How to start a business in the NWT

Resources are still important, but for startups, diversity is king

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The Northern Farm Training Institute is a shining example of a successful small business in the Northwest Territories. Pictured in one of their greenhouses is Sheldon Nicholson, site supervisor for holistic management and Jackie Milne, right, president. NNSL file photo

Small-and medium-sized businesses make up about 90 per cent of all businesses in the Northwest Territories.

The GNWT states that those businesses provide employment opportunities, provide products and services and help to offset “peaks and valleys of our resource-based economy.”

And the GNWT offers several programs to assist individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses and groups.

In 2017-2018, $17.6 million in grants and contributions was provided to more than 500 individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses and groups in the territory.

“The Government of the Northwest Territories works every day to support entrepreneurs, Indigenous and community governments, and other organizations in driving economic development across our territory,” outgoing Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) Wally Schumann stated earlier this year in a news release.

“While our economy relies on the resource sector as its foundation, our government has committed to fostering an economic environment where our residents can find success across a variety of sectors,” Schumann told the NWT Legislative Assembly earlier this year.
“And while our economy relies on the resource sector as its foundation, our government has committed to fostering an economic environment where our residents can find success across a variety of sectors.

“But it is also this government’s view that true economic diversity for the NWT also means getting the most out of secondary industries arising from our diamond sector, while also working to branch out and encourage the responsible development of new resources.”

One growing area is the tourism sector. GNWT statistics show that in 2017-18, visitors spent more than $203 million in the Northwest Territories – more than $36 million in gains since 2015. Over the same period, there were more than 112,000 visitors – an increase of some 25 per cent.

New entrepreneurs have been welcomed to the territory through the Nominee Program and the GNWT immigration strategy, which included streamlining the application for those looking to make the NWT their home, states the GNWT.

The GNWT has also developed an Agriculture strategy to encourage local food production “and shepherd the sector towards commercial viability.”

Efforts are also underway to revitalize the Great Slave Lake commercial fishery, with a new fish processing plant in Hay River.

A revamped NWT Arts website now includes a Where to Buy feature, which connects regional, national, and international customers to NWT-made art.

The territory’s film industry has also seen GNWT help. Eleven film projects have received support under the NWT Film Rebate Program since the program launched in 2015, states the GNWT. Those rebates have leveraged around $1.5 million in economic investment by film projects in the NWT.

Nico Todd-Cullen, left, Sasha Hill, Sue Lindberg and Bhreagh Ingarfield film an episode of harvesting wild edibles near Blackstone Park in the TV show Wild Kitchen. photo courtesy of Mary Caroline

Through the department of ITI, the GNWT develops, promotes and sustains “an environment in which NWT entrepreneurs and small business owners are empowered to invest, take risks and prosper,” stated ITI information.

“We do so with targeted policies, programs and funding initiatives – and in partnership with organizations such as the Business Development and Investment Corporation and Community Futures Organizations. When businesses succeed, NWT residents have access to more opportunities, and our communities grow more vibrant.”

The NWT Business Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC) disbursed $7.7 million in new loans, subsidies and contributions in 2017-18. That raised the BDIC’s total loans to $46 million.

As previously reported by News/North, the largest clients in 2017-18 were in the construction industry ($3.2 million); finance, insurance, real estate and leasing ($2.2 million); and retail trade ($1.1 million). Then followed the South Slave ($3.5 million), followed by the Beaufort Delta ($1.6 million), the Sahtu ($1.4 million) and the Deh Cho ($616,500). In total, 93 per cent of the loans went to clients outside of Yellowknife.
The BDIC’s business service centre assisted 296 people from around the territory in 2017-18.

Since 2005-06, the BDIC has approved 262 applicants for $92.2 million in credit facilities.
The BDIC’s board of directors also wrote off $3.3 million worth of debt among eight former clients in 2017-18.

The $204,000 Business Development Project Fund was divvied up among 40 applicants in 2017-18, as previously reported in News/North.

That funding aids business start-ups and expansions and allows artists and craft-makers to buy raw materials. Since 2005-06, the BDIC has approved 338 applications for a total of $2.4 million in Business Development Project Fund money.

The GNWT is attempting to support economic diversification with investments in agriculture, arts, commercial fishing, manufacturing, tourism, traditional harvesting and the knowledge economy.

The Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development Policy (SEED) is one of those programs.

Funding is available in six categories:
• Entrepreneur Support
• Sector Support
• Community Economic Development
• Micro Business
• Business Intelligence and Networking
• Strategic Investments

Regional Economic Development Officers help with navigating the application process and provide guidance as business owners move forward with their projects.

Keep in mind that the SEED Policy Application Form is an application only and additional documentation may be required to assess eligibility, notes the department.

Completion of the application form does not guarantee funding for the proposed project.
Interested parties should contact the regional office to set up an appointment.

As previously reported by News/North. The SEED program is budgeted at $3.9 million in 2019-20, just a touch more than the $3.8 million allocated last year.

Another resource for businesses is Canada Business NWT (CBNWT).

A member of the Canada Business Network, CBNWT provides a wide range of information on services, programs and regulations and will help to answer questions about starting a new business or improving an existing one, states the CBNWT.

Canada Business NWT offers:
• A business library – with reference and research materials.
• Video conference seminars – learning sessions and half-day seminars on a wide variety of business topics.
• Computer workstations – access to publications, directories and leading edge business products.
• Information about how to start a business in the NWT.

CBNWT is located in Yellowknife on the 7th Floor of the Northwest Tower, but services can be accessed and in each region of the NWT.

One of those is the Deh Cho Business Development Centre, which offers business loans to small business in the Deh Cho from its Fort Simpson office. The centre is a non-profit organization established to provide business and economic development throughout the Deh Cho region, “Improving the economic well-being of the communities and their residents, one business at a time,” states the centre.

“We understand that starting your own business is a difficult and intimidating venture. Whether you are just starting or have a number of years under your belt, complications can arise. Some can be addressed by discussing and considering alternatives; others need financing,” states information from the centre.

“The experienced and knowledgeable staff of the Business Development Centre are dedicated to providing the help businesses need to survive, grow, and profit. We want to see you succeed.”

Other regional CBNWT centres are: Dogrib Area Community Futures; Sahtu Business Development Centre; Southwest Territorial Business Development Corporation; Western Arctic Business Development Corporation; and Thebacha Business Development Services.
An organization that helps new and established businesses is the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce.

Established in 1973, the chamber has representation from every region of the NWT.
It works in association with a network of community chambers in Inuvik, Norman Wells, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Thebacha and Yellowknife.

“The NWT chamber represents the interests of members across the NWT. For over 45 years we have been the only pan-territorial voice of businesses across all sectors of the northern economy,” states information from the chamber.

The NWT chamber provides services through three core objectives:
• Member service and marketing
• Policy positions and advocacy services
• Administration and governance

The NWT Chamber works to promote and create business opportunities, foster business development, and serve as a channel for professional business relationships between members, all level of governments and business organizations, states the chamber.

“Working with the community chambers, territorial business organizations and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the NWT Chamber advocates and lobbies all levels of government on issues and initiatives impacting the business community in the NWT,” states the chamber.

The NWT chamber represents more than 90 members, advocates for business and industry across the territory, as previously reported by News/North.

Membership benefits include discounts through certain businesses and access to a group insurance plan.

Starting a business can be a daunting proposition, however there are many supports available in the NWT.

It’s simply a matter of reaching out to them to determine eligibility.

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