The HFN Group of Businesses is building economic self-determination for the Huu-ay-aht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island with robust support from NEDC.
The majority of businesses owned by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation are headquartered in Bamfield at the end of a 70-kilometre-long logging road. The small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island is “Tofino twenty-five years ago,” according to CEO of the HFN Group of Businesses Patrick Schmidt.
“The development train is starting now. The Huu-ay-aht have some of the best opportunities I’ve ever seen of any nation,” exudes Patrick, who has over 30 years experience supporting First Nations in the areas of economic and business development. “The opportunities here are real, and they are tangible.”
“Here, we talk about the differences between economic development and business development. If you’re trying to build a commercial business providing dividends, that’s a really different function than creating jobs. We’re really fortunate to have opportunities that can meet the agenda of both,” Patrick says.
It’s been over a decade since the Huu-ay-aht First Nation became self-governing, implementing a corporate structure in 2011 that included a number of arms-length limited partnerships to separate business from politics. Patrick leads a team responsible for building, growing and acquiring enterprises that bring benefits back to the nation.
“The whole idea is for us to sculpt a portfolio of businesses that can provide dividends up to HFN. We’re not there yet. It’s a long journey. But we’re definitely on a road map to get to where we’re looking to get to within the next 3-5 years, and NEDC is an integral part of many layers,” he adds.
The HFN Group oversees the strategic direction of 13 Huu-ay-aht owned companies in the areas of natural resources, tourism and hospitality.
Recent accomplishments of the group include the launch of an oyster farm, a micro-hotel in Port Alberni, and the successful acquisition of a promising timber tiles company.
“Each of those is a step towards building a really strong, diversified portfolio for the nation,” says Teresa Gagnon, CFO at the HFN Group of Businesses. She adds, “The nation has such a large land holding within the Bamfield area. They will really be able to control what the future of the community looks like.”
The Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Port Alberni is a partnership between the HFN Group, Tseshaht First NaIon, and MasterBUILT Hotels Ltd. The new partnership plans to construct and operate a 39,000 square foot hotel featuring 76 rooms, a pool and waterslide, and will be designed to allow for future expansion.
Timber Tiles are made of Hemlock sustainably harvested from forests on Vancouver Island, the product of more than five years of rigorous research and development. They are produced by an innovative manufacturing process that brings out the full range of hemlock’s beautiful grain patterns and colour tones for walls, backsplash and accents.
The HFN Group has accessed support from NEDC at several points throughout its history, mainly through the Business Equity Program.
Both Patrick and Teresa agree that having local access to patient capital from lenders who are Indigenous and understand the local context has been key to growing the group of businesses.
“We’re only so big. Our capital base isn’t, you know, a couple hundred million dollars. So the idea of being able to put some of our equity in, then rally some borrowed equity from NEDC, goes a long way towards how we pursue projects to reach that whole goal for financial independence for HFN,” Patrick says.
“Vancouver Island has some pretty unique businesses,” Teresa adds. “NEDC understands the challenges that are unique to our organization and organizations like ours; remote communities, blended workforce, a number of things like that.”
At the end of the bumpy logging road sits a nation at the precipice of massive opportunities. With the West Coast Trail, world-class fishing, and spectacular wildlife right out the backdoor, HFN tourism and hospitality businesses provide guests with a unique and memorable Vancouver Island experience rooted in Huu-ay-aht culture.
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