They say, “If you build it, they will come,” and that’s something We Wai Kai First Nation leadership firmly believed. They had their band-owned buildings and a BC Hydro building on their reserve, but there was a perception that reserve land was only for First Nations businesses, and nobody was inquiring about leasing the land that was just waiting for commercial development. That was something they wanted to change.
To get the ball rolling, they felt they just needed one tenant. When Finning, a construction equipment dealer that had been in their previous location for 35 years, wanted to move onto their reserve, the community saw it as a tremendous opportunity. Finning needed a build-to-suit location to replace their aging building, which became feasible with financing from RBC.
“When the Finning building financing request came to us, We Wai Kai staff made it easy by having everything in place and in line, which made it a pleasure to work through this deal. Then at the end of it all, to be present at the Grand Opening, that is always the final reward,” says Malte Juergensen, Senior Relationship Manager, Indigenous Financial Services with RBC.
“RBC has been very, very great for us. Not only on First Nation land that we owned, but also property that we own off reserve. They’ve helped us with the ability to acquire businesses, and this build-to-suit location with Finning was just the perfect opportunity, as it was our first build for a company on reserve,” Chief Ronnie Chickite explains.
What happened next was exciting, just as they predicted. “We started putting the building up and our phone was ringing off the hook with people that wanted to lease property. I think it really helped us to open up that economic development area that was pretty much vacant for 13 years,” he recounts. It turned out that the start of construction was the start of a new chapter for We Wai Kai First Nation.
“It just felt like we were stuck in a rut when nobody came to lease off us and we had all this available cleared land. Finning and RBC helped set us up for the future, to get more clients knowing that we are open for business,” he remembers.
With growing membership, economic development dollars are resources to build not just commercial facilities but also the future of their community’s youth who aspire to higher education. “A lot of it is self-funded, from our own source of revenue. Having more and more businesses coming in, creating revenue, once everything’s paid off, it really helps to put our students through post secondary,” Chief Chickite shares. More revenue means more capacity to fund those educational opportunities, and financing the build-to-suit location was one step on the journey towards the community’s future plans.
“If you build it, they will come” turned out to be true for commercial real estate and also community capacity. It took one customer to get the ball rolling, and that momentum is building brighter futures through this build-to-suit opportunity.
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