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A spotlight on Economic Development at Nipissing First Nation

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By Anishinabek Nation Economic Development Department

NIPISSING FIRST NATION — Earlier this month, the Anishinabek Nation Economic Development team met with Zack Lafleur, the still-fresh Economic Development Officer (EDO), and Genevieve (Gen) Couchie, Business Operations Manager, from Nipissing First Nation (NFN) to discuss the exciting developments happening in the progressive First Nation. NFN is frequently in the news for their community advancements, so we thought it’d be timely to give their Business & Economic Development Department a spotlight.

You may have recently read about Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) putting forward $1 million to develop Bineshii Business Park, NFN’s partnership with Miller Paving Ltd. (and the related Ontario Public Works Association award win for project of the year in 2022 for its reconstruction of the Duchesnay Creek bridge), and an entrepreneurial member bringing to the reserve its first Tim Hortons. There is no shortage of NFN-related articles to read, so this piece will focus on how their Business & Ec Dev team is addressing economic development within their communities.

Navigating the Role of EDO

Though Zack has been EDO for not yet a year, he joins the First Nation with a great deal of experience after serving as Executive Director at the West Nipissing Chamber of Commerce. Dealing with 90 on-reserve businesses, mostly the gasoline and tobacco retailers but some larger developments —including Mukwa Studios and its state-of-the-art film studio— Zack has the responsibility of evaluating business and lottery licenses, along with small business loan applications (NFN has a licensing committee that then reviews applications before being sent to the Chief and Council for approval.) A critical aspect of this process has been to bring businesses into compliance with licensing law, providing crucial data for employment statistics. Zack brings plenty of energy to this role and participates in Anishinabek Nation roundtables and working groups.

Speaking of Energy…

The Business & Economic Development Team have been striving to meet community members’ needs in the area of electric vehicle charging stations, having installed four at administrative buildings and offering a subsidy program for residential chargers. The First Nation has effectively leveraged the Independent Electricity System Operator funding to implement these projects.

Business Leaders Roundtable

Initially known as the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Leaders Roundtable encourages cooperation and mentorship among business owners, facilitating the sharing of knowledge and resources. Zack, who along with Gen spearheaded the Roundtable, hopes the forum will strengthen the business community’s cohesion and foster collective growth.

Partnerships & Progress

NFN has been blazing trails in the partnerships department. Gen, who moved into the role of Business Operations Manager in September 2021 (after many years of experience in economic development and communications), focuses on the First Nation’s partnerships and attracting business to the reserve. Scraping the surface of what Gen oversees includes Miller Paving, NFN’s recently established Nbiising Power, the Mnogin Greenhouse project, and the Bineshii Business Park development, among many off-reserve developments.

Mnogin Greenhouse

The Mnogin Greenhouse project, which has been years in the making, is driven by food security. This initiative, supported by NOHFC, FedNor, and Waubetek, plans to supply fresh foods to the community and participate in local farmers’ markets.

Bineshii Business Park

The Bineshii Business Park, with 10 occupied lots and 14 tenants, is slated for expansion. With a cost of $7 million, the expansion will be funded through various sources including Indigenous Services Canada, FedNor, NOHFC, and NFN itself. NFN is also tackling zoning and application processes to meet the needs of its growing tenant base.

Strong Leadership and Execution

NFN’s prime location – its vicinity to Lake Nipissing, the Trans-Canada Highway, and both Sudbury and North Bay – has afforded it great opportunities; but it is also the strategic, business-minded leadership and effective execution at the ground-level that have led NFN to lucrative partnerships and ventures of their own. A supportive Chief and Council can be instrumental in driving economic development; however, every EDO’s experience with their Chiefs and Councils differs. It’s critical to have buy-in from leadership, especially in challenging areas like infrastructure funding.

To demonstrate Nipissing’s strength, the First Nation has grown from seven staff and revenue of $50,000 in 1980 to over 200 staff and between $27 and $32 million in revenue today. Funds have been responsibly managed and effectively invested along the way to lead to such successful growth.

For more information on NFN’s Governance Strategic Plan, go to: https://nfn.ca/strategic-plan-2/

Words of Wisdom and Going Forward

Economic development at Nipissing First Nation, under Zack and Gen’s stewardship, is a testament to the importance of strategic planning, strong partnerships, and community involvement. Their advice for fellow EDOs? Maintain an organizational memory and keep the leaders of initiatives involved until completion. This approach not only ensures continuity, but also builds trust — a key ingredient for any successful economic development endeavour.

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