Community Futures has created or maintained 200 island jobs, says manager

  • Oct. 5, 2009 7:00 p.m.

by Heather Ramsay-Economic challenges can be thought of as opportunities, said Haida Gwaii Community Futures general manager Art Lew at the society’s recent annual general meeting. Art Lew spoke to a handful of people gathered at the Haida Heritage Centre on Sept. 26 about the organization’s work over the last 11 years. He said that 200 jobs have been created or maintained with the help of Community Futures, which started in 1998. The organization, whose mission is to support entrepreneurial spirit on the islands by mentoring those who want to start businesses and helping them find the right financing, has given out 71 loans to islanders who couldn’t access traditional sources, worth a total of $1.7 million. But shutdowns in forestry have impacted islanders and the businesses that serve them. Fishing has slowed down and fish processors are faced with tighter restrictions on dumping waste. Local farmers have also faced tighter restrictions on farm-gate sales and the tourism industry may also be experiencing a slowdown. Not only that but real estate prices have gone up as more people from the city purchase on the islands. That said, these challenges “often propel people to do things,” Mr. Lew said. Like setting up the HG Local Foods Processing Co-op and looking at the feasibility of creating compost from fish waste. He also thinks there is tremendous potential for people to work remotely from here, doing work like graphic design or other high tech jobs. Community Futures not only helps small businesses, but also supports non-profits and co-ops to find funds as long as the goal is meeting the long-term sustainability and viability of the islands, Mr. Lew said. “It’s about supporting people to do things, not doing things for people,” he said. “We do whatever we can to help people make a go of whatever they are trying to do.” Mr. Lew said Community Futures is classified as an aboriginal financial institution and that’s why 50 percent of the board is Haida. His staff are able to mentor people, coach them on how to do business plans and more. They also support social needs, like providing youth services and ensuring Northwest Community College stays on the islands.”I don’t think its utilized near what it could be,” said Mr. Lew. His organization is always on the look out for training opportunities through the college. Community Futures also runs the Career Development Centre which helps people looking for jobs by helping with resumes, letters and preparing for interviews. Two board members stepped down at the AGM – Brian Charman of Sandspit and Marlene Liddle, the northern Haida representative. Those positions are open, as is the Queen Charlotte rep and the south Island Haida position. John T. Jones represents Old Massett, Lareina Grosse represents Masset, Brock Storry represents Port Clements and Eddy Russ represents Skidegate.