Anne Prichard starting working for the Frontenac Community Futures Development Corporation (FCFDC) before the corporation even existed. She was hired by the management committee that was in the final stages of establishing the corporation, which was one of the last ones to be set up in rural Ontario counties by the Government of Canada.
In early January of 2004, the founding Board of the FCFDC met and affirmed Prichard as their executive director. The corporation has three core operations. They loan out funds to businesses who are not eligible for loans from banks as well as assisting businesses in obtaining loans from major financial institutions, they provide support and advice for new and existing businesses, and they administer granting programs such as the Eastern Ontario Development Program (EODP).
Prichard, and office administrator Sue Theriault, have been with the FCFDC since the start. Over the years a number of different people have worked for the agency as business development officers, and the hiring process for the next person to fill that role is currently underway.
From the start, Prichard knew that she would have to take a pro-active approach in order to reach the business community in Frontenac County.
“Frontenac County is not like in larger centres, where you can call the local Chamber of Commerce and get their list of members to contact, because there is no chamber of commerce. When I hear about a new business or an existing business that might benefit from our services, I don’t wait for them to contact me, I pick up the phone or send out an email,” she said, when interviewed in Sharbot Lake this week, just before making a presentation to Central Frontenac Council.
An example of how legwork can pay off was the development of the Food and Beverage (FAB) region with Hastings, Lennox and Addington and Prince Edward Counties.
“When we joined in with the FAB region, I was only aware of one food business in the entire County, Henderson Farms Jams and Jellies from Wolfe Island. Now we are working with dozens of businesses in that sector, and many of them are innovators in terms of product and marketing.”
Aside from working on business plans and loans, running the Eastern Ontario Development Program has been a major effort over the years.
“The program has undergone a number of changes since it was set up as the Eastern Ontario Development Fund in late 2004,” Prichard said. “At first we could fund 100% of the costs of projects for not-for-profit corporations, and we could pay for 50% of the cost of business websites. But over the years, the program has changed. It is geared to improving efficiency and innovation and providing 50% support for investments aimed at bringing new products to market and increasing or maintaining employment.”
Even with a program that can provide 50% funding for business investments, Prichard realises that maintaining personal contact with all of the small businesses that are scattered throughout the large county is a necessity.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve been talking to long established clients who tell me about investments they have made in equipment. I say ‘you should have called us, we could have funded 50% of that cost’ and they say ‘oh, right, I forgot about that.”
Overall, Prichard sees that there are many innovative, Frontenac County ‘mom and pop’ operations that continued to grow, and work together.
“I think we have been and are continuing to play an important role in helping the business community grow all over Frontenac County,” she said.
The FCFDC is facing some challenges as it heads into its 16th year. As one of the smallest of the corporations in Ontario, it does not have enough of a loan portfolio to keep up with the local demand for borrowing, and has had to borrow funds from larger CFDC’s in order to make some loans. As well, the EODP has wound up for the time being. The last intake was back in August for projects that must be completed by the end of March, 2019.
“We are hoping that a new, revamped version of the program will be announced shortly, “she said, “but those decisions are made in Ottawa and they follow their own schedule, so we will see what happens.”
One way or another, the FCFDC will continue to work with municipal partners and local businesses, to strengthen the business environment in Frontenac County.