HALIFAX — Community Futures groups in Western Canada would better serve their rural clients by speaking with one voice in a time of diminishing resources, said the group’s national chair Dave Harris.
“They will have to come together and find commonalities and build on that and I think they will have much better results,” he said of the groups that support rural economic development initiatives through loans and training.
“The four provinces represented by it are going off in four different directions. Change won’t be possible unless they get together,” he said in an interview during the Community Futures Network of Canada annual conference here May 30-June 1.
Harris said the federal government, which funds CF operations in Canada, has indicated there will be no increases in funding for the coming year.
Harris said the united approach has served Atlantic Canada’s community business development corporations (CBDC) well, cutting operating costs and freeing up more money for clients.
Forty-one Atlantic groups contributed $37,500 to a central fund, to which the federal government added another $9 million. The fund today sits at $30 million.
The group found dormant money sitting in bank accounts and little used programs, changed its funding formula to reflect what was happening in the individual offices and freed up investment funds to supplement rising operations costs. The changes allowed groups to learn how much money they have to work with well in advance of the coming year, which helped with long-term planning, Harris said.
He said small CBDCs once got the same money as large ones, with some floundering trying to get their work done while others had a smaller workload.
“The more business you do, the more money you’re entitled to.”
The West is currently in the early stages of what Atlantic Canada started, but the difference is that they’re tackling it province by province, said Harris.
“The West needs to look at how they can do things better together,” he said.
He said the overall mandate of the 25-year-old program is not changing.
“What has to change is how we use the money we have,” he said.
Jason Denbow, executive director of Community Futures Manitoba, said western CFs are all facing the same challenges and looking at new ways of doing business on the $300,000 each office receives annually from the federal government though the Western Economic Diversification fund.
They are exploring areas served to see if all are still appropriate, if there are ways CFs can work together with bulk audits and implementing new technologies like IP telephones to save money.
“We’re trying to see if there are different ways of doing things to squeeze dollars out,” said Denbow.
He noted how Saskatchewan divides funds equally among its CFs while Manitoba and British Columbia look at factors like need, size of the region and who is being serviced. Alberta has big, medium and small designations.
He said the Atlantic Canada model is too simplistic a solution because western CFs not only lend money but also do community planning and economic development.
“We look at things that enhance the conditions that you need for business,” he said. “If we just used their formula and plunked it down in the West, we would fail to recognize half of what we do.”
He said Atlantic Canada CBDCs tore down barriers between operations and loan funding, enabling them to draw off interest from loan funds to supplement operations.
“There’s lots of funding in their system already and they just needed to access it differently. We’re not in the same boat,” he said.
Denbow said the main goal is to retain programming for rural clients.
“As our revenues stay flat, as our costs increase, it’s really to find ways to ensure we can find ways to maintain the quality of service.
“We recognize that we can only keep operating with diminishing funds for so long and at some point, we have to look at new ways of doing things,” said Denbow.
He said the CF conference gave rural board members a chance to see how others are addressing their challenges.