By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Business and Entrepreneurship Centre Northumberland Manager Rob Day’s report at this week’s meeting of the Economic Development, Tourism and Planning Standing Committee of Northumberland County council had a distinct tone of optimism.
Day’s report noted, for example, a giant increase in two key indicators from the pre-COVID year of 2019 to 2021 – 81 grants worth $143,000) were distributed in 2021 (up from 25 grants worth $84,000) and 393 consultations were held (up from 145).
Day characterized “consultation” as a deeper, more meaningful meeting with aspiring entrepreneurs to thrash such issues as planning, growth and problem solving.
“We spent a lot of time in 2021 helping people one-on-one, which I think is really important. I know, from feedback we got from our clients, it was really significant,” he said, citing the planning, mentorship and educational coaching and services available.
“Due to COVID, we were able to secure some extra resources and funding to provide micro-grants in a number of different areas. It could be women, it could be digital footprints – we helped 81 businesses.”
Other 2021 highlights include serving 35 businesses through the Digital Footprint program. In its two years to date, it has helped 90 businesses and distributed $194,000 in support grants.
“We all should be very proud of this. We are almost certainly the only municipality in Eastern Ontario that took this on as a challenge and made this happen,” Day said.
While a number of companies were negatively affected by the pandemic, he noted that some businesses did well – website design, social-media support, social-media management.
Based on a survey the centre undertook of local businesses between October and December, however, the feeling is hopeful. While 38% of respondents have decreased their total number of employees, 37% have kept the same number and 25% have increased. And fully 70% of respondents expect their business will grow in 2022.
Day was especially proud of the self-help best-practices videos they have been producing as a result of a disappointing response to their on-line courses. He played one to illustrate, a simple interview with two Trent Hills business owners sharing the secrets of their success – creative use of social media and equipment upgrades, for example, with solid information on what a difference they made.
These videos can be chosen by a user based on his or her own needs and played on demand, he said.
Their first four videos have received more than 600 views. The eight new ones launched in November already have more than 300 views. The plan is to create more in 2022.
County council Deputy Warden Mandy Martin – not a committee member but sitting in on the meeting – loved the flexibility of this idea. The videos can be called up on an entrepreneur’s own schedule, Martin said, “rather than sitting in at a prescribed pre-booked time that may conflict with an order coming in.”
Committee chair Bob Sanderson had some ideas to offer on the videos, but did find them professional-looking. He asked how much they cost.
The business owners in the videos volunteer their own time, Day said. Other than that, production costs come to $400-$500 per video.
“That’s more reasonable than I thought,” Sanderson said – “that’s nice to hear.
“I think your response to COVID has been kind of outstanding.”