30 years of success stories for Community Futures Okanagan-Similkameen

Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen has a long list of local business success stories in its' 30-year history.

Diana Stirling

Diana Stirling

This month, Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen is celebrating 30 years of helping business grow.

There is not many government-funded agencies that can survive that length of time. Community Futures has done it, and along the way, helped been part of many of the success stories of the region.

Mary Ellen Heidt, the group’s general manager, has been with Community Futures since it got its start in 1984, when, during a period of high unemployment, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen wanted to develop a program to help small business get started. That economic study and proposal went to the federal government, and the program started with a $1.55 million investment fund to lend to small businesses.

“We have turned that over about 19 times. We have lent out almost $30 million in our region, said Heidt, who said she has lost count of the number of business they have loaned money to. “We are getting close to 1,000 businesses, maybe more, and jobs, you can’t even think about the jobs.

The Wine Information Centre owes its success, in part, to one of those loans.

“Early on in the 90s, when the wine industry was really just getting known, the industry wanted to have a place to sell their wines and promote them,” said Heidt, explaining how Community Futures lent the new Wine Information Society the money to buy inventory for their first location at the Ramada Inn.

As the information centre grew, the relationship continued, with Community Futures arranging federal funding to help their current location at the corner of Railway and Eckhardt.

“Just that little bit of support to get going and to get their name out there and promote wines has really grown into something else. That wine information centre has helped build the whole wine industry,” said Heidt, noting that the Wine Information Society recently made a $300,000 donation to Okanagan College for the new Sensory Centre teaching facility.

“What started as a small loan … just keeps giving back.”

Community Futures will be celebrating its ongoing success on Oct. 14 with a gala at Okanagan College’s Centre of Excellence, with Michelle Rempel, minister of state for Western Economic Diversification, as special guest.

Small business loans is only one part of the Community Futures story, though. They also do a lot of community economic development work, like assisting with the Kettle Valley Railway and the SS Sicamous. In the early days, Heidt said, they realized there weren’t a lot of attractions in the area to go with the drive for tourism dollars.

“That’s when we started working with the government to bring in money to put into the Sicamous, Kettle Valley railway, but also we thought we needed to do some financing,” said Heidt. Financing, in this case, included funding the building of the still popular Casabella Princess, and helping out a family that wanted to build an adventure park: Loco Landing.

“They couldn’t get a bank to look at them. It was a brand new business and it was tourism, which didn’t have a lot of support from the banks. We stepped up and did one of our largest loans at that time and got them started. Within a year, the banks were knocking at the door,” said Heidt. “Now it has transitioned to the daughter [Diana Stirling] who has made it a real community gathering place.”

Community Futures is also responsible for setting up the Okanagan Film Commission, starting first by promoting the Okanagan’s wide variety of scenic locations as film sites, then hiring the first film commissioner and setting up the infrastructure, before letting it go as a standalone organization. Nowadays, that initial $1.5 million seed money has turned into about $5 million. Community Futures still receives a small amount of federal funding through Western Economic Diversification, but Heidt said even if that dried up, they would have to reduce operations, but would still be able to continue on.

“We have an asset that had the ability to earn revenue. The goal has always been self sufficiency,” said Heidt. “If the government walked away, we now earn enough revenue from our loan portfolio to help us continue to provide services. We now have the ability to continue on. I think that was always the vision.”

Just Posted

The illegal open fire above Naramata continues to smoke on Friday, June 18. The fire was left to burn itself out by BC Wildfire. (Monique Tamminga - Western News)
Illegal open burn in Naramata will be left to smoke

BC Wildfire could not confirm whether the property owner had been fined

Rob and Anthony are the city’s new parking ambassadors who are sharing information with businesses and the public about the new pay parking. (Monique Tamminga - Western News)
Penticton hires team to inform people on city’s new pay parking system

The pair will spend at least a month helping businesses and residents navigate new pay parking system

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

This photo of the small wildfire burning above Naramata was taken at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021 (Monique Tamminga Western News)
UPDATE: Fire above Naramata is an illegal open burn

Smoke is still billowing from the blaze Friday morning

Keremeos’ heritage Grist Mill and Gardens. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Keremeos Grist Mill looking forward to restrictions easing with exclusive concert planned

Juno Award-winning folk artist Valdy is set to take the stage

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

The BC Ferries’ website is down for the second time in one week from what they say is likely an overwhelming increase in web traffic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Surging web traffic crashes BC Ferries’ site again

Website down for second time this week

The Shuswap River in Enderby draws in people from near and far in the summer months of each year. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
RDNO ends lengthy attempt to bring new boating regulations to Shuswap River

With no consensus among stakeholders or remaining funds, the regional district is moving on

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
PODCAST: John Furlong lays out a ‘provincial’ B.C. plan to host the 2030 Winter Olympics

Podcast: Chat includes potential role for Vancouver Island communities

The pilot of this single-engine propeller plane was unhurt after crash-landing in a Como Road orchard Friday, June 18. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Plane crash lands into Grand Forks orchard, pilot injured

RCMP have secured the crash site, pending investigation by Transport Canada

A tenant walks in front of her home on Boundary Road on Friday, June 18, 2021 after it was destroyed by fire the night before in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Family homeless after fire rips through Chilliwack house

Turtle rescued, no one seriously hurt following Boundary Road fire in Chilliwack

BC Ferries’ newest Island Class vessel is experiencing an issue with one of its thrusters off the Algerian coast. Photo courtesy patbaywebcam.com.
BC Ferries newest vessel having mechanical issues in Mediterranean

Island 4 will be repaired in Spain before crossing Atlantic

Wild rabbits are all over Chilliwack, but people often think they’re someone’s lost pet and try to ‘save’ them. But the owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room says good intentions can have bad consequences for wild animals. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room asks people to leave wild animals in the wild

Amber Quiring says people who think they’re helping are actually doing more harm than good

Fanny Chapman doesn’t just serve up Mexican flavours at the Kal Lake Food concession at Kal Beach, she also teaches Spanish. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernonites asked to share funniest Spanish translation stories

Mexicans living in town holding a contest to offer free Spanish classes

Most Read