Export pilot program grows small businesses in the Alberni Valley

The Export Navigator Program aims to expand small businesses by making them export ready

Businesses in the Valley that are looking at expanding can try out a new pilot program that launched late last year and has already seen some success.

The Export Navigator program is a one-year pilot project the province developed in partnership with Small Business BC and federally funded Community Futures offices. It launched in November 2016 in four locations across British Columbia.

There is one other pilot on the island, in the Comox Valley. The other two pilots in B.C. are in Prince George and Vernon.

Port Alberni’s economic development manager Pat Deakin said during a Feb. 27 meeting of city council that there are currently six businesses in the local area receiving some form of assistance to sell their products beyond the Alberni Valley.

“It’s really designed to help small businesses become export ready,” Deakin explained.

But businesses shouldn’t be intimidated by the prospect of “exporting.”

“We interpreted ‘export’ as anything going beyond the Alberni Valley,” said Deakin. “In some cases it could simply be going to other places on Vancouver Island, or to the lower mainland. Or it could be going into the U.S. or Asia or elsewhere.”

That’s just one of the goals of the project, he added. “It’s also designed to assist businesses that determine they’re ready to increase their product.”

The program is run through the Community Futures Alberni Clayoquot office in town. Executive director Lori Camire said the province and the federal government were contemplating a pilot project in four communities in B.C., and when it was ready, they sought out areas that were likely to have interest and be successful with the project.

“And of course we’re always interested in projects that will help out businesses in our community,” Camire said.

Community Futures hired on Darrell Goertzen to work as the business advisor.

“We go in, we sit down and assess where they are,” said Goertzen. “As long as the business is looking at expanding, we will help where we can.”

He says most businesses are already on the right track. “Some realize that they’re not quite ready, they have some things they need to get in order. But most are people who are definitely ready to expand, they’re just questioning how to.”

We provide what to do for that next step,” he said.

There are three parts to the program. Community Futures put up the money to get it going.

Darrell Goertzen was hired on by Community Futures as the business advisor. Goertzen has skill at helping businesses to grow and has familiarity with the export area, said Deakin. Deakin’s role is to identify businesses that might be interested in the program.

“I think sometimes small business owners are daunted by the thought of what they don’t know,” said Goertzen. “We guide them through it, give them someone to ask questions.”

Small businesses in town that are interested in expanding can contact Community Futures to see if the Export Navigator Program is right for them.

“I think it’s a wonderful program,” said Deakin. “It will help to grow businesses in the community and expand their market reach.”