What started with two employees in a small office in 1985 has blossomed into an integral community organization of 35 dedicated workers.
Originally created to support small business during the turbulent economic times of the mid-80s, Community Futures North Okanagan has spent the last 25 years boosting entrepreneurial spirit through a bevy of employment and economic development programs and a hugely successful business-lending program.
In that time, Community Futures has provided more than $20 million in loans to small businesses in agriculture, forestry, retail, service, manufacturing, construction and non-profit enterprises, creating and maintaining nearly 3,000 jobs. Last year alone, they handed out loans totaling more than $1.2 million to 26 businesses.
“The goal was to help out rural communities during difficult economic times. That’s where it started and that is where it has continued to go for 25 years,” said general manager Jane Lister, who joined the not-for-profit organization in 1990.
Over the years, Community Futures has had more than 100 staff members, 48 board members and countless other volunteers who sit on various committees. Many of them were among the 150 guests who attended an anniversary celebration at the Performing Arts Centre.
“It is the people who have driven the ideas, the visions, the projects and made things happen on the ground. That’s what makes this place tick,” said Lister.
“It’s not any one specific project or person that drives this thing. It’s the community of people.”
Also attending the celebration were a host of community partners and business clients, some of who shared their experiences in dealing with Community Futures.
Manon Care is a co-owner of Care Systems Services, a Vernon-based energy management firm specializing in HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) maintenance and control systems. About 10 years ago, she and husband, Cory Care, approached Community Futures to borrow $50,000 to expand their growing business.
In operation since 1992, their company now employs 20 people.
“If it wasn’t for Community Futures, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Manon. “The banks wouldn’t even look at us (for a loan). Community Futures will sit down and look beyond what the banks will look at.
“They make such a big difference in the business community here. They really assist you in understanding what businesses have to deal with here.”
Since then, Care Systems has made use of Community Futures’ employee training programs and business information seminars.
“I’ve never been one to look for a handout, but in recent years the economy has been tough. When you need assistance to train your people, they’re there.”
There are 34 Community Futures across B.C., each one with its own specific regional employment needs. Lister notes the one common thread among them is the business lending program.
“Other projects come and go, employment services ramp up, ramp down, but the business lending is the one stable thing year after year,” she said.
It doesn’t seem to matter how the economy is faring, businesses always seem to line up to access Community Futures’ services. In difficult times, they assist struggling businesses and people who are unemployed. When times are good, they help them grow and expand.
“It just shifts as to what you’re working on,” explained Lister. “When the economy was flying in 2005, we had very different issues. Employers and the business community was very concerned about a lack of labour. We were doing a lot of initiative around attracting labour and human resource management.”
Two of Community Futures’ economic development projects include Vision North Okanagan (www.visionnorthokanagan.ca) and Our Okanagan (www.ourokanagan.ca). They are also facilitating the Interior Marine Manufacturing Group Of B.C., a cluster project that has helped three North Okanagan boat manufacturers – Campion, Harbercraft and Twin Anchors – operate more efficiently by pooling their resources.
For more information about Community Futures North Okanagan and the programs they offer, visit www.futuresbc.com.