Economy

"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce

 

A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY
- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -

Revelstoke Community Futures Development Corporation

The Revelstoke Community Futures Development Corporation is a broadly-based, non-profit community economic development organization which operates in the small rural Canadian city of Revelstoke (population 8,800), assisting individuals with employment, training and business development, and engaging in a wide variety of community projects.

Origins and Development

Revelstoke is a small city in the Canadian Rockies which began life in the 1880s as a transportation and supply centre for the mining industry. This was followed by the construction of the trans-continental railway, then the TransCanada Highway, and beginning in 1965, three giant hydroelectric dams. When the megaproject boom ended in 1985, however, the town was plunged into depression, with 25 per cent of the homes being for sale. It was at this point that the community reached for its own resources, and with help from the Canadian government's Western Economic Diversification program, set up the Community Futures Development Corporation, aiming at downtown revitalization, small business development, strengthening the local timber industry, and increasing tourism.

Aims and Objectives

The corporation's ultimate objective is to develop and manage a financially self-sustaining community economic development agency which can assist local people with the training, advice and financing they need to start local businesses. It also seeks to increase the quality and quantity of employment in the area, to marry economic success with a social return, and to pursue Revelstoke's overall community vision in partnership with the City, the Economic Development Commission, the Community Career Centre, the Community Skills Centre, the Community Learning Centre and the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation.

Structure

The corporation is a non-profit corporation without share capital, governed by a voluntary Board of Directors which includes participation from the city's Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, the Revelstoke Community Skills Centre, the federal government, and a youth representative. It has offices in the Revelstoke Enterprise Centre, which it shares with the Chamber of Commerce and Revelstoke's Economic Development Commission, which looks after the more political aspects of development. Altogether, about 125 people are involved as active volunteers in the corporation's various projects.

Activities

The corporation's main activities consist of a self-employment training program, run through a contract with the federal government's Human Resources Development department, and a revolving loan portfolio. In 1999, they made contact with 149 potential clients, of whom 141 attended an orientation session, 25 developed business plans and 17 completed self-employment and entrepreneurial skills training, coupled with a small start-up grant. The loan portfolio is made up of six different loan funds which the corporation manages, including loans for business development, forest renewal, youth businesses and entrepreneurs with disabilities. Three of the funds consist of repayable loans totaling $600,000; two started with non-repayable contributions totaling $2 million (from the federal government and the provincial government's Forest Renewal Program). The sixth fund is managed on behalf of the Columbia Basin Trust. Loans are only given when an entrepreneur can not obtain a loan from a regular source (such as the credit union). In addition to the training and loan programs, the corporation is currently engaged in a variety of other projects :

* Creating a Revelstoke Economic Activity Database which lists 600 local businesses, by sector. This enables the corporation to track the value of its programs, while enabling local businesses to see where there are gaps in the local economy, and where money is leaving to import goods.
* Launching the Revelstoke Community Foundation as a charity endowed with funds donated by embers of the community, to be used for local grants.
* Working with the Revelstoke Railway Museum to organize Revelstoke Railway Days, as an August holiday tourist attraction for railway enthusiasts.
* Organizing a major conference on 'Looking to the Millennium for Forest Based Communities', including global and provincial presentations.
* Supporting feasibility studies for an Arts Centre, a Distance Learning Centre and a Women's Business Cooperative.
* Engaging in various youth support activities, and other community projects.
* Partnering with other community economic development groups, by providing a student internship in CED, delivering on-site study tours, sharing in the process of designing a comprehensive loan and client management software system, and developing a community investment tool to assess the resilience of rural communities facing economic change.

Finance

Approximately half of the corporation's operating income comes from the Canadian government's Western Economic Diversification program, which operates a number of Community Futures projects across Canada; the other half comes from various projects and programs. The income from interest on the loans is all re-invested in the various funds, to expand the loan-base. In addition to the loans that the corporation gives, the credit union lends a significant amount of money to local businesses, often in partnership with the corporation. The regular banks are not active players when it comes to making business loans.

Performance

Since the revolving loan fund started in 1988, it has loaned over $8 million to local business start-ups, of which the bad debt loss has been just 4%. The current value of active loans and investments is almost $4 million. In 1998/9, the corporation provided 35 new loans worth over $1 million to qualified clients, and assisted in the creation or maintenance of 85 jobs. Overall, the corporation's staff estimate that 80% of the businesses they have assisted are still in business.

Problems

The main problem that the corporation faced as it was getting started was simply getting to be known, and recognized as a source of useful skills and advice in the town. Today, one of the difficulties lies in training the existing business community, especially for the information age, which most businesses have yet to enter.

Future

Revelstoke's estimated unemployment rate is between 8 - 10%, but the economy is being successfully diversified, and compared to the situation 14 years ago, the future is looking bright. The primary focus of the corporation in the year 2000 will be to continue its current services and initiatives, and to nourish the growth of the loan portfolio, lending $1.2 million to approximately 20 business start-ups, without diminishing the quality of the services offered. As a small town, Revelstoke has a remarkable number of community and community economic initiatives, involving many volunteers. It is this foundation of community involvement, expressed in organized institutions and initiatives, which is Revelstoke's best guarantee against whatever uncertainties the future may bring.

For further information contact :

Daryll Willoughby,
Revelstoke Community Futures Development Corporation,
204 Campbell Ave, Box 2398,
Revelstoke, B.C. V0E 2S0, Canada

Tel : (250) 837-5345
Fax : (250) 837-4223

email : cfdcrev@junction.net
www.revelstokecf.com


Written by Guy Dauncey for The Planning Exchange, Glasgow, Scotland.

guydauncey@earthfuture.com