Atlantic Association of CBDCs



Pictured: Basil Ryan, Chief Operating Officer
Atlantic Association of CBDCs

Photography by Helen Michel
Article by Adam Hodnett

Driving down the highway, Basil Ryan, will often be reminded of the businesses that got their start from the CBDC, whether it’s the local service truck going to a job site, or a transport trailer manufactured by a former client.

“There are countless examples of that across Atlantic Canada,” Ryan said,  the COO of the Atlantic Association of CBDCs,  who will be celebrating 30 years with CBDC this year. “It doesn’t matter what sector you look into.”

At its base, Community Business Development Corporations are “alternative lenders” for small businesses in rural communities, but they’re much more than that. The 41 corporations throughout Atlantic Canada all have slightly different mission statements, depending on the needs of the community they’re in, but they all look to strengthen the communities through business development.

“It’s all premised on the notion of, ‘let’s look at local problems with a local lens,’ ” said Basil Ryan. “Instead of looking to someone from Ottawa to solve our problems.”

The CBDCs were born after a three-year community employment strategy pilot project in 1970’s. It aimed to address employment issues. Only two communities moved on from that round. One was in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and the other was a group in Guysborough, Nova Scotia.

“They realized that one of the missing pieces here is around self-employment, or starting your own business is access to capital,” said Ryan.

The group in Guysborough was convinced that what was needed was a Community Business Development Corporation, that would have a “revolving loan fund.” The money would be loaned out, with a fair interest rate, collected, and loaned out again.

It took a little while to convince the government, but by the end of the decade, the government provided both Guysborough and Nanaimo with the original seed capital of $500,000 each.

The next 20 years saw steady growth, with CBDC’s opening around the Atlantic provinces, until the last one opened in 1995. There are now 41 corporations throughout this part of the country, with additional satellite offices in some communities, making a total of 78 “touchpoints.”

“It’s been the last 20 or better [years], that I think we’ve made significant progress in terms of some of the things we’ve done ourselves, as an organization, as a network,” said Ryan.

Originally, CBDCs were considered a “lender of last resort.” Entrepreneurs had to actually be rejected by the banks. That’s not the case anymore, and some CBDCs choose to focus more heavily on the business development part of their mandate, rather than the lending side.

CBDCs provide support of all sorts. From critiquing a business plan, to administering training and workshops in all aspects of entrepreneurship, to making house calls and helping an established business reach its next goal.

“Even just sitting down with a client and acting as a sounding board for somebody that wants to start a business,” Ryan said. “There’s a role to play. We’ve carved out a bit of a niche even around that.”

They’ll even do the tough work of advising someone that they actually shouldn’t be going into business. Maybe a particular talent isn’t really enough to sustain a business, or maybe it’s been tried several times in the past.

“Locals know where the thin ice is,” Ryan said.

A key component to the structure of the CBDCs is a board of local volunteers. Those are the ones that ultimately make the decisions. Because they’re the ones with a connection to the community.

“We’re not federal civil servants, or provincial. We’re community servants if you will,” said Ryan. “We work for the local board of directors.”

Because of this structure, and progress like developing their own credit facility, the network is stronger than ever, and on track to lend out $90,000,000 dollars this year.

While the numbers may be impressive, Ryan is confident that the other employees in the network are like him and have a tendency to focus on one client at a time. 

“There’s a lot of smart people within that network,” he said. “And they generally all have the same type of thinking, that if we can find solutions, let’s do it. If we can help our local community, let’s try to do it.”

“It's all premised on the notion of, 'let's look at the local problems with a local lens,' "

Basil Ryan
Chief Operating Officer
Atlantic Association of CBDCs

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