A Senior VP with the Business Development Bank of Canada paid a visit North Bay to celebrate 40 years of supporting local businesses.

Ontario-based Lesley Lawrence took some time out of a busy schedule to share her thoughts on North Bay’s business climate, current challenges, and opportunities for business owners, with a focus on female-owned business.

Lawrence is responsible for overseeing BDC’s lending and advisory services in Ontario. She is also on the Board of Directors for Women Business Enterprises Canada. BDC has been working alongside local entrepreneurs to help grow their businesses and fuel the economy in northern Ontario for over four decades.

Senior Vice President, Ontario, Business Development Bank of Canada Lesley Lawrence

Lawrence spent part of Monday afternoon at a roundtable of women entrepreneurs, who outlined to her the opportunities, needs and challenges they face in North Bay, as well as the barriers to growth.

“Having roundtables such as this gives us the opportunity to get feedback. We hear things, that came up in the roundtable, about labour shortages, making sure they can find the right talent,” said Lawrence. “Women tend to be a little more conservative when taking on debt to grow their businesses, they focus on paying it back faster. We discussed asking for what you need when it comes to financing, not what you think you can get.”

Another business practice Lawrence finds in her dealings with women is their relationship with a banker such as herself. She says women don’t tend to look at the lending process as “just a transaction,” but rather a relationship.

Lawrence said she sees growth in the segment of businesses majority-owned by women, currently at 16 per cent of all businesses, “and we only see that continuing to grow.

The BDC exec said these trips into the different markets reinforce the advisory services and financing options available to businesses. “We feel it’s really important to continue to support entrepreneurs in the north. Women are just one focus, we have many other focuses, such as Indigenous lending, newcomers to Canada. As a development bank, we just want to continue to be — and we are — Canada’s only bank dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurs.”

Asked about the recent election platforms focused on growth by municipal leaders, Lawrence says entrepreneurship can aid in that growth. “If you look at the demographics of North Bay, a somewhat declining and aging population, one of the things that could happen, when you look at the economic breakdown, is fostering more entrepreneurship…I see an opportunity to grow here in North Bay.”