Underemployed? Community Futures can help you on the path to self-employment

When Kevin Dorrius started at the Community Futures Development Corporation of Revelstoke in 1997, he came on a one-year internship. He considered himself lucky to find the position, having bounced around from job to job after graduating from university.

When Kevin Dorrius started at the Community Futures Development Corporation of Revelstoke in 1997, he came on a one-year internship. He considered himself lucky to find the position, having bounced around from job to job after graduating from university.

“It was fairly quick that I realized that I didn’t want to leave here so I was delighted when I got the full time position with Community Futures,” he told me.

He was talking about his experience as it relates to the people I wrote about in last week’s article about under-employed youth. I met with Dorrius to talk about the supports available to them through Revelstoke`s economic development team.

“I do understand it because I was in it myself,” he said. “I moved back in with my mom after university like a lot of people do because I couldn’t find my first job. I got lucky with my opportunity … at the time. A lot of my friends  took another three of four years before they got their opportunity.”

We met at his office in Revelstoke`s community economic development office above the winter visitor centre on Campbell Avenue. The office is shared between Community Futures, the Chamber of Commerce and Alan Mason, the city`s director of economic development. “This is a dream situation,” said Dorrius. Clients can be sent to Mason if they need help dealing with the city or to the chamber if they need help with advocacy or business promotion.

Community Futures was set up in Revelstoke in 1987 through initial funding by Western Economic Diversification and Human Resource Skills Development Canada. The purpose of the organization was to provide small business loans, self-employment benefits and advice to new and existing businesses.

According to Community Futures’ latest annual report, released in June 2011, it has lent out $18.9 million to 616 business loan applicants and helped to create or maintain 1,648 jobs since it was founded in 1988.

In the 2010-11 fiscal year it made 14 loans worth $707,900 and 15 other clients qualified for the Self-Employment Benefit Program.

Dorrius said Community Futures is there to provide support to businesses that banks might shy from.

“We can provide the capital and get them to the point where the bank will start to take on their future growth,” he said. “We don’t fund everybody. We have to feel comfortable we’re going to get the money back.”

Unlike banks, the security risk is not the primary view towards lending money – instead the merit of the business plan will be assessed first. If it’s a very well thought out business plan, if we think it’s a business that really has strong merit, then we might go into that deal under-secured,” he explained.

While the lending activity is the company’s most visible area, Dorrius said it’s the advice that’s given that’s the most important role Community Futures plays with its clients. He said he’ll give advice on everything except legal issues and tax and business structure – for that you’ll have to go to a lawyer and accountant respectively.

With regards to other issues, “Human resources, marketing, financial planning, cash flow, regulatory issues…” he said he can help. And no matter how good your business idea is, he`ll want to make sure you`re ready to put in the work.

“I have to see the client is motivated internally,” he said. “I have to tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”

When I asked him what advice he would give to the three individuals featured in my story last week, the main thing he said was that it now was a tough time to get started because of the economic slow down.

Businesses want to expand, he said, “and they see areas where they can expand but money isn’t moving around so opportunities stay shelved.”

“That means opportunities for a career are curtailed,” he continued. “They’re struggling right now as well because they have to hold on until the economy starts humming again.”

Despite that, he believes entrepreneurship is thriving in Revelstoke, especially compared to other communities.

“Places are still getting rented here and businesses are still opening up downtown as locations open up,” Dorrius said. “That is usually a good sign that we do have a good entrepreneurial spirit.”