Community leagues are surrounded by a few images, staples of the programs and efforts they bring to a neighbourhood. While community members in Edmonton know the facilities for their bingo nights, soccer leagues and skating rinks, these associations of neighbours that span across the city also play some unexpected roles in fostering and developing businesses.
A few blocks southeast of Ritchie Community League lies Ritchie Market, a close-knit facility full of businesses including Blind Enthusiasm Brewing, Biera and Acme Meat Market. From its earliest conception, the development spoke with its neighbourhood league and, according to Greg Zeschuk, founder of the former two businesses and one of the driving forces behind Ritchie Market, the teamwork between the community group and businesses bore a good deal of fruit for both of them.
“Well in advance of actually building, we met with the Ritchie Community League a few times, and showed them what we were doing. It's definitely positive and it continues to be a positive in the sense that Ritchie has a particularly dynamic community league,” Zeschuk said.
“You gotta make the effort and take the time, but it's worthwhile.”
In many cases, new businesses struggle with visibility. This wasn't the case with Ritchie Market, since it's a fairly big structure and all the businesses' respective clientele are exposed to the rest of the development. That said, according to Zeschuk, being surrounded by a group of homes with potential customers, and developing working relationships with them, can help out new, upstart businesses.
“It's also a way to get feedback on your business,” he said. “Sometimes, that's hard to hear ... but I think it's definitely worth getting feedback on it to see if there are things that need improving upon.”
These community members are also going to be the regular patrons of the businesses nearby, Zeschuk said. As such, it's important that both the businesses and the community leagues partner up and support each other.
Often, community leagues will promote nearby businesses in their newsletters, and the businesses, in turn, will offer them thing like space to hold events or discounts for community league members.
“They're your most-likely customers if you have a locally-focused business like a restaurant or a shop. If people don't come and visit, you have a pretty big problem,” he said.
According to Nora Begoray, the business development director with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL), the goal for community leagues in “today's economic environment” is to create win-wins for both communities and their businesses.
Community leagues are struggling to find volunteers and the EFCL exists in a constantly changing regulatory environment. Because residents are increasingly working more hours to make ends meet, volunteerism always take a bit of a hit - as do donations, Begoray said.
At the same time, businesses are working harder to find larger consumer bases, and having a grass-roots source of people to purchase their goods and services in the surrounding community can be a boon, she added.
Community leagues act as a touch point through which businesses can get a feel for the people who, in many cases, end up being their largest clientele, including what they want to see from the business, and how they can be the best neighbours to each other.
“Community leagues are considered the boots on the ground,” she said. “They're usually the first ones who know what neighbourhoods need before anyone else."
The Federation of Calgary Communities (FCC) has a bit of a different approach, according to Rebecca Dakin, the organization's communications and community relations specialist.
Calgary's communities are engaged in giving feedback about new developments, she said, but more often this is done through the municipal government, rather than direct consultation with the businesses themselves.
“It kind of depends on how big it is, who does the community engagement [process]. Communities do provide a lot of feedback on the culture and context of the community and what would fit well for them in their residence,” she said.
It also depends on the size and level of activity in a federation.
Dakin said she couldn't think of any Calgary equivalents of the Ritchie Market development's relationship with the Ritchie Community League. However, there are several other community federation-business interactions happening around the city. Many small crafters, for example, get their starts at Calgary's community federation market sales, for example, Dakin said.
Although not a community league or federation, Calgary-based group Momentum performs a similar function, although with a specific focus. The non-profit charity works with people who have been living on lower incomes to start their own businesses to create jobs for themselves and, in some cases, other people as well.
“We work to have our local economy in Calgary better for everyone,” said Jeff Loomis, Momentum's executive director. “Ultimately, we want to have businesses supporting businesses to reduce poverty.”
The Calgary-wide organization aims to help newcomers to Canada, people who lost their jobs and people living with disabilities.
“It's a huge diversity of people we work with,” he said.
Momentum is funded by three levels of government grants and private donations. It offers business training, business coaching and micro business loans, and has provided more than $3 million in loans since it began. By supporting communities and businesses to build up local economies, the organization aims to help reduce poverty.
Community leagues and community organizations are often seen as falling outside of local business activities. In reality, by understanding and supporting the needs of their respective neighbourhoods, they can help foster appropriate business development and support small business owners.