Playgrounds Delivering Fun as Well as Profit
THE HEADQUARTERS OF DYNAMO PLAYGROUNDS sits on County Road 9 just outside Plantagenet, Ontario, about an hour from Ottawa. Started in 1993 by Métis entrepreneur Richard Martin, the company manufactures one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art playgrounds that have been installed in communities around the world, including Saanich, British Columbia, San Antonio, Texas and Guangzhou, China.
Residents of Ottawa can also experience Dynamo’s designs. The playground at Ashgrove Park, on Uplands Drive, is billed as “a great destination for a family outing.”
In the fast-growing international playground design and manufacturing sector, Martin has been steadily guiding the company to greater innovation, higher production, and more revenues. The company—now recognized internationally as a leader in the design and construction of playground structures—generates almost $10 million annually, employs 50 people and holds seven patents on unique playground structures.
Dynamo’s Riverview Park in Mesa, Arizona was voted the best playground by USA Today in 2015. The park is one of the company’s proudest achievements and features the tallest mast net in the world: a giant 50-foot climbing tower that will hold up to 250 people at the same time. There’s also a 60-foot-long caterpillar mesh rope climbing structure.
Clearly, playground structures today are more than monkey bars and swing sets.
In 2014, Martin, who had been outsourcing manufacturing overseas, decided to become his own manufacturer. However, despite his company’s success, he had difficulty accessing mainstream lending.
As a result, Martin approached the Métis Voyageur Fund (MVF) part of a network of 55 Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs) that finance and support Indigenous entrepreneurs. While the MVF was capitalized by the Government of Ontario for $34 million in 2012, the Government of Canada recently committed an additional $2.5 million to the MVF as part of its Métis Economic Development Strategy. The MVF provided Martin a $1.2 million loan to finance the purchase of a 10,000 square-foot building and the required manufacturing equipment.
“Without a doubt, Dynamo would not be manufacturing in Canada if it were not for the help of the Métis Voyageur Fund,” says Martin. “It was truly a blessing.”
Created in the 1980s, with support from the Government of Canada, Aboriginal Financial Institutions have helped create new businesses and expand existing businesses by providing financing and business support services to Indigenous entrepreneurs. The government recognized that Indigenous businesses face persistent barriers to accessing business financing, including outdated provisions of the Indian Act, remoteness, lack of credit history and few or no assets. These conditions have prevented Indigenous businesses from accessing affordable lending at mainstream financial institutions.
Since then, the AFI network has leveraged an initial federal investment of about $240 million into over 44,000 loans, totalling $2.4 billion, to businesses owned by First Nations, Métis and Inuit people across Canada.
The success of the network has been remarkable. Very few government-funded initiatives generate the leverage and measurable outcomes of Aboriginal Financial Institutions.
Yet, federal support is stuck at 1980 levels, making it difficult for the network to keep up with demand from the growing Indigenous business community and to respond to the growing opportunities for Indigenous businesses across Canada.
“You would think that this would be a good problem to have,” says Shannin Metatawabin, Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, the umbrella organization for Aboriginal Financial Institutions. “This initiative has demonstrable success, clear demand, and a proven track record. And the return on the federal investment is truly outstanding.”
Currently, the Government of Canada provides about $35 million a year to support lending to Indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs. This seed funding is able to maintain a lending portfolio across the network of over $100 million annually.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is committed to closing the socioeconomic gap between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. Increasingly, Indigenous Peoples see business development as the path to greater independence and self-sufficiency. Shannin hopes that the next federal budget will acknowledge, with renewed support, the important role that Indigenous entrepreneurs can play in helping close that gap.