Business survey called ‘wake-up call’

A report on the business retention and expansion survey made public at a meeting last week at the Red Dog Inn has spurred individuals and groups to take action.
“It’s a wake-up call for council,” said Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, noting taxation, bureaucracy, and “red tape” are issues mentioned in the survey the town currently is trying to work on.
“The demographics of the ages of business owners, the types of businesses we have, the types of businesses we lack—this type of information can’t be put on the shelf.
“This study behooves us to do something,” Mayor Witherspoon stressed. “Without a strong business sector, you don’t have a strong town.”
“As far as I’m concerned, any criticism is constructive criticism,” said BIA president Ted DeBenetti, owner of A Buck or Two on Scott Street.
“There’s a lot of good information because of this. Now, we just have to figure out how to use it,” he added.
DeBenetti noted one issue he’d like to see develop is co-operation among businesses and groups.
“We should be working together for a common goal—to better Fort Frances,” he stressed. “We want to look at mentoring and succession. When a business is going to close, what should we do about it?”
The business retention and expansion task force was spearheaded by Crystal Godbout, development project co-ordinator at the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce.
The survey was conducted in June and July, with 54 local businesses participating. Godbout then compiled and analyzed the survey results over August and September through the use of a database.
She said the survey was a lot of work but definitely worthwhile.
“They seem to think there was a lot of good information in the report, and I think so, too,” Godbout remarked. “One good thing is we had no ‘red flag’ issues that needed immediate attention.”
Godbout noted many of the businesses surveyed had some common opinions, both negative and positive. “A lot of businesses feel we need better telecommunications. And there’s a lack of parking,” she said.
“Overall, businesses also said they didn’t have any problems finding employees—which is good,” Godbout added. “Some said they found some employees lacking certain job skills, but these were specific to those businesses.”
Godbout noted the information gleaned through the survey will be the basis of a meeting in January between the Chamber of Commerce, BIA, town, and the Rainy River Future Development Corp.
“We hope to develop an action plan and maybe look into solving some of the issues,” she said.
Business retention and expansion has been implemented in hundreds of rural and urban communities in the United States for a number of years. It was introduced in Ontario on a pilot basis in 1998.
Fort Frances is one of the first communities doing such a research project on its own.
Other communities across the province also have seen positive results, said Godbout, citing a more business-friendly attitude, new local investment, more jobs, fewer barriers to development, and facilitated access to financing.