Information in a new report explains what is being done—and what needs to be done to keep businesses in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR), and to help them expand.

The Opportunités Prescott-Russell Opportunities (OPRO) report was presented to UCPR council on February 20.

According to a presentation given by Director of Economic Development and Tourism Carole Lavigne and Project Coordinator Olivier Berthiaume, 563 businesses across the counties were surveyed since 2017 in order to understand their challenges and to determine what action to take to encourage them to stay located in the region, and to expand.

The report found that the majority of businesses in Prescott-Russell have fewer than 20 employees, achieve annual sales under $1,000,000, most business owners own the property where the business is located — and most business owners do not have a business plan.

Another finding of the report is that the support network for businesses is under-utilized and largely unknown to many local business owners.  Many services which are resources for business owners are also duplicated among various organizations or operate in “silos” that do not connect with each other.

The report identifies the geographic location, good quality of life, and a good business climate as the advantages for business in the UCPR.

Three main disadvantages identified are limited access to public utilities (internet and power), high business costs, and a shortage of skilled labour.

According to Berthiaume, 45 per cent of the businesses surveyed are facing challenges with employee recruitment due to a lack of training and availability.

Local businesses are also competing with employers in nearby cities to fill positions, or they are encountering a poor quality of skills and knowledge among the labour available locally.

Berthiaume said that during the OPRO study process, they encountered 74 businesses needing what he called a red flag intervention because they were in danger of closing or relocating.  Berthiaume said the UCPR intervened and helped set up assistance to 20 of those businesses which prevented them from closing or leaving the area.

The OPRO report contains a 14-point action plan to address business retention and expansion needs in Prescott-Russell.

Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly asked what the highest priority items are in the report.

Lavigne said those vary and have been identified and organized by municipality or by their priority on a counties-wide basis.

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins agreed that many businesses owners do not know of resources available to them.

Lavigne said there is a need to find solutions to that challenge and referred to the action plan in the report.

Alfred and Plantagenet Mayor Stéphane Sarrazin said the OPRO report shows there is potential for economic development in all of the UCPR municipalities and thanked the staff for their work.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said UCPR Warden and East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby, and he thanked Lavigne and staff for their efforts.