Community Futures Wood Buffalo - Helping Small Businesses Survive & Thrive
There are times in life when things aren’t working as they should … like our vehicles, even our health. When that happens, we head on over to the appropriate resources like the doctor to find out what ails us, and for the needed support and remedy.
It’s similar in the world of business, and that’s where Community Futures Wood Buffalo – or CFWB – comes in.
CFWB exists to provide the supports, including financial, needed to enable local small businesses to survive and thrive.
“I think Community Futures is a wonderful organization and it’s here to help people, and to educate and provide comprehensive programming to educate, to support and to help them be successful in their business,” says Pamela Ramrup, executive director.
“Community Futures focus is on small businesses. It’s start-ups; it’s expansion,” adds Matthew Creighton, chairman of the CFWB board. It also assists people wanting to franchise or sell a business.
“But most of the time, it’s the guy that’s thinking, ‘I just lost my job. I’ve always thought about doing a small business.’
“I want our organization to pop into his head as one of the three or four people he’s going to go chat to about a business plan.”
Not only is CFWB a second-chance lender with loans up to $150,000 as described by Ramrup, but also a tremendous resource whether general business support, training courses, personal business coaching, advocacy, marketing and networking or networking events.
Staffed by business professionals and governed by a volunteer board of directors, Community Futures was created in 1986 to serve rural communities and came to Wood Buffalo in 1988.
It is funded in Western Canada by Western Economic Diversification Canada.
“I’ve been in the community banking for a long time,” says Ramrup who has been with CFWB since January. “I’ve spent the better part of over 25 years working with small business, nonprofits and social enterprises … (in) more of a lending, strategic supportive role. I feel that this organization is definitely needed in every community, not just rural communities. The work that we do, the programs that are offered are definitely worthwhile.”
While small business owners may know their trades well, there are many other aspects they may need assistance with, she notes, such as help with taxes or explaining the legal implications of incorporation, or maintaining sole proprietorship.
“There are just so many things that can go awry and being able to provide the support is fantastic,” offers Ramrup.
“Each client has different needs. It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing a thorough needs assessment to support them with whatever is their pain.”
It’s similar to going to the doctor when you’re not feeling well and the doctor prescribes some medicine to support you, she likens.
“Small business is the backbone of the Canadian economy,” states Ramrup.
“Without small business, where would we be? They employ hundreds of thousands of people with small business being one to 99 employees.
According to Statistics Canada, 67% of all business is small business.
“There needs to be that small one-person operation in every community. As that business grows and scales up, and continues operating effectively and hiring people … that’s what we’re all about. It’s about providing them with the resources and possibly the capital that they require to get their business off the ground; that they are able to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Then, as they grow, be able to employ others so that there is that continuation of economic resiliency and development.
“Small business is critical to the Canadian economy. Small business is critical to the Wood Buffalo region.”
Adding on to Ramrup’s description of CFWB being a second-chance lender, Creighton explains that applicants visit CFWB following unsuccessful applications at traditional financial institutions.
While hundreds of business loans have been given and repaid, Creighton points out that thousands have benefitted from CFWB services and programming during the past decade.
Usually those numbers reflect, for example, 100 new client meetings and consultations.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve done considerably more than that with client training sessions on cash flow and business planning. So the numbers are quite a bit higher,” he adds.
Ramrup notes that last year, there were 19 new and ongoing community-based projects, 605 participants in a business training session and CFWB delivered 162 business advisory services appointments.
Additionally, an event held in June this year at the YMCA, had 32 people in attendance to learn about entrepreneurship.
“That’s only one of many, many programs and workshops that were created and facilitated,” she adds.
Both agree that the numbers highlight how important an organization such as CFWB is to the community.
In her short time with CFWB, Ramrup has noticed that people were unaware that the non-profit organization provided loans.
And, continued Creighton, of those who do know CFWB is a lender, there is a misconception CFWB is simply a lender of last resort, not realizing there is actually a host of other services that it also provides including small business consultation, advocacy and training seminars.
“I just want entrepreneurs in the region to know that we support all aspects of the journey to being a competent, operational small business,” he clarifies.
He explains that CFWB’s lending committee is a sub-committee of the board.
“The people who are making the decisions about lending are in touch with what’s going on locally. It’s not a decision that’s made in Toronto. We are a community board and we look at things from a different light. How it benefits a community is something we think about and how it has other effects.”
Ramrup wants people to know that CFWB is innovative and delivering programming to reach all facets of the community. That includes children and youth.
To reach that young audience, CFWB delivered Lemonade Days for children from Kindergarten to Grade 8 this summer.
“We are actively working to deliver more programming for youth to attract and ignite passion in our youth to enable them to be those new entrepreneurs of tomorrow and we want to partner with them on their journey,” she says.
“We serve as an advocate, as a partner in supporting small business and supporting all members of our local community.”
It’s that commitment to partnering and support that has kept Creighton involved with the CFWB board, sitting as chair since 2017.
“I honestly believe in the mission of Community Futures: Being a support to somebody starting out.”
Creighton, who owns his own accounting practice, knows first-hand the challenges of starting out.
“Running your own ship is not an easy job, and I have so much respect for those who go out and give it a go; give small business a go, give being an entrepreneur a go. Serving those people and entrepreneurs, encouraging the entrepreneurial culture is something I feel so passionate about it.”
While there may be fewer small businesses than in the past – it used to rank at 86%, Creighton points out there is still so much opportunity out there.
“I just have so much respect for the people that take the bull by the horns, and go try and get it.”