Thunder Bay, Ont. — The Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF) has played a role in the development of almost 700 Indigenous-owned businesses.
Beginning operations in 1987, the not-for-profit organization, which calls itself an “aboriginal financial institution,” has provided training, community planning and financial support through grants and loans for new Indigenous businesses and economic development.
“We serve all of Northern Ontario, except the Sudbury, North Bay, and the Sault Ste. Marie area, which is serviced by our sister organization that serves that area, including the rest of southern Ontario,” said Brian Davey, NADF chief executive officer.
Funding support for the numerous programs offered by NADF is provided through federal and provincial governments, much of which has been reinvested by the organization, Davey said. Grant programs are supported through $1.5 million in annual funding from the National Aboriginal Capital Corporation Association, which supports 58 similar organizations across the country.
“I would say probably half of the funds that we have now are our own funds and the other half are government program funds,” Davey said.
“We have other contracts with governments, particularly with the province, where they give us programs to administer on their behalf.”
Davey says NADF has dispersed up to $55 million in loans for qualifying new businesses, a number that is growing each year as new entrepreneurs arrive on the scene.
“I could see ourselves in five years at $100 million fairly easily,” he said.
Through partnerships with various groups, NADF has built new offices next to Thunder Bay in Fort William First Nation, employing 23 staff and also operates out of Timmins.
The mining, forestry and energy sectors are hoped to provide many opportunities for new startup businesses to service the three sectors.
Davey says they are keeping on top of the supply road infrastructure that is being planned by Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation and estimates that it could be four or five years before actual road construction begins.
“There are opportunities that we need to get our head around such as what types of opportunities are there when it comes to road construction,” he said. “It could range from trucking to supplying tires, leasing equipment, clearing land, building and engineering. There’s so many areas that can be looked at and there are a number of Indigenous companies that have an interest in this. They’re assessing now what they’re short of to take advantage of tenders when they do become available.”
Davey said that there are non-Indigenous companies that are interested in partnering up as well.
“Our role is to provide financing to those Indigenous companies that wish to either go on their own and make a bid for the opportunity when they do become available, or to create a partnership in order to acquire the expertise that they may be short of in acquiring the opportunity,” he said, adding this is happening now with the ongoing transmission line projects.
Davey says the transmission line projects have been stimulating business activity that’s associated with that sector.
“But not so much yet on the Ring of Fire,” he said. “You still need those roads in place before you can really ramp up on the opportunities, but everybody’s positive that it’ll come together within the fullness of time. We’ll see where that goes.”