Business development program helps Manitoulin Island metal fabrication shop grow
For anyone who's ever dreamed of creating a small, thriving business in the region, it can be done, especially with help from Community Futures Northeastern Ontario.
Over the next few weeks, CTV News will be showcasing local businesses that have benefited from this program.
This week, the focus is on a unique metal fabrication shop on the M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island.
From not being able to find work locally in her field and not wanting to give up living on Manitoulin, Kathryn Corbiere decided to set up her own shop.
"I do a bit of custom fabrication works, whether it be interior railings or staircases, and I also do probably 50 per cent of public sculpture work," Corbiere, the owner of One Kwe, said.
Her most recent sculpture is part of a truth and reconciliation project for a city in southern Ontario.
"When I first started, I thought, 'you know, signs were going to be my world forever.' Just doing little cutouts and that’s how it all started. So, you know, five years down the road when I’m doing public sculptures for the City of Owen Sound and different cities and different companies, it really shows you how far you can go in such a short time," she said.
With the help of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation, Corbiere is able to create projects – both big and small – in her own backyard.
"I went to them three years ago I believe, or four years ago, looking to grow my business and to purchase machinery and build a shop. So with their help and the programs they had available, I was able to acquire the capital purchases and the machinery for my shop," she said.
Dawn Madahbee Leach, of Birch Island, is the general manager of Waubetek Business Development Corporation and chair for the National Indigenous Economic Development Board.
"Prior to having such a program, I can tell you there were only five Indigenous businesses in our region, and now it’s more than 3,500 because of programs like the Community Futures program that’s been able to work with clients," Madahbee Leach said.
So far, Corbiere received one loan from Waubetek, however, with big goals on the drawing board, she hasn’t ruled out more help in the future.
"With my passion for working with steel and my interest in design, I’d like to do more contemporary residential homes or infrastructure for First Nation communities," she said
"She’s been able to take it and customize it and incorporate Indigenous design and producing some amazing ironworks," Madahbee Leach said.
Although Corbiere said there are some challenges to working in the north – including having to deliver her pieces far distances and bringing in materials – she said you just can’t beat Manitoulin Island and how welcoming the community has been to her business.