By Mike Wilson
A new program launched in a collaborative effort between the Township of Wellington North, Town of Minto and Mapleton Township aims to put talented people into downtown storefronts to gain exposure, build their business, and become a sustainable enterprise all while filling vacant storefronts in the three municipalities.
The program, known as Renew Northern Wellington, will see interested building owners make their empty spaces available to the program with the hopes of filling those spaces with up start businesses that do not directly compete with the existing businesses in a downtown core.
Wellington North, working with the chambers of commerce in Arthur and Mount Forest and the Mount Forest Business Improvement Association, applied for, and received, a Trillium grant totalling $66,300 over two years to support the program. Using that money, Wellington North was able to purchase the Renew program, becoming the second community in Ontario to do so.
As the process began to move along, it was realized then that the Renew program was applicable to not just Wellington North, but to other communities as well.
“We’ve realized that this program is applicable to any community that is interested in it. Mapleton and Minto, who we partner a lot with from a northern Wellington perspective, jumped right on it quickly and said we will be a part of the program,” said Dale Small, Business and Economic Manager for Wellington North. “As municipalities, we need to partner together when we can… because when the Trillium funding is done in two years we need to be able to sustain the program moving forward.”
While the program is looking to build and develop new businesses, they do not want to do so at the expense of the current businesses in the three municipalities.
“While we will be able to share resources and as we are attracting businesses, we don’t want to compete with existing businesses that are in our communities,” said April Marshall, Tourism, Marketing and Promotion Manager for Wellington North. “We don’t want to duplicate existing businesses and put that competition in there per se, but we still want to foster the creativity and entrepreneurship of it all.”
This will be done through a review committee consisting of local people who will review the new business’s application and decide whether or not it is a viable opportunity and if it directly competes with an already established business. If the application is approved, the committee will seek out a building owner from those who are participating in the program to see if they would like this business in their building. If the building owner agrees to let the business use their space, legal agreements are written up.
The business would pay a small fee to Renew Northern Wellington each month, as well as covering the utility costs in the building space they receive. The building owner receives the benefit of having a tenant in their space, as well as having their utility costs covered. There is no cost to the building owner to participate in the program. Each month, the fee paid to Renew Northern Wellington would increase, with the idea being that after a period of time the business would have determined whether or not their business is sustainable.
“This is not a program that will see a business start up and stay on the program for a year, because it will be too expensive for them based on how the fee structure escalates,” said Small.
The feeling is that for a building owner, there is little to no risk in participating in the program.
“They (the owner) get their utilities paid for, which they are paying anyway (on an empty space),” said Small. “The benefit is that they get somebody in their facility who might clean it up and make it appear more rentable, and they get someone paying the utilities that they are already paying.”
Businesses that participate also have to have the proper insurance coverage for their business, making sure that the building owner is protected. Agreements between a business, building owner and Renew Northern Wellington are also short-term (30 days), making it easy for a building owner to place a long-term tenant in their space if need be.
Small said that in a perfect world, a business that starts in the program and thrives would eventually sign a long term lease with the owner of the building they are in because it would be less expensive than what they are paying Renew Northern Wellington. He went on to say that fee structure is set up, as well as having the application process, that ‘fly by night’ businesses should not be an issue.
By having the three municipalities involved, Small says it opens up access to resources such as LaunchIt Minto, and the Saugeen Economic Development Corporation to help provide training, education and mentorship for new businesses.
LOTS OF SPACE
Small said that in Wellington North there are currently 250 potential building spaces within a one-block radius of Main Street, and 30 of those spaces currently sit empty.
“People are surprised when they hear that number,” said Small.
He is hopeful that all of the building owners are willing to participate in the program.
“It’s low risk,” he said. “By having someone in the building it becomes more rentable as well because people see that it is still there.”
The group is in the process of becoming a registered not-for-profit organization.
“It is not municipally run so there will be no reliance on municipal dollars moving forward,” said Small. “It (Renew Northern Wellington) generates revenue and will have some expenses that will be paid from that.”
Small said that the board of directors is still being assembled, and will see four volunteers from each of the three municipalities make up the board. Small hopes that the board will have their first meeting in early June, and shortly after that they will start to actively talk to building owners about joining the program.
Those interested in participating in the program as new business or building owner, or are looking for more information on the board of directors or the local review committee can contact Small or Marshall by phone at 519-848-3620 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.