BONAVISTA, N.L. — Thanks to the Bonavista-Trinity Regional Chamber of Commerce (BTRCC), members of the business community and aspiring entrepreneurs will soon have soon have a great resource in Bonavista, as “The Commons” a new entrepreneurship centre will be opening in June.
Chamber president John Norman told The Packet before the BTRCC annual general meeting about the initiative.
Norman says the purpose of the Commons was “to capture and promote the rich, start-up activity taking place on the Bonavista Peninsula and offer much, much-needed supports.”
Earlier this year, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation (TCII) and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) announced $456,000 for plans to prepare the Commons. Ten per cent of the cost was contributed by the chamber.
“I was personally getting a lot of calls, ‘Help me, I want to start a business,’” explained Norman. They average six to 12 inquiries a month, in fact.
He says the demand was there and there was too much of it for the chamber to handle on a small, volunteer basis.
Norman adds the birth of the idea began with the former YMCA, Futurepreneur and NLOWE business satellite service offered in the past. Legendary Coasts, BDC and CBDC were brought on as partners.
Now, BTRCC leads the larger, more-developed program.
“Satellite wasn’t cutting it anymore,” says Norman. “We still had those satellite services but we needed to complement it with more, full-time regular support on the ground. Last year, over 30 start-ups began in Bonavista alone, with over 40 in the entire region.
According to a release from The Commons, the space — on the second floor of the public building on Church Street — will feature a co-working space, colour printing services, board room and small meeting room rentals. Norman adds there will be a mentorship atmosphere for the initiative with the services provided at low or no cost.
“It is a place that entrepreneurs can connect with business supports and with one another … designed to promote new business development and assist in the growth of existing companies,” states the release.
In addition, there will also be “The Marketplace at the Commons”, an affordable fixed retail market connecting producers in the region with buyers — allowing for a sort of testing for entrepreneurs. This portion of the Commons is on the first floor of the building (in the former community exercise room). Norman calls this “an incubator space.”
They’re accepting applications for the Marketplace this month.
STAR initiative announced
In addition to the Commons announcement at the AGM, the Strategic Tourism for Areas and Regions (STAR) program was also highlighted by the chamber.
This program, included in the funding provided by TCII and ACOA, had consultations around the end of April.
“It’s all about collecting from operators and those directly or indirectly involved in the tourism industry, and the economic development of the region,” Norman said. “It’s all about how we can move to the next level.”
He adds it deals with topics like season extension, regional transportation network and support, regional branding initiatives and more.
Norman says they’ve grown as a tourist destination to the point where they’re only behind St. John’s and Gros Morne in terms of numbers. They’ve gone from 24,000 visitors four years ago, to 60,000 last season.
“It’s a huge opportunity for business growth and economic development within the region but we kind of want this outreach STAR process to go through over the next year and really prioritize the top two or three initiatives we as a chamber and a region need to all focus on together,” he noted.
BTRCC growing with leaps and bounds
Norman says the chamber had 38 paying members in 2013. Now, they’ve surpassed 150 members, almost 50 per cent of businesses in the region.
“Those members now represent either employers or employees within these businesses and organizations, totaling over 2,200 people in the region.”
BTRCC elects executive
At the Bonavista-Trinity Regional Chamber of Commerce (BTRCC) annual general meeting last month, there was an election of director positions as well as a new vice-president.
The results are as follows:
• First vice-president: Johanna Ryan Guy;
• Director, Bonavista, Elliston, Maberly and Spillars Cove Region: Gina Little;
• Director, Bonavista, Elliston, Maberly and Spillars Cove Region: Kim Boyce;
• Director, Melrose to Little Catalina Region: Edith Samson;
• Director, Melrose to Little Catalina Region: Shelly Blackmore;
• Director, Newman’s Cove along Route 235 and Charleston Region: Strat Canning;
• and Director, Port Rexton and vicinity (along Route 230): Jennifer Hann.