There is plenty of government money available for Canadian construction companies that want financial assistance on a project, at least in theory.
In practice, however, it can be a different story.
Because most government departments act separately from each other, there are no central databases that collect and hold information on all of a government’s grant programs.
So finding and nailing down a program a company qualifies for can be a frustrating process, says David Oliver, a principal of SCIUS Advisory Inc. in Vancouver.
Fortunately, there are some useful rules of thumb that can help zero in on the right grant. Oliver says construction companies need to align their project with the priorities and funding criteria of each program.
“For example, if your company commercializes high-efficiency HVAC systems for commercial buildings, the project falls under ‘energy efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions’ types of programs,” says Oliver.
An example is the Economic Infrastructure and Innovation Program from the Island Coastal Economic Trust.
“This relatively small program provides up to $300,000 per successful application,” says Oliver. “Construction companies would typically apply in partnership with a non-profit, Indigenous community or a municipality.”
Oliver says there are several ways a company can improve its chances of getting a grant.
Look for less known programs that are directly applicable to your specific project,
— David Oliver
SCIUS Advisory Inc.
“First, scan the funding landscape and figure out where the opportunities lie,” he says. “There are hundreds of municipal, provincial and federal programs, so narrow down your search before wasting time writing applications.”
Most companies apply to the best-known programs, such as the Industrial Research Assistance Program, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program and the Green Municipal Fund.
“But the competition in these programs is fierce and many of them become quickly oversubscribed,” says Oliver. “Instead, look for less known programs that are directly applicable to your specific project.”
Second, a company needs to decide if it is going to apply by itself or with another organization.
“If you apply by yourself, make sure your application meets all of the funding criteria, and that your request is completely aligned with the program’s priorities,” says Oliver. “Reviewers prioritize the applicants based on those criteria.”
In many cases, a construction company should look for a partner to act as the lead applicant.
“Unfortunately, construction doesn’t have its own ministry that provides industry funding,” says Oliver. “Often a combination of ministries creates a program in which a construction company fits as long as it applies in partnership with a non-profit, a First Nations community or a municipality. Going in partnership with one of them definitely improves your chances.”
Finally, talk to the program manager.
“They are there to help you,” says Oliver “Like any other business, they have their internal key performance indicators to meet, including allocating 100 per cent of a program’s funds every year. If you have a good project, they’ll talk to you.”
If a grant applicant has any questions, most provincial programs have a contact name and email address, and federal programs have a generic email address.
“Most applicants don’t contact the funders before submitting their application, however, so the rate of rejection is high,” says Oliver.
Not all of the money that governments allocate for grants actually gets spent.
“Most departments try hard to fully allocate their funding programs every year, but good projects need to be matched with the relevant programs for that to happen,” says Oliver.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find the funding program among the hundreds that exist that might apply to a project.
“Most companies don’t have the resources, know-how or time to find and prepare applications,” says Oliver.
As a result, they are left trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“Some become very good at it and receive most of the funds available, while the rest are left out,” he says.
Construction companies haven’t been applying for grants the way other Canadian industries have.
“Certain sectors, such as forestry, clean-tech or oil and gas, are more familiar with public funding and they have traditionally attracted most of the public dollars,” says Oliver. “They have a ministry dedicated to them which helps facilitate funding discussions.
Despite being one of the country’s largest employers, the construction industry goes unnoticed for public funding.”
Be that as it may, hundreds of projects are funded every month across the country.
“Do an online search and you’ll be surprised,” says Oliver. “And keep in mind that your potential partners, including most non-profits, First Nations and small municipalities, are not familiar with accessing public funding programs either.”
To help navigate the grant application process, Oliver has published a free guidebook called Project Development 101, which can be found here: https://davidoliver.ca/project-development-101/