THUNDER BAY – Communities can wait around for large factories to set up shop and employ hundreds of people.
If their business lottery numbers happen to hit, it might just work.
A more realistic tack is working to grow small- and medium size businesses, which in Thunder Bay are the backbone of an economy hit hard by downturns in manufacturing and forestry.
It’s why the Starter Company program worked so well and why officials behind its replacement, Starter Company Plus, believe its $5,000 grants and mentorship program can help even more entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.
The main difference between the two is the original Starter Company plan was only open to Ontario residents between 18 and 30.
Under the new program, which will provide 43 grants over two years, the money is available to qualified applicants older than 18, with no age ceiling.
Doug Murray, who heads Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission, said while many of the original 51 businesses remain small operations, they’re still putting people to work for themselves and providing employment.
Every little bit helps, he said.
“They could be one employee, they could be two and some of them could be at three. Some of them are going to grow. Some of them are going to take off. Sometimes some of them may not. But look at some of the big-time companies and entrepreneurs,” Murray said.
“It took somebody a few times around.”
Murray estimated 90 per cent of the people employed in the city will draw their wages from small- to medium-sized businesses.
“The growth that we’re going to see and the stability that we’re going to see in Thunder Bay, a lot of it’s going to occur by the people that are already here, the businesses that are already here.”
Ryan Moore, the CEDC’s development officer, said both programs, funded provincially through the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, said the first 51 grants had a lot of impact at the local level.
Businesses that used the money to get started include Animikii Tours, Rent Panda and Northwest Gourmet Mushrooms.
The money, which might not seem like a lot, goes a long way, Moore said.
“Giving someone $5,000 to help their business I think is really going to help give them a leg up to go do what they want to do, allow them to start their business, employ people and provide economic benefit to Northwestern Ontarians.”
Ryan Tarabocchia, who used his grant to launch Northwest Gourmet Mushrooms, said he thinks it’s a great idea to expand the program’s reach.
“You’re not excluding anyone. Lots of people between 18 and 29 aren’t really set in mind to start a business. It’s quite an undertaking. So after 30 maybe you’re starting to think business is a good idea and it kind of gives you an open door to some money to start up, help to write a business plan and find some mentorship,” Tarabocchia said.
For more information on the program, visit www.EntrepreneurCentre.ca.