Community Futures Huron saved over 250 through federal COVID-19 funding
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Community Futures Huron distributed federal funds from the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, infusing over $1.6 million into local businesses and maintaining over 250 jobs.
This was some of the good news presented as part of the Community Futures Huron annual general meeting, held late last month. The Brussels-based organization was hand-picked to distribute the federal funds from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, which was the organization’s 27th year in operation.
Not only were funds distributed to local businesses that needed help as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on, but the organization also worked to provide advice to businesses on how to adapt and thrive during the pandemic.
Community Futures Huron distributed $1,663,291 in Regional Relief and Recovery Fund loans to 82 enterprises throughout the pandemic. As a result, 255 jobs were maintained in the county.
Forty-five of those loans went to sole proprietors, while 35 went to main street businesses, followed by 13 tourism operators and one social enterprise.
Twenty-four per cent of the loans went to retail businesses, followed by accommodation and food services at 16 per cent. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, manufacturing and professional, scientific and technical services each represented eight per cent, followed by arts, entertainment and recreation and healthcare and social assistance at six per cent each. Wholesale trade represented five per cent, while transportation and warehousing was at four per cent, real estate and rental and leasing was at three per cent and construction represented one per cent. Eleven per cent of the loans went to other services, which did not include public administration.
Nearly 200 entrepreneurs received a total of $568,000 worth of professional business advice, while $699,488 was provided to sole proprietors, $605,431 went to main street businesses, $411,350 went to tourism operators and $683,860 went to female entrepreneurs.
According to a press release, Community Futures Huron also continued its support of local community groups and not-for-profit organizations. The work included partnering with the Huron Manufacturing Association on the Careers in Manufacturing Virtual Bus Tours and Student Scholarship program, working with the Bayfield Centre for the Arts to develop its branding and marketing strategy, assisting the Blyth Festival in shifting to an outdoor theatre delivery model for upcoming seasons, encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs through the Huron Student Honey project, providing staffing support for the Bayfield Historical Society and Archives, helping Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health to develop new revenue-generating programs and services and sponsoring the multiple award-winning Seaforth Back Alley initiative.
Over the course of the year, Community Futures Huron stimulated over $16 million in economic development activity, supporting over 300 farms, businesses and social enterprises and nearly 525 workers in the local economy.
In an interview with The Citizen, Community Futures Huron General Manager Paul Nichol said those who came to Community Futures had to be turned down by the Canadian Emergency Benefit Account (CEBA) to qualify. If they did, Community Futures could then hand over a loan of up to $60,000 in an interest-free loan that wouldn’t have to be paid back until the end of 2022. If paid back by then, 25 per cent of the loan would be turned into a grant, Nichol said.
He said that, for him and the other members of the board, it felt really good over the course of the last year to assist businesses along that needed help.
“I said this at our [annual general meeting] that we never felt as relevant in a very long time,” Nichol said. “It felt good.”
This also came after being told that Community Futures organizations would have no role in post-pandemic recovery from the federal government.
Nichol said that in April of 2020, those involved with Community Futures organizations across the country were told they wouldn’t be involved. He said he was despondent, thinking there was hardly a better organization to help out than Community Futures, so he was happy when that decision was reversed.
Once the program was open for applications, Nichol said there were some weeks when they were approving between three and four loans a day, up drastically from the number of loans they would approve in a week before the pandemic.
Nichol said it’s great to be able to quantify the impact of the program in the community with numbers and statistics, but the way he has always presented it is that there are people, businesses and families behind all of those numbers.
He also said that while the grants aided businesses with money when the owners needed it most, one of the lasting legacies will be the business training and advice that came as a result of the program as well.
Community Futures Huron isn’t done, either. Nichol said there is still about $100,000 that could be loaned to local businesses that need it, though the deadline for applications is the end of the month.
For more information, visit cfhuron.ca.