Small businesses in Northern Rockies Regional Municipality are feeling the love.
After a successful pilot campaign last year helped more than 200 businesses expand their customer base, the Small Town Love program is being expanded this spring to include nine more communities, including the NRRM.
Small Town Love is a buy-local initiative that promotes independent businesses in Northern British Columbia. Some benefits for participating businesses include marketing assistance and inclusion on community-branded web portals.
Jaylene Arnold, Economic Development & Tourism Officer for the NRRM, said Small Town Love will help local businesses grow their profiles in the community.
"Small Town Love makes it possible for small businesses to gain a profile that they may not have access to otherwise - both online and in social media, raising awareness of what makes them and the communities they operate in unique," she said.
NRRM mayor Bill Streeper said small businesses are the backbone of the community, and he expects the initiative to promote more local shopping.
"Small business people are actually one of the major sources of employment. They create secondary employment, which increases the standard of living for families," he said, adding, "Small Town Love raises awareness of the business that are in town, because some people don't know [about the businesses]. So it promotes our businesses and promotes what they have to offer."
The program was initially launched by Amy Quarry in Quesnel, 120 km south of Prince George. After witnessing its success, Northern Development Initiative Trust partnered with Quarry last year to launch the pilot program in six communities. It was so successful that Northern Development is making it a permanently funded program, and expanding it to include the NRRM, McBride, Telkwa, Smithers, Fraser Lake, Granisle, Ashcroft, Houston and Lytton.
Bev Vandersteen, executive director of the Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce, said healthy local businesses are an important facet of the community.
"It is local business that supports our community," she said, "and keeping those dollars circulating in Fort Nelson is key to a thriving community and economy."
Arnold acknowledged that small business owners and entrepreneurs are often great at what they do, but they sometimes experience challenges when it comes to marketing and taking the proverbial next step.
"Small Town Love is a really innovative way to creatively help small businesses market themselves - to their fellow community members, to visitors, and even to prospective investors," she said.
The 2013 program included Logan Lake, 100 Mile House, Valemount, Fort St. James, Vanderhoof and Burns Lake.
"Small Town Love is all about celebrating independent businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit in central and northern B.C.," said Janine North, CEO of Northern Development. "The pilot program was a huge success in 2013, and we look forward to continuing to partner with communities and entrepreneurs to get the word out about the great locally owned businesses throughout our region."
Small Town Love founder Amy Quarry welcomes collaboration with Northern Development.
"I am very grateful for the partnership with Northern Development that allows us to take Small Town Love to so many more people than we would be able to do on our own."
Arnold encourages businesses within the NRRM who are interested in participating in the program to get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The NRRM is excited to be among those communities benefitting from the Small Town Love Program in partnership with Northern Development Initiatives Trust," she said.
More help is on the way for local businesses.
The Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Northern Development have partnered to deliver a series of seminars that will help local businesses take advantage of major LNG projects.
The dates of the seminars have not been determined.
The "Contractor-Supplier boot camps" will focus on procurement opportunities, whereas seminars will also provide local business owners with the information they need to bid on major contracts.
"Businesses here want to be part of the process, but a lot of them don't know how to get their information to the oil and gas companies to get that work. The government wants to show these people what they have to do to get these contracts," said Mayor Streeper.
Streeper said he also wants the big out-of-town companies to know that Northern Rockies Regional Municipality has a lot of what they need locally.
"When oil and gas companies come to work here, we want them to know that we have a strong base for contracting companies, transportation services, expediting crews. A lot of the facilities they require are already in Fort Nelson."
Streeper's advice for local business owners is to obtain the information they need to land big contracts.
"Get on their contact lists, find out if you need safety specifications, get to know what they require for you to work for them. That will all come out in the seminars."
Vandersteen said LNG projects are an important opportunity for businesses in the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. "Local business has the expertise and drive to provide services and supplies to the LNG industry, and we need to ensure they have every opportunity.
"Through initiatives like the Contractor-Supplier boot camps and RFP seminars, we can assist local business in being prepared for upcoming opportunities."