PORT HAWKESBURY: The Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN) is looking for local businesses to take part in a program aimed at addressing shared challenges in the region.

Through their BusinessNow! Program, ESREN development officers meet with business operators to identify issues, provide support, and gather information help design future programs. Although the ESREN has offered this type of service for several years, it is currently working to attract new businesses to participate.

“It’s a win-win situation, because it helps us to see what the challenges are and focus regional projects based on what’s happening in the area, rather than us guessing,” said Misty MacDonald, economic development officer for ESREN. “It benefits them directly because we’re able to put them in touch with people who can help.”

MacDonald said ESREN partners with other organizations – including the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education – to form an action team to support businesses.

“Sometimes people are struggling in isolation and they don’t need to be. There is a lot of help out there for businesses that they may just not be aware of,” said MacDonald. “Businesses don’t realize that there is that much support available and that it’s free.”

MacDonald said one of the major challenges she has heard from business operators is the difficulty in finding workers with the skills needed to fill vacant positions.

“Right now we’re looking at options to train people to perform some senior management positions. We’re in the process of that right now,” she said.

ESREN also addresses the problem by helping employers who are interested in the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.

“We can help with the paperwork and getting them set up to be a designated employer,” MacDonald said.

The program can also connect businesses with local institutions – such as Cape Breton University, StFX, and Nova Scotia Community College – to provide applied research opportunities.

“They’re all actively looking for opportunities to work with businesses, so if you have a problem in your business that you can’t solve by yourself, that’s another source of assistance that we can usually help align you with,” said MacDonald.

In the past, ESREN has used applied research partnerships to help people get their products to market.

“We had one client who produced a food product that was completely natural, so on the shelf it was separating,” said MacDonald. “The StFX chemistry department was able to go in, understand how her process worked, and find an alternative way for her to make that product so that it wouldn’t separate.”

Assistance is also available in areas such as marketing, which MacDonald says can be costly for business operators.

“There are all kinds of students that could take that on as a case study and come up with a solid marketing plan,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald says she hopes to see even more businesses take advantage of the BusinessNow! Program, and urges anyone who is interested to contact their local ESREN office for more information. Staff will schedule a visit at the business owners’ convenience and information collected will be confidential.

“We can’t get a direction of what we should be doing without knowing what’s actually happening in the business community,” MacDonald added.