Businesses’ input being sought

FORT FRANCES—The Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Rainy River Future Development Corp. and Town of Fort Frances, is looking for input as to how the town can better retain businesses and encourage economic growth with a new survey that was launched here Monday.
During an open house at the RRFDC office, community development officer Kerri Dittaro said she’s strongly encouraging local businesses to participate in the business retention and expansion survey.
It’s the first step in a long-term action plan to set priorities for the community for the next few years.
Dittaro, who started working on the survey in January along with the local business retention and expansion task force, said she’s aiming for 100 businesses to take part.
“It is extremely important to the project to have the participation of the local business,” she stressed. “Maximizing survey responses gives the community a clearer representation of what issues are affecting the entire business community.”
Dittaro wants to start conducting surveys in April.
The survey is “in-depth,” and will take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Either Dittaro, or one of several trained volunteers, will be sitting down with each participating business and personally conducting the survey.
The survey consists of 15 questions that were devised by the task force, which consists of representatives from the Chamber, the town, RRFDC, BIA, Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, Confederation College, Economic Development Advisory Committee, Abitibi-Consolidated, and Couchiching First Nation.
Questions include “How do you think that increased border security, such as passport regulations, will impact your business?” “What could be done to strengthen the branding of the ‘Great Canadian Main Street,’ in the downtown core?” and “What do you think could be done to move the community forward?”
Dittaro will be entering survey data as she goes along, with survey analysis starting in June. She added all information participants provide will remain confidential during the process.
The business retention and expansion task force then will put together a report and eventually create a long-term action plan based on the survey findings.
Dittaro said the survey not only will let the businesses know that the partners appreciate what they contribute to the community, but will serve as a sounding board for their concerns.
By taking the survey, businesses also will learn to take better advantage of the resources available in the community, and be able to help set priorities on the future direction of local economic efforts.
This is the second such survey conducted here.
Back in 2001, the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a business retention and expansion project, surveying 54 local businesses.
Ten strategies were identified in a resulting action plan, including:
•a three-year marketing plan just recently wrapped up by the RRFDC;
•strengthening skills of business owners and their employees;
•input to municipal government; and
•ways to reduce barriers to business growth.
Crystal Godbout, who conducted the 2001 survey, said this survey might not be so different from the first one, but the community might be and that’s what the survey aims to find out.
“It’s good to redo the project every five years—to monitor how things have changed and what kind of strengths and weaknesses were apparent then and what might be different now,” Godbout remarked.
“We carried through with our action plan from last time, did everything we could with what came out of the last one, and we’re hoping to do the same type of thing this time,” she added.
‘Whatever objectives or problems or issues come out of it, we’ll end up with an action plan, split it up between all the partners, and bring it to them and say, ‘This is what the businesses are saying. Develop ideas together as to how deal with them.’”
While Dittaro’s position is made possible through a grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., the business retention and expansion project is financially supported by the Chamber of Commerce, RRFDC, and Town of Fort Frances, with the groups contributing $5,000, $7,500, and $5,000, respectively, to the initiative.
RRFDC chair Russ Fortier said the business retention and expansion project is a very useful economic tool, and that businesses owe it to themselves to participate.
“We’re a small community, it gets a little stale sometimes, and this gives the businesses a chance to look at themselves inwardly and see what they’re doing, to think about how the customers feel about them, and what opportunities there are for expansion,” he noted.
“The key for us in our part of the country is people have to shop locally, and it’s up to that business to make sure they shop locally with good customer service and good product,” added Fortier.
“It’s very, very important to do this every few years,” agreed Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis. “Some of the questions that are being asked in the survey will bring us forward to the year 2007, rather than 2001,” he noted.
“In business, things change. They change very fast, and I think we have to stay on top of that,” the mayor stressed.
Any Fort Frances business interested in participating in the survey can contact Dittaro at 274-5773 or via e-mail at kerri@fortfranceschamber.com