Retailers Choosing Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes See Success and Quality of Life

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More business owners and retailers are finding the charm of setting up shop these days in the City of Kawartha Lakes, which is becoming a popular destination for entrepreneurs.

And the municipality in Central Ontario, a short drive from Toronto,  is doing everything it can to make it an attractive place to do business.

Graeme Barrie, owner of cyber-security company Netmechanics, is a perfect example of seeing the value of doing business in Kawartha Lakes, specifically in Lindsay where he moved to in the past year from Bruce County.

Graeme Barrie

“I saw the opportunity with the services that were being offered from the City to help build a business,” he said. “There’s so much here in terms of smaller communities and Lindsay proper. It’s called ‘Kawartha Lakes’ for a reason. It’s all water. It’s all lakes. Really the big thing is the work-life balance. Being able to enjoy outdoor activities. Snowmobile in the winter. Fish in the summer.”

“But we’re still close enough to larger urban centres. It’s a 40-minute drive to Oshawa or 30-minutes to Peterborough. An hour and 20 and I’m in downtown Toronto. I’ve got close proximity to those markets but still have my piece of paradise. The business side of things has been great. The last two months it’s just been booming in the sense of all the attention I’m getting, the support from the City.”

Barrie was aided by the City’s Starter Company PLUS Program which helps new entrepreneurs. Since 2017, the program has been providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to acquire small business training, mentoring and grant money to help them start or expand their businesses.

Cheri Davidson, Manager of Communications, Advertising and Marketing with the City of Kawartha Lakes, said the municipality is addressing perceived barriers for businesses opting to move to cottage country, as outlined in the recent study by the Federation of Ontario Cottager’s Association (FOCA).

Cheri Davidson

“The first barrier is access to high speed wireless and cell networks which is critical for doing their business. We’re very excited that as part of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, we’ve been able to move forward on a $200-million project to increase cell phone coverage in our region,” she said. “So improvements are being made and it’s really opening up WiFi and cell access to businesses so that they can be working at their cottage with full access to the global economy.

“The other concern that entrepreneurs mentioned in the recent study by the Federation of Ontario Cottager’s Associations is that they wouldn’t necessarily have a peer group or a networking community of like-minded entrepreneurs that they would have in Toronto, the GTA, Ottawa or other big cities. What we are being told is that there is a vibrant community of entrepreneurs in Kawartha Lakes. As long as you’re willing to put yourself out there and join the Chamber or join the BIA (Business Improvement Association), and do the things that any successful business person would do, there are those networks.”

The City of Kawartha Lakes has a year-round population of 75,000 people which swells by a significant amount during the summer months.

One of the city’s initiatives to drive business to the area is its Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre, a well-integrated resource for the business community, giving new owners the resources needed to succeed and help them make connections.

“It’s a vital part of our economic development and it’s there to help people like Graeme Barrie and others who are looking to either relocate into the Kawartha Lakes area or people who are already here who are looking to start or expand their current business,” said Davidson. “It’s an amazing resource –  they have a set of mentors, they have access to grants and other funding opportunities, they have excellent training sessions for businesses to really lock in on the fundamentals. They will make sure that their business model is sound and then most importantly, connect those people to the right mentors, to the right business people, to the right suppliers in our community so they can really get started and have a good foundation.”

Davidson said the city has also been removing red tape and helping Kawartha Lakes “be truly open for new business.” She added that there is a thriving retail industry in the downtown communities such as Lindsay, Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls.

Sarah Fournier moved from Toronto to Kawartha Lakes a few years ago and started a business making a reusable food wrap that is made from beeswax.

“We moved here from downtown Toronto because we were ready to ditch the crazy city lifestyle and settle in a place that would be good to start a family,” said Sarah Fournier, owner of Sweet Green Studios. “You forget that the stars exist when you live in Toronto. House prices ultimately drove us out. We’ve never regretted our decision to move here.”

Fournier also was a recipient of a grant from the Starter Company PLUS Program.

“It’s been a reality check for me about how to set up a business properly. I have a long way to go, but this program has given me the tools and answers to do it properly,” she said.

The City is also in the final stages of developing its Community Improvement Plan, which is intended to trigger investment in its communities and support the efforts of business and property owners through loans, grants and rebate programs.

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