By Jenn Watt
Haliburton County Development Corporation continues to do far more business in its region than areas with many times the population.
At the organization’s annual general meeting at the Pinestone on Oct. 7, manager Andy Campbell told the assembled audience that HCDC loaned 79 businesses 92 loans worth about $4.2 million in 2015 – for comparison’s sake, Prince Edward Island gave out $2.3 million.
“In our small community … we lend more money than the province of P.E.I.,” Campbell said.
Even our closest neighbours don’t do as much business; Kawartha Lakes gave out 21 loans worth $1.3 million and Northumberland gave 19 worth just under $1 million.
HCDC is a Community Futures group, funded by FedDev, which has been assisting businesses and community groups for the last 30 years.
The organization gives out loans and grants and has also administered the Self Employment Benefits Program, which this year was discontinued.
“We put over 300 people through this program … It was a good one for Haliburton County,” Campbell said, thanking Lauren Forbes for running the provincially funded program.
Investment manager Tracey Dyson told the group that the loans given out last year created 82 jobs and maintained another 500. Of those, a quarter were start-ups. The service industry received the bulk of the loans – 53 of 92. Retail and construction were the next closest. Most loans went to Dysart et al and Minden Hills businesses.
HCDC also has several grant and innovation programs. Assistant director Patti Tallman told the audience on Wednesday about the Eastern Ontario Development Program, which has a half-million-dollar budget. In the year ending March 31, 2015, 35 projects received funding through the program, which splits costs 50-50 with successful applicants.
Tallman highlighted the work of the Volunteer Dental Outreach Clinic, which received funding to hire a part-time dental assistant. That organization has offered free dental care worth more than $1 million to lower income Haliburton County residents since 2011.
To fill another need in the community, the HCDC board set aside just less than $50,000 last year to give out as small grants under the Local Initiatives Program, which asks participants to contribute a small amount themselves or demonstrate in-kind contributions. Most of those grants were about $2,500 and went to small non-profits. An example Tallman gave was the GeoTour geocaching adventure in Highlands East. According to her presentation, GeoTour is ranked fifth in the world and is only one of two in Ontario.
Consultant Jim Blake updated the group on the Creative Business Incubator, which in recent years has become a digital media centre. To that end, the focus has been on developing the space – located next to the municipal building on Mountain Street in Haliburton – to better accommodate tech-based companies.
“One of the things that we hear from businesses is the importance of high-speed [Internet] in the community and even though an enormous amount of work has been done to bring broadband to the community, for many of the kinds of businesses we’re trying to attract, we need super high-speed,” Blake said.
In September of this year, fibre-optic cable was put into the building bringing 100-mg parallel service, allowing much faster uploads and downloads for those sending large files.
“That’s allowed us to now go after digital media businesses which can actually transfer major files all over the world,” he said.
They are also intending on sharing the connection with businesses that don’t need office space, but would like to come in and use the fibre-optic connection.
Businesses in the incubator currently include Sticks and Stones, Digital Reno, Why Complain Media, the SPARC Network and the Arts Council.
HCDC chairman Andrew Hodgson finished the meeting by thanking three members of the board who were leaving after several years.
Wendy Gunning, Barry Brown and Jan McDonald all finished their terms and were given plaques by Lise Beauchamp from FedDev.