BONNYVILLE - Businesses in the Town of Bonnyville looking to beautify their space will be able to apply to get a helping hand.
The Community Futures Lakeland Business Beautification program has the financial support of town council, after the municipality voted to pitch in just shy of $14,000 during their meeting on Tuesday, July 13.
The program offers loans to business owners interested in enhancing the look of their property, whether that means new windows, lighting, or signage. The work can be to the interior or exterior of the business.
“When (town) administration reviewed this program with Community Futures, it became apparent from some of the projects that had been previously completed is that most of the renovations that had been completed were interior renovations, repairs, or replacement of windows and doors, new signage. There’s really about 20 categories of improvements that this program covers,” CAO Bill Rogers said.
According to Rae Assailly, business analyst with Community Futures Lakeland, the loans are interest-free and include "a repayable portion as well as a $2,000 grant."
“We are trying to see opportunities even though the COVID-19 pandemic has created unimaginable challenges for our community. From an individual business perspective, our businesses have limited foot traffic, so it does make it the ideal time to do construction projects. From a construction industry perspective, we have trades people who are not at capacity for work and may be available for smaller projects that in the past, they may have passed on,” she explained during her presentation to council. “From a community perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has kept people closer to home and their neighbourhoods are their focus."
For the first year, they will be testing the waters and garnering how much interest there is for the program by offering five loans.
While Community Futures will be investing $40,000, the town will be contributing $13,810.
"We would be looking for five grants from the municipality, that would total $10,000, and an admin fee to the municipality... which equates to about $3,810,” Assailly detailed.
The program isn't new to Alberta and has been successful in other parts of the province, including the Town of Taber.
"They have run this program with the Chinook Community Futures for about five years, and it has seen significant success,” expressed Assailly.
Since 2019, they have completed 43 loans for a cost of roughly $120,000 to the municipality.
“It shows that this program was a real catalyst for small business spending on their properties in the Town of Taber. Small businesses spent $2.5 million on their businesses during that time, the ones that participated in that program,” stated Assailly. “We can see it had an exponential effect and resulted in a much bigger spend on a local level."
However, she noted, it took two to three years before the program began building momentum.
With only five loans available in the first year, the selection process will be first-come first-serve.
Assailly explained, “We would look at the loans the same way we would look at loans like the Regional Relief and Recovery loans. First, it comes in by date, so when a complete loan arrives on my desk, that’s the date stamp on it. I would look at that loan, if it qualifies, then maybe it gets to be number one, if it doesn’t qualify, then it goes to the side and I move on to the next one."
The municipality could offer more than five loans, however, Coun. Brian McEvoy felt it was a good start.
"I hope we can turn this into a multi-year program,” he said.
Assailly started with the local Community Futures roughly six months ago, and despite taking on the role during a pandemic, she has been busy.
“I felt coming in during the pandemic I wouldn’t be doing a lot of business start-up counsel, and we have been doing a lot. In fact, July, from a business coaching perspective, I’ve seen 10 clients, which is a high number for summer,” she explained. “I am encouraged by people’s interest in reinventing themselves."