then founded his own company in 2015.
“Akron Engineering provides services in civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering disciplines. Despite the economic downturn in 2015, I went ahead to start the company, and we have been growing thanks to the support from the community.”
“The WBEDC’s focus on providing group events focused on the region makes their programming so beneficial. They link the learning to what we need - addressing the challenges and opportunities in the business community. I even take my staff for the learning and networking,” commented Mahgoub.
Networking with other professionals is one of the reasons Cheryl Cantonjos attends WBEDC events regularly. She moved to Fort McMurray two years ago from Toronto, and is making a career switch from event management to health and wellness. She participated in Business Link, a provincial non-profit affiliated with the WBEDC, which helps Alberta entrepreneurs start their own businesses; and then learned about the WBEDC.
“I’m in school to get my health and wellness license, and will be launching my business after that. I attended one WBEDC event and was hooked. From accounting to incorporations to social media, I get to learn so much. I appreciate that they go in depth, and there is follow-up too. The expert advice, networking, and referrals to other subject matter experts is what keeps me coming back. I recommend them highly to everyone. This is free mentorship for businesses,” she enthused.
Mayor Don Scott applauded WBEDC’s support of businesses.
“Our business community plays an important role in making our region a great place to live and Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation is a key organization in ensuring that the business community has the support it needs to succeed. Regional economic development is integral for our Municipality and that’s why we made it a priority to create the WBEDC. We are committed to making sure the WBEDC, its Board of Directors and staff are positioned to strengthen our existing business community, attract new investment and opportunities and to tell the story of our region and the people that call this home.”
Helping the business community make Wood Buffalo home – indeed, the WBEDC is much more than meets the eye.
Canadian Small Business by the Numbers (June 2016):
- As of December 2015, the Canadian economy totalled 1.17 million employer businesses. Of these, 1.14 million (97.9 percent) were small businesses, 21,415 (1.8 percent) were medium-sized businesses and 2,933 (0.3 percent) were large businesses
- In July 2019, the number of businesses incorporated in Alberta totalled 3,234, a decrease of 4.6% from the same period a year earlier. Alberta incorporations were down 5.1% to 2,907. Non-Alberta incorporations decreased 0.3% from a year earlier to 327.
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