Supporting entrepreneurship in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec
When the pandemic started, Émilie predicted her business would lose 50% of its income. As co-owner of a family-run wild blueberry transformation business, Délices du Lac-Saint-Jean, she knew she had to act fast.
“COVID-19 terrified us, because tourism drove a lot of our business,” Émilie said.
“We had to find a way to adapt to the crisis – and quickly, so we would not lose our staff.”
So, she tapped into a program set up to help small businesses just like hers: Fonds de Relance 02.
In 2020, we joined forces with Canadian bank Desjardins and all five regional municipality counties in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec to figure out how we could help the community respond to COVID-19 – and Fonds de Relance 02 was born.
We had an ambitious goal: to help local entrepreneurs relaunch their businesses in the wake of COVID-19. Together with our partners we made C$750,000 available through the fund, so small businesses could apply for financial support to help them operate successfully through the pandemic.
As a funding recipient, Émilie was able to make a 180-degree turn and keep her business thriving: “We were able to invest in strategic planning for our business and actually grow it from where it was at the beginning of the pandemic,” Émilie says.
“We came up with an artisanal approach and began distributing our blueberry products directly to specialty shops and also placed two of our products in supermarkets across Quebec.
“And with the Premier asking for us all to support local businesses, the response has been overwhelming.”
Escaping to another era
For the team at Val-Jalbert, a historical village and tourist attraction in Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean, support from the fund ensured visitors could continue to enjoy the unique destination while maintaining social distancing.
The former waterfall-powered pulp mill and company town is home to over 40 original buildings that date as far back as 1901. It opened as a tourist attraction in the 1960s, and in the 2000s it was given back to the community and now operates as a non-profit organization employing around 80 people.
“The feeling of being here is one I cannot explain,” says Charles, Val-Jalbert’s Sales & Marketing Coordinator.
“There is real life in these houses… visitors feel as if they are in a totally different place when they are at the village – it’s an escape.
“It helps the community to forget about all the things they cannot do during the pandemic.”
With the help of the fund, Val-Jalbert implemented new sanitary measures, like constructing a new entry process for its cable car so it could be accessed in a safe manner while maintaining physical distance.
“In a normal situation, we receive around 90,000 visitors each year. We had to think of ways to respect health and safety requirements and keep people safe.
An eye to the future
When COVID-19 first hit, owner of SKL Aluminium, Ghislain, knew he needed to think on his feet to transform the business and keep supporting customers.
“It is not always easy, but you have to know how to overcome the pitfalls and especially not to let them crush you,” says Ghislain.
“We had to reduce manufacturing, but we could not close because we provide essential goods for our customers.”
Ghislain, who runs the business with his two children, employs around 30 people and makes aluminium heat exchangers, used in things like radiators and air conditioners in heavy machinery.
“The fund helped us purchase a digital machine that doubled our production performance. That helped us go the extra distance.”
Now Ghislain is focused on the future: “I would like one of my grandchildren to lead the company one day.”