Saturday, September 20, 2014

Merchants hopeful in wake of layoffs

Following news last week of impending layoffs at the Resolute Forest Products mill here, some members of the local business community are staying positive about the future.
“Obviously, every businessperson and everybody in the community is concerned about the cutbacks,” George Emes, acting chair of the Business Improvement Area and chair of the Rainy River Future Development Corp., said yesterday.

“That being said, we feel that we’ve got a strong community and that if we work together, we should be able to come through it,” he added.
“It may very well be that in the future this may work out to be to the community’s advantage, and we’ll start making some progress and doing some positive things,” remarked Emes.
Emes noted “everybody has been sitting on pins and needles and it’s been a really rough ride for all the employees in the place, as well as all of the business people and all of the other people in the community.”
“It affects everybody and, as such, as we go through the steps in this process—that seems to be what they’re setting up is a bit of a process—that eventually we’ll come out of this ahead,” he remarked.
“It’s going to take some doing, but eventually we’ll be stronger as a result of it.”
Emes said some people will head west for work but their families may remain here, and in fact some people already are doing this.
But he added he’s hopeful new businesses will arise out of the situation.
“Maybe we’ll get some other businesses involved, not necessarily of the same size [as the mill],” he said. “But if we had half-a-dozen small businesses evolve that would make up the slack.
“Really, that’s the hope—that we can evolve and grow out of this,” Emes stressed.
Dale Fortes, who is co-franchisee of Boston Pizza here with wife, Elizabeth Leishman-Fortes, said the situation will have an impact on business but he’s not giving up hope on the future of the community.
“We just have to be resilient and continue to be positive about the opportunities that are potentially going to come out of this, whether that’s new technology, and new technology brings new jobs,” noted Fortes.
“We’ve got a huge tourist industry that’s barely tapped in the area of Fort Frances,” he added.
“If this opens the doors, or makes us look harder to open up doors, it’s going to be a win-win for everybody in the future.
“Of course it’s going to hurt business, but again, I think everybody’s got to work together to get through the difficult time and look forward to a brighter future, because I think it is very bright for Fort Frances,” said Fortes.
“I am not giving up any hope at all.”
Mark Howarth of Leon’s in downtown Fort Frances said business has been hectic in the past week since the announcement. And while it eventually will slow down, he’s confident in the economic future of the community.
“Everybody has known this was going to happen for a long time, I think, or certainly thought about it,” he reasoned.
“A lot of people have already quit [the mill] and went out west to work, and come back and spend their money,” Howarth noted. “If most of them do that. . . .
“And, of course, a lot of them are retiring.
“We’re not really concerned about it,” he added. “We’ll all survive, I am sure.”
Building on the legacy of his family’s long-standing business, Howarth just became a Leon’s franchisee two years ago and is very positive about his business’ future.
That company’s recent acquisition of The Brick will mean more buying power for Leon’s, which, in turn, will benefit his business and customers.
“We’re all having to try and compete with online [shopping], and the States and everything,” he noted.
The Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce said last week it would like to reaffirm its ongoing support to the local business community and the affected workers.
“Resolute has stated it will work with affected employees, all levels of government, and other local authorities on programs to lessen the impact of the idling,” the Chamber noted in a press release.
“Resolute employees affected by this idling also will be considered for job vacancies and opportunities at other company facilities, and we strongly encourage them to do so.”
As a “vital member of our community,” the Chamber said it is continuing to look towards a positive future for Fort Frances.
“We are not the first community to have to deal with a closure of this magnitude,” it noted.
“It is very unfortunate that our friends, families, and neighbours have to deal with such difficult news at this time of year. But as a community, we believe we can pull together to lessen the effects.
“At the Chamber, we are poised and committed to continue to help businesses in Rainy River District to grow and prosper, and to support those affected by these layoffs,” it added.

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