Small businesses improve quality of life in Thunder Bay

If there’s one message to take away from Small Business Week, it’s this: shop local.

“We know that if you buy something locally, in a local business, that there’s about a five-time circulator,” says Charla Robinson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce. “If you spend a dollar, it actually turns into five dollars.”

“That dollar goes into paying local taxes, local employees, it usually turns into local sponsorships,” she says. “We know local businesses are the ones sponsoring the local sports clubs, dance clubs, gymnastics clubs, etcetera. You don’t see Amazon doing that.”

Encouraging Thunder Bay residents to shop local is a big focus of the chamber. That’s the motivation, in fact, behind the #ChooseTbayFirst campaign, which the chamber has run for the last few years.

“It kind of came about from the continued growing concern around online shopping, and trying to bring forward stuff that’s common sense that people maybe aren’t thinking about when they’re shopping online,” Robinson says. “It’s about shopping in Thunder Bay.”

“There are local businesses, and there are national chains in Thunder Bay,” she says. “If you shop at a store in Thunder Bay, whether they’re locally owned and operated or whether they’re a bigger chain, that there’s still a positive impact to the community.”

And, Robinson says, many Thunder Bay businesses sell their wares online, as well.

“That’s another thing that we’ve been trying to promote, is using the tools that the local businesses have invested in,” she says.

The good news is, Thunder Bay is supportive of its entrepreneurs. But, Robinson says, it wasn’t always that way.

“If I think back 10 years ago, Thunder Bay was not an entrepreneurial town,” she says. “Before big forestry collapse … we were very much a ‘let the big businesses handle things,’ very much government oriented.”

Many of the people forced into a career change, however, moved into entrepreneurship, Robinson says. Also, there are plenty of entrepreneurs who left Thunder Bay at some point - to pursue an education or a career, for example - and chose to come back and set up a business here.

A big part of that is Thunder Bay’s quality of life. Commutes are short, and housing is more affordable, for example.

This all isn’t to say Thunder Bay doesn’t present some unique challenges to entrepreneurs.

“Certainly, our isolation is a challenge,” Robinson says. “Any product that you need to get here, how do you get it here? There’s the cost of trying to get it here, shipping it here, which is more than if you were in a larger centre, where those costs are better.”

“We also know that Thunder Bay has a higher commercial tax rate, so there’s a higher commercial cost to doing business in the community than maybe there would be in other places,” she says. “But the benefit being that it is a little bit cheaper to live here.”

For those thinking of diving into entrepreneurship, there are also plenty of supports available in Thunder Bay.

“The CEDC entrepreneur centre, they have a lot of programs available, both formal and informal,” Robinson says. “They can talk with you about developing your business plan, that sort of thing.”

The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre also offers a number of hands-on programs, including Costarter, described as an “intensive crash course” in starting a business.

And the Paro Centre provides a number of services to the city’s entrepreneurial women, including mentorships, funding circles, and seminars.

Robinson says that support of small business, and the entrepreneurs of Thunder Bay, is vital.

“Whether it’s the Underground Gym, or whether it’s the (Boys and Girls Clubs of Thunder Bay), your kids’ dance class, or soccer club, or hockey team, there’s always a local business somewhere,” she says. “On the back of the jersey, on the program.”

“Local business is really important to the flavour of what’s available, from a quality of life perspective.”

Contact Us