Michael Selci, senior vice-president of BDC’s Prairie region, sees positive signs in the economy. (Supplied by Wil Andruschak, Postmedia Content Works)

Few people in Calgary know just how challenging the recent economic downturn was for entrepreneurs. But Michael Selci does.

As the senior vice-president of BDC’s Prairie region, he’s been working closely with Calgary small- and medium-sized businesses to help them weather the storm wrought by low oil prices over the past couple of years.

“Our role has been to help by being a patient and flexible lender through this period,” Selci says about Canada’s business development bank, which is federally mandated to provide lending, advice and other support for Canadian entrepreneurs.

“We’ve had a number of strategies through this period to specifically take a leadership position to help entrepreneurs here in Calgary and across Alberta.”

At the top of that list has been an $850-million loan fund for businesses affected directly and indirectly by the downturn in Alberta’s energy sector. He adds that $150 million from that fund remains to be lent. He has noticed an improved outlook, as the province’s economy recovers.

“I feel as though energy prices have stabilized, and we’re seeing more positivity among Alberta entrepreneurs right now,” he says. “We’re seeing companies start to grow and be profitable — that’s the good news.”

BDC’s focus has always been to provide access to capital alongside traditional lenders. But it also steps in with financing when other institutions feel the risk is too high. It’s increasingly helping entrepreneurs to become more innovative, expand into new markets, leverage the latest technology and diversify revenue streams.

Selci says this kind of support is critical to Calgary’s and, more broadly, Alberta’s economies. Simply put, to compete on a global stage, businesses can’t rely on the energy industry alone to fuel sales.

“The downturn was in some ways an awakening, which will benefit those businesses that made it through over the long-term,” Selci says.

“The key element, perhaps more than anything else, is to help entrepreneurs plan for their future.” To this end BDC recently opened new business centres in Calgary and Edmonton, plus a permanent presence in both Fort McMurray and Medicine Hat. And that’s, “Only the beginning,” he adds.

Working closely with Calgary Economic Development, Calgary Chamber of Commerce and other local business development entities, BDC is taking a leadership role.

“Our overall goal is to help companies grow, export, innovate and help the economy at the end of the day, because it’s businesses that drive economic growth,” Selci says.

“We’ve been helping through the downturn, and now we’re looking forward to a brighter future.”

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