May 16, 2011

More than 275 delegates concerned with rural economic development are meeting in Niagara Falls next week at a Conference of the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations (OACFDC).  The organization represents 61 Community Futures Development Corporations, located in small towns and rural areas across the province.

Community Futures Development Corporations (CFDCs) offer free business counselling and provide loans to entrepreneurs, in addition to working on community economic development projects.  CFDCs in Southern Ontario are funded by FedDev Ontario, while those in Northern Ontario are funded by Industry Canada through FedNor.  They operate as not-for-profit corporations.  Decisions are made locally by volunteer Boards of Directors working with managers and staff in each office.  Volunteer directors and staff alike will be attending the conference May 16 to 18.

OACFDC President Judy Nafziger explains that this year’s Conference is special.  Delegates will be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Community Futures Program.  “We are recognizing 23 CFDCs that have been serving their communities for 25 years or longer.  We’re also honouring a Silver Anniversary Entrepreneur – it’s an amazing business that has weathered 25 years very well!”

“We are very proud of the longevity of this unique program. Our 61 offices across Ontario are serving their communities well, and they have the track record to prove it,” Ms. Nafziger says.

She cites a study undertaken by the Conference Board of Canada, which shows that for every $1 that CFDCs invest in Ontario communities, the local economy experiences a lift of $4.22.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Niagara Original”, and there is a focus on topics that show Ontario’s advantage in areas such as People, Prosperity, Knowledge, Entrepreneurs, and Tourism.

“With the Niagara location, tourism is a very popular topic,” says OACFDC Executive Director Diana Jedig.  “We have workshops on Cycle Tourism Destinations, Attracting Francophone Tourists, and the Role of Sport Tourism.  We are also offering two mobile workshops – one to see the revitalization of downtown Niagara Falls, and another to visit Welland’s wonderful waterfront.”

Both Ms. Nafziger and Ms. Jedig stress the impressive lineup of guest speakers at the conference.  “We have Gord Paynter speaking – he’s a great comedian, but he also motivates listeners when he talks about overcoming his vision impairment.  Then we have Olympic hockey goalie Sami-Jo Small speaking on teamwork,” Ms. Jedig says.

“I’m looking forward to hearing Niagara Humourist William Thomas, as well as Dianne Buckner, the Host of "Dragon’s Den" on CBC.  We’re excited about her insight into successful small businesses,” Ms. Nafziger added.

As well, delegates will visit an area winery, John Howard Cellars, where they will enjoy a feast of local foods.  The conference, and in particular the winery visit, is being hosted by Venture Niagara, a Community Futures Development Corporation located in Thorold.   

The Conference will close on Wednesday night with an Awards Gala.  Three CFDCs will be honoured for successful community projects in which they have taken the initiative, and an Entrepreneur of the Year will be named.  The entrepreneur will be chosen from several nominees, all successful businesses that received loans and counselling from CFDCs.


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