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Agency helping rural businesses prosper

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There’s a saying: ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’, but most of the services offered by Community Futures organizations are indeed free.

But Community Future is proving a valuable resource for new and existing businesses.

Community Futures White Horse Plains covers the RMs of Cartier, St. Francois Xavier, Headingley and Portage la Prairie, while Community Futures Triple R’s territory includes the RM of Macdonald, and the RM of Rosser falls within the Community Futures East Interlake area.

Elaine Palson, business development officer with CF White Horse Plains says the three non-profit organizations are among 16 within Manitoba; part of a national network established by the federal government in the late 1990s.

One of the services provided by Community Futures is granting business loans.

 "I lent out around $180,000 (in 2011-12)," said Palson, adding that she and the other White Horse Plains staff also helped business owners access close to $2 million in financing through banks, credit unions and other government agencies.

"We help assess and figure out what’s the best funding for the business and for the entrepreneur," she said.

Ambily Manoj and Manoj Kumar, owners of Roadhouse Eatery in Headingley, said they received good financial advice from Palson before they took over the business last year.

Dayna Lalchun, business development manager with CF Triple R, is excited about a new loan program for people between 15 and 24 years old. They can borrow up to $2,000 but they must first develop a business plan with the help of the Triple R staff.

"This is a smaller version of our normal loan application process," said Lalchun.

Triple R staff also run youth camps to encourage young entrepreneurs to develop a product, learn how to manufacture and market it.

Community Futures staff can also help new entrepreneurs develop the skills they need to launch their businesses. Along with financial advice, they will assist with business plan development and management training.

Palson said some fledging business owners may take up to a year of preparation before they open their doors.

"We’re there guiding, helping all the way," she said. She will continue to mentor a new business owner for three years.

Rural business owners might feel isolated, Palson said, so White Horse Plains offers networking events. Sometimes called business mixers, they give local business owners the chance to get to know one another and share their experiences and knowledge.

Manoj said that, being new to Headingley, she found the networking opportunities to be a great way to meet other area entrepreneurs and start to develop business contacts and potential customers.

Palson organizes five lunch-and-learn sessions specifically for women in business. The next one is being held in Portage la Prairie on Jan. 31.

"We’ve received great feedback on these sessions," she said.

For those business owners who aren’t able to attend workshops, the Community Futures organizations offer regular video conferencing sessions for skill development.

Businesses that have been open for years also need advice and support when they’re considering expansion or succession planning or when they run into human resources, management or financial problems.

"It’s our resources and guidance and advice that we hope helps get them through hard times," Palson said.

Darlene Telesky-Rivard of St. Eustache started her drafting service in 2007 but, after operating for a few years, she felt she’d strayed from her original business plan. She turned to Palson for help.

"Central/White Horse Plains and Elaine Palson supported me, helped me, and encouraged me to continue to push forward and to believe we can," she said. "Without that I don’t think I would have recently landed (a contract) teaching building construction at Red River College."

Community Futures White Horse Plains will soon release the results of a business restoration project focusing on future business development needs identified by business owners and community members. Palson said the results will be used to develop a plan.

"We’ve got something to start the ball rolling," she said.

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