Business assistance funds are flying out the door at LAMBAC

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GORE BAY – LAMBAC, the community futures development corporation for the Manitoulin and LaCloche regions, has been burning the midnight oil, almost literally, to get business assistance funding into the hands of businesses in need thanks to funding that has flowed through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) from the federal government.

The LAMBAC staff, like many organizations during the pandemic, are working almost entirely from home. A factor that has had unexpected benefits for applicants.

“Before we worked basic office hours,” said executive director Mike Addison. “Now, working from home, when I go past my computer and see an email has come in I often sit down and start going through them.” That and the lack of those distractions common to most offices seems to have upped the productivity of all the staff. “It might be my imagination, but we seem to be getting more done,” he laughed.

This has contributed to a quick turnaround for many of the applications coming in. “We have been getting most of them completed within a few weeks,” said Mr. Addison. Contributing to the fast turnover is that the LAMBAC board is now meeting once a week, rather than the previous monthly process.

Changes in some of the rules and better communications on the part of governments have also helped to smooth out the process, which was somewhat frustrating for businesses in the early days of the pandemic restrictions.

Part of the confusion in those communications came from the inherent lag common to large corporations as it was the major banks who were handling much of the loan applications.

The Business Development Corporation received some $10 billion in funding, but it was five weeks later before the good news arrived in the LAMBAC coffers.

Businesses that have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for up to a $40,000 loan, with up to 25 percent forgiveness if the loan is repaid within the two-year timeframe set by the regulations. Those businesses that have already received one of the loans through a major bank can also now apply for an additional $40,000, although without the 25 percent forgiveness portion. Still, the loans are coming out at zero percent interest and zero percent payment over the first two years.

As part of the business support load program, $25 million has been provided for Northern Ontario Community Futures Development Corporations such as LAMBAC, noted Mr. Addison, roughly $1 million allocated to each CFDC. “We can provide loans up to $40,000 for businesses to make it through,” said Mr. Addison, but there is a caveat. “The problem is if every business asks for the limit of $40,000, we will only be able to help 22 clients. We have 100 clients that we work with currently. We are hoping businesses will ask for only what they need; we are hoping they are looking for $15,000 in funding—that will allow us to help more businesses.”

Mr. Addison noted that there is also the Northern Ontario Women (NOW) program available to help support female entrepreneurs, and which is gathering women entrepreneurs across the region into its fold with a new round of funding available.

With only 16 percent of Canadian businesses owned/led by women, the Government of Canada has recognized that advancing women’s economic participation in the economy is good for the country’s bottom line and has set the goal of doubling the number of women-owned/women-led businesses by 2025. To that end, the NOW program is aimed at increasing access to business development supports throughout the Northern Ontario region.

The NOW program seeks to enable female entrepreneurs to access professional services they would typically not be able to afford on their own, to access experts in the transportation sector, provide access to consultants who can assist female entrepreneurs in operating more efficient businesses/realizing cost-saving measures, to educate female entrepreneurs with regards to the  regulatory requirements involved in exporting goods and to provide female entrepreneurs with the opportunity to attend, free of charge, workshops hosted by their local CFDC.

If there were words of advice Mr. Addison would impart to business owners it would be “do your due diligence. Before calling LAMBAC, ask yourself ‘what have I done for myself?’” he said. “Have you reached out to your creditors, your suppliers, your bank, your landlord and your municipality to negotiate terms or defer payments?” If those actions have been taken, “it makes it more attractive to help,” he said. “We have had businesses call for assistance who could have had curbside deliveries, for instance. They haven’t looked into their options—don’t be like those businesses.”