I feel extremely lucky to be Canadian.
When I was growing up, there was a perception that being Canadian was second best to being American. No longer. Canada has truly come into its own as a country in the past 30 years.
I am proud of our peaceful welcoming personality; I am proud of our tolerance within reason; I am proud of our humanity and compassion; I am proud of our business acumen; I am proud of our intelligence; I am proud of our practical common sense; I am proud of our sense of fun; I am proud of our embracing of life; I am proud of our athletic achievements; I am proud to be Canadian.
Happy Canada Day!
Muskoka is known for many things...beautiful sunsets, sparkling lakes, muskoka chairs, docks, boats, cottages, fishing, and relaxation. Increasingly, though, it is becoming known for small business development.
In speaking with Matt Holmes, the Head Planner for the town of Bracebridge for the past decade, he indicated that for the first five years he was in the job, most development applications were for residential building. In the past five years, though, the preponderance of applications have been for commercial and industrial building. This should translate into jobs.
At Aspire Muskoka's building, there are 50 different tenants, most of whom are small businesses. Muskoka Futures and Contact North are both in the building and they foster and develop small businesses in Muskoka. Lake of Bays Brewery is growing and they have recently opened a brewpub in Huntsville. Sheerly Genius will be joining Aspire Muskoka in August and they are a new business in Muskoka. Premium Storage's lockers are full and they are currently building another 18 lockers to provide more capacity. Muskoka Contracting has recently opened.
David Grand of Muskoka Grown has started growing marijuana in his new building off Keith Road and has purchased expansion lands beside to build a larger building to grow more marijuana. There are two other marijuana groups that have bought property in town.
Muskoka Lumber has recently purchased a building by Highway 11 to begin constructing their own roof trusses, an expansion of their existing business. There are many more businesses opening and growing which will be the subject of future blogs.
Suffice it to say that doing business in Muskoka is a growing trend. Both the town and the government agencies in Muskoka are very supportive of this movement. The benefit of job growth in Muskoka is that those who come to call Muskoka home can enjoy the beautiful sunsets, sparkling lakes, muskoka chairs, docks, boats, cottages, fishing, and relaxation when they are not working. A true win-win.
Kathleen Wynne's approval rating is up to 15% from 12% in March. It is still the lowest approval rating of all premiers in the country. Hydro has been her undoing.
We have a powerful solar installation on my folks' Muskoka building. Hydro rates for solar power have ranged from 80 cents per kilowatt hour at its pinnacle down to 29 cents per kilowatt hour now. Ours pays out at 71.3 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 18 years and we have an option to purchase it over the next year. In the meantime, the owners pay us rent for using the roof.
The Auditor General for the province was immensely critical of the government for the negotiation of solar and wind contracts, criticizing them for paying between two and three and a half times what other jurisdictions were paying for the same installations. This has raised the issue of whether a future government might renege on the contracts in place that are paying 71.3 cents and 80 cents per kilowatt hour for solar power.
My daughters and I traveled to Windsor for my eldest daughter's baseball finals. I was absolutely staggered and amazed by the number of windmills that turn continuously as you head out from London. I had seen them before but every time I travel that countryside it continuously amazes me. We came home at night and the red blinking lights on all of the windmills replaced the spider-like spinning that you see in the daytime. Farmers in the countryside are making between $12,000 and $25,000 per year from them.
There is no doubt that converting from coal power to solar and wind power is good for the environment. It is not good for the province's pocketbook. The premier's approval rating reflects that reality.
My kids LOVE Storage Wars.
Even my husband has caught the bug and sometimes watches it with them. When they are not watching it on TV, the kids are playing it at home with our various rooms, bidding against each other for the bathroom contents or the closet. Or they are on their electronics playing Storage Wars there. It has a lot of appeal for them .
Storage lockers are a relatively new invention. Started in 1958 in Florida, chains started appearing in the late 1960's and the industry really took off in the 90's. The United States has the most storage facilities worldwide. There are typically 4Ds that drive demand: divorce, death, downsizing and dislocation (the need to move).
In my folks' Muskoka facility, we are now 95% full. We started out with no lockers rented because of a dispute between the prior owners. Now, out of 165 lockers, we may have a handful available at any one point in time and sometimes have none. We have contractors who store their tools; cleaning suppliers who store their products; interior design companies that store furniture; lots of folks who moved north and need to store excess items until they get settled; many people who are storing their parents' household items because they have moved to a retirement home; professionals who keep their files with us; and numerous others who value climate controlled and secure storage for their valuables.
We are extremely grateful for the business and always try to take very good care of the building and of our locker clients. Our storage manager is a Muskoka local and she knows all of our tenants on a first name basis and is skilled at catering to their needs. We are also hoping to add some outdoor storage lockers down the road to continue to meet our client's demand for more space.
The storage industry is fascinating and seems to be steadily growing in Canada. Fortunately we have very few bad debts in Muskoka and those who owe money are usually personally known to us so we try to work with them to get current or to move out. Hence thus far there has been no drama with delinquent units like that on TV. Nonetheless, my kids are always hopeful.
Yesterday I visited a friend of mine who lives on the Muskoka River. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze.
When we arrived in the late afternoon, we noticed a baited trap out in his yard along with a .22 rifle at the ready. When we enquired what he was trying to catch, he told me red squirrels because they were making themselves a nuisance all around his yard. He confirmed that once he trapped them he was going to shoot them dead. A few months previously, I had a problem with raccoons in the attic. A mama raccoon had taken up residency and had just given birth to babies. I waited a couple of months for the raccoon babies to grow large enough to survive on their own before humanely coaxing them out. I was struck by the differences between the Muskoka and the Toronto approach.
At my folks' building in Muskoka, we have Abell Pest Control on retainer. They treat the building on a monthly basis, primarily for mice and ants. There are traps all around the perimeter and those traps kill the mice and the ants. We are very happy with them and feel pest control is an essential service for any commercial or industrial building. Our tenants are happy not having to deal with the nuisance of pests in the building.
That being said, the building is never completely free of pests. I was heading to our General Manager's office on the mezzanine level the other day and out of the corner of my eye saw something slithering on the floor. "Reinhard, can you please come here...now!!" The snake had wandered in through an open door on the gorgeous summer day and had decided to mount the steps. It was a garter snake, more scared than I was, and Reinhard indicated the biggest risk was that it would pee on him when he relocated it back outside.
Fishers are common around our building and they pose a significant risk to cats and little dogs. They are vicious and efficient killers and one of our staff lost his wife's small dog to one last year. The fellow who lives in the building has two beautiful Siamese cats and he indicated they've come back with bites and scratches after their nightly adventures and he worries they may go out some night and never come back. The gal who runs Muskoka Yarn Connection had a fisher wander into her old store. It took three days to remove him and during that time he completely destroyed the store.
The same gentleman who was killing squirrels told me with admiration about his neighbour, Sure Shot, who could kill anything with tremendous accuracy using his .22 rifle with silenced bullets. He then rated the taste of beaver, muskrat, bear, moose, deer and rabbit, telling me that rabbit was his favourite.
There are significant differences between Muskoka and Toronto and I am enjoying bridging the two worlds on a weekly basis.
Muskoka is land-rich.
In Toronto, there is no open space and the downtown core is becoming like Manhattan with high rises, people and shadows everywhere. Muskoka is the opposite. There are lots of open spaces, beautiful vistas, blue skies with white clouds, and lots of land...acres and acres of land.
A surplus of land makes one want to develop some of it.
Building a country road seems simple enough:
1. First you have to survey it...which you learn once you've started the road and your neighbour claims you are on his land, not your own.
2. Second you have to clear the land of trees. This can be done one by one with a chainsaw or much faster with a very large, very expensive piece of equipment. The first option seems cheaper until you are into your third week of paying the chainsaw operator and are only a few yards into the road.
3. Third you have to figure out how the water flows and redirect it or ditch before you start putting down gravel. This you learn the hard way after the first rain when your road completely washes away.
4. Fourth, you need to bring in hard fill of some kind to set the road on its path. Typical gravel is good, although larger stones are sometimes needed mixed in the gravel depending on how wet, muddy and soft the ground is.
5. Fifth you need to weather 12 months with the road in place to identify the flaws. Four full seasons are required, particularly in Muskoka where the winters are long and there is often a lot of water run off when Spring arrives and things start to thaw then freeze then thaw then freeze then thaw then freeze and finally thaw out completely in preparation for the Summer.
You can spend $200,000 without blinking for your rough country road.
In Toronto there is a big push on by municipal government to eliminate cars in the downtown core. The investment in bike lanes and public transit will theoretically eliminate the need for so many cars to travel downtown.
In Muskoka that concept is laughable. Muskoka's primary public transit system is either your thumb or your feet. Hence everyone wants a car. Those who can afford it drive trucks...big, beautiful, powerful, shiny, expensive trucks. Owning a tractor or a bobcat or a trailer is commonplace. Some even have multiple pieces of heavy equipment to plow snow and move dirt around. One of my school chums has purchased a bunch of mighty machines to build roads and houses on his property. My children have been invited to visit this summer and they cannot wait to drive the tractors.
The implication is that if you own or manage a building in Muskoka, the more parking the better. Our tenants love the abundance of parking we provide. One medium sized company can have ten spots. A small business can have two or three spots. And although getting from your car to the building sometimes requires walking in inclement weather, our tenants view that as a small price to pay for the ample parking for staff and customers.
Parking lots require maintenance and investment year round. Snow plowing costs are significant and snow plow operators must expect to work in the middle of the night on multiple nights throughout the winter and, given this week's weather, sometimes well into the spring season. Every spring and fall two large loads of gravel are needed to be spread out by a front end loader to smooth out the pot holes for the sections of the lot that are not paved. For the paved sections, hot asphalt is required to fill the pot holes and smooth out bumps. And capital must be set aside to pave or re-pave sections of the lot each year. Large pot holes are not uncommon between seasons. As a result, Muskokans value vehicles with four wheel drive and good shocks.
Keeping our parking lot both functional and usable year round is a priority worth the investment. Forget bike lanes. Muskoka businesses value large, well maintained parking lots.
The Muskoka building I manage was almost empty in August of 2015.
Today, thanks to the team on the ground, the owners' ongoing capital infusions and financial support, and strategic asset management, it is now 75% full. It is on track to be completely full by year end.
Early on, it became clear that the owners had to be prepared to invest in their existing and prospective tenants. The owners funded the build of a brand new space for Manna Food Bank even though they only pay $1 per month in rent on a long term lease. The owners funded the build out of a brand new space for Muskoka Yarn Connection and Muskoka Futures in exchange for long term leases. The owners funded the installation of a new garage door entryway for Muskoka Quality Foods. This process continued, with some new tenants requiring far less money - a new desk and chair for example - and others requiring far more - new drywalled offices, new electrical, HVAC and plumbing.
The end result is a building full of tenants who are happy and who feel appreciated. They feel appreciated because they are appreciated. We are now fielding calls from a number of local tenants who want to relocate to the building because it has a positive energy and feels like a hub of business and social activity. We are talking with enough new tenants right now that we expect to be full by year end and hopefully before. We current have 47 different tenants and by year end should have between 55 and 60.
The evolution of the building has been fascinating to be a part of. The building now has an energy and a life all its own. There are such a diverse array of tenants that the Bracebridge Examiner ran a front page article last week on the building and its residents. I am grateful and humbled to be involved with the process and to have met so many interesting and quality people along the way.
I look forward to watching the remaining spaces fill with more good people. Good people make for good buildings. Investing in our tenants has proven to be a very good investment indeed.
At what temperature are you comfortable?
In our family of six, my husband is typically hot; my eldest son is always cold; my youngest son is generally comfortable; my eldest daughter is often freezing; and my baby is a little heater. I of course run at a perfectly normal temperature. It brings to mind the story of Goldilocks. Given the varying preferences, it is challenging to set a home temperature that is agreeable to all.
When you share an office with colleagues and co-workers, you notice pretty quickly the variations from one person to the other. Some of your co-workers will always have a sweater on. Others will be in shirt sleeves all year round. Some people's hands are always cold whereas other people sweat profusely on a constant basis.
As a landlord, it is an ongoing struggle to please everyone. In my folks' building in Muskoka, the first step is to have each tenant agree on a temperature that each of their employees can live with. The second is to install the proper heating for the space, typically through a gas powered furnace serving the entire area with plug in heaters to supplement the base heat and baseboard heaters for colder corners. The third is to ensure that everyone is abiding by the agreed upon temperature. Finally you ideally want to let the temperature drop or rise when the space is not occupied, typically at night and on the weekends.
If you are able to regulate the temperature at an agreed upon level and reduce drafty spaces for your tenants, they will generally be content. Even controlling for the above, some will still wear their sweater year round while others will want to wear tank tops, but you as the landlord will have done your job...just right.
Muskoka has some of the best air quality in the province of Ontario. You breathe in and inhale the fresh, crisp, cool air and somehow feel refreshed and rejuvenated. If it is negative 20 on that particular day, the fresh cold air makes you move quickly from house to car to work and back again but the air quality is always high and that fresh air is one of the benefits of living up north.
Toronto suffers from smog from time to time and although it makes our sunsets quite pretty, air pollution is unpleasant to breathe in and makes you feel unhealthy. You would never breathe deeply on a smoggy day in Toronto and feel refreshed. There are crisp fresh days in Toronto as well, just not as many as in the north. The industry of the city pollutes the air.
Indoor air quality is less discussed but also important given how many hours we spend at work and at home. We recently had our air ducts cleaned and it has made the house feel less dusty and musty. We try to remember to change our furnace filters on a regular basis. We also sleep with fans and a humidifier going. Each night the humidifier goes through at least two full liters of water given how dry the air is. We sleep better with the humid air and find we suffer less sore throats and sinus aggravation.
Air quality at work is an issue. Our Toronto offices are in an old industrial warehouse building and there are often different smells emanating from the various users of the building. We have our own heating and air conditioning for our unit so that helps, but the air quality is dodgy some days.
In my folks' Muskoka property, the air quality is crisp and clean, similar to the air outside. The facility is clean and free of pollutants that cause people irritation. We have recently had a tenant approach us who needs to leave their existing premises because there is a perpetual smell of chlorine in the air that is making the employees sick. What an awful work environment.
Working and living in spaces that boast high air quality will make you feel more energetic, will cut down on sickness, and will make you want to breathe deeply. It only makes sense to do all you can to make the air around you healthy. Then you can...just breathe.
Entrepreneur and mom to four amazing kids
A company owner was asked a question, "How do you motivate your employees to be so punctual?"
He smiled & replied, "It's simple. I have 30 employees and 29 free parking spaces. One is paid parking." ;-)
(from the Aspire Flyer)