Vanderhoof-based Community Futures has formulated a cottage industry development program to bring the community together in achieving self-reliance.
Graham Stanley, general manager of Community Futures Stuart Nechako, said logging (one of the district’s main economic drivers) faces an uncertain future.
“A couple of years ago we asked ourselves what we’re going to do after the pine beetle,” said Stanley.
It was reported last year that in B.C. approximately 40 to 50 percent of the area that burned in the 2018 wildfires had been ravaged by the pine beetle in the early 2000s.
Stanley said the business community started developing the Ideas to Market initiative, which aims to get the community to work together to achieve self-reliance.
He said the idea was to get ideas and design people, manufacturers, marketers and advisors, around the same table in order to get local products to an online market.
“What we are trying to do on a large scale is answer two community questions. The first one is — can a community come together around bringing products and innovations in the community to an online market so that we can group people together in different roles?”
“The second question is if we can get people to come together to collaborate on any product or value chain, can we finance that through community-based investment,” Stanley said.
The business model is broken down into four parts and includes everyone, from the person who creates the idea, to the innovator, marketer and advisor, which helps build value chains. But this approach is also being taken to make the process of getting into business more simplified, he added.
“If you’re wonderful at making products you don’t necessarily have to be the best marketer in the world. We can have somebody in town be the marketer. This is what we are trying to create – a collaboration,” Stanley explained.
An example of a product they are working on with a local business through the initiative is a commercial hay dryer, which is being built in collaboration with five companies in town, he said.
Stanley added that the variety of products one can pitch are not limited to complex or simple crafted products.
“We want to have the capabilities within Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, Fraser Lake and the Indigenous communities that we serve to bring whatever idea we think of to market and to commercialize it in place. We want those ideas to become resident in those communities.”
The second part of the Ideas to Market initiative, Stanley said is to determine whether the community will back the initiative. To understand and answer that they have created InvestLocal BC, a website which will be a crowd funding platform.
Stanley believes it’s unlikely they will incur huge losses or receive a million product orders but it will be a comfortable middle ground for people participating in this initiative.
“The middle ground can pay us revenue on a consistent basis, for example for someone who doesn’t have a pension but has a lot of life experience and ideas which they can take advantage of to build additional income for themselves.
”They have to work at it, yes. They have to articulate what they are doing and they have to fit it into the system, but once they do, they can earn revenues and royalties,” he said.
Stanley referred to the Mondragon Corporation in Spain to explain the model. Mondragon Corporation is a federation of worker cooperatives based in Spain started in 1956 by graduates of a local technical college – the corporation’s first product was paraffin heaters. Now the corporation employs over 70,000 people.
The technical college was started by a local priest after the end of the Spanish civil war – Mondragon had not been able to lift itself out of the poverty created by the cost of the war. The college soon became the training ground for managers, engineers and skilled labour for local companies, and primarily for the co-operatives.
“What we are trying to do is create the Mondragon experience without the co-operative because Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and Fraser Lake — the way the people are we won’t need a co-op. Collaboration comes naturally to them – all we are doing is changing the channel,” Stanley stated.
“People might say this will create a piece-work economy. What the provincial government doesn’t understand is that rural communities already work on that model, because logging companies and mining relate to unit price. So we are just changing the unit price and product.”
The concept is not to take rural ideas and urbanize them, instead make products here that they can be used by urban market as well, he said.
“We are building a bigger cake so everyone can have a bigger slice,” Stanley said.
The online platform is accessible on www.ideastomarket.ca.