A new federal government program announced in Brandon on Thursday is meant to help small businesses grow in rural western Canada.
Called the Rural Opportunities Fund, $4.8 million in federal funding will be distributed by Community Futures organizations across the western provinces.
Over the program’s three-year lifespan, the money is expected to help 90 entrepreneurs, support 75 small and medium-sized businesses change ownership and engage 20 community-based projects.
Terry Duguid, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, made the announcement at Community Futures Westman. He said the money is meant to spur innovation and create quality jobs in rural Canada.
"It is to inject funds where businesses have growth potential but maybe don’t have the means to expand," he said. "It really is to help small businesses grow in rural Manitoba, where we know we have issues with economic growth and there are challenges that are unique to rural Canada."
While money in the fund is coming exclusively from the federal government, Community Futures Manitoba executive director Jason Denbow said funding priority will be given to projects that leverage money from other sources, like private companies or other levels of government.
Roger Guy, executive director of Community Futures Westman, said the local organization will get up to approximately $300,000, but said there are no ideas in the pipeline for it yet.
"We haven’t put in an application ourselves yet," he said. "We’re still looking at where we want to go with this."
He said he hopes to have a project in the works within the next month, and that Community Futures Westman was in talks with the City of Brandon and Town of Neepawa, but those talks didn’t go anywhere.
One of the most important functions of the money will be to help local businesses stay open when the original owner wants to sell or retire, Guy said. In some places, local hardware or grocery stores may close when the original owners move on, but money from the Rural Opportunities Fund could help someone else buy the business and keep it open.
Guy said one possible use for the money Community Futures Westman is eligible for is to hire someone to identify rural businesses on the verge of selling and to help them find a buyer.
Part of the money will be used for Community Futures to host succession workshops for those existing business owners who want to move on, Denbow said. The money will help business owners create a succession plan to market the business to either local or national
"We’re hitting the ground running. We’re looking 15 offices in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to participate in the projects. … Right now, if you’re an entrepreneur looking to sell your business you generally don’t know where to start," he said.
"There’s a lot to learn in preparing a business to sell."
The money is also about addressing the economic concerns the federal government heard during the 2019 federal election, Duguid said — who is also a Winnipeg Liberal MP.
"We know that rural communities across the country have their challenges and this is part of the picture of addressing some of those challenges. There are new challenges in the resources sector which we are also trying to address in other ways."
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