Thunder Bay Centre for Change is the brainchild of one of PARO’s graduates, Sandi Boucher (meno bimahdizewin consulting group), and her partner in this endeavour, Robert Zanette (Design Build).
After a tour of the former Hillcrest High school (that was closed as a high school in 2009) Sandi and Robert started to envision an exciting new path for this historic site, one that would allow small businesses, non-profit organizations, and the citizens of Thunder Bay to continue to enjoy the many assets the building contained.
The vision was a business incubator, an environment that would allow tenants to enjoy low overhead costs for a set period of time, shared marketing opportunities, and partnerships never before seen in an office environment in the city. The vision saw smaller businesses growing, hiring staff, expanding and eventually adding to the local economy.
Non-profits were seen as another benefactor of this type of opportunity, as they could use the lower costs to free-up much needed funds that would allow them time to restructure, secure funding, or expand their services.
Sandi saw PARO as a natural partner and support in this endeavour. Although they are not physically located within the centre, they have been pioneers in the area of business development in the city for the past 16 years, and fully support the work of the Centre. PARO’s biz clusters project sees the Centre of Change as a prime example of how businesses can benefit from working together in a collaborative and supportive way.
Sandi feels strongly that the training and support she received at PARO was one of the inspirations that brought this newest idea to life. “I think the idea of businesses working together was second nature for me, being a graduate of PARO’s programs. I have fond memories of the PARO training sessions where we could share hopes, dreams and frustrations – that is definitely what we are trying to replicate in the Centre of Change.”
“Because the Centre of Change is located in a former high school, it comes with incredible assets: an auditorium, cafeteria, shops, music room and the list goes on. We envisioned a separate business in each classroom, growing and expanding by partnering with their neighbours within the centre, sharing marketing expenses, and hosting events together that could benefit all. Now the partnerships have grown outside the Centre walls. The Centre is working with PARO to provide a second-stage support for the PARO women and their businesses. And Lowery’s Basics, a local printing and marketing company has partnered with the Centre to set up a print shop to support out tenants. The list just keeps growing.”
“Success does not mean doing it alone, and working together means you can achieve things on a grander scale than any one person or entity could do on their own. PARO and the Centre of Change prove that.”