How two entrepreneurs profit `up here'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

``You have to be flexible to survive in the north,'' says Ronne Heming, recalling the early days of business in this town north of Great Slave Lake. Miss Heming and her partner, Marion LaVigne, have proven their flexibility.

They moved ``up here,'' as the local phrase puts it, from Toronto (LaVigne) and Montreal (Heming) just over a decade ago and established a graphic arts business.

Previous efforts to launch such a business in this remote city of around 12,000 people had failed. But this one succeeded.

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Despite some resistance to outsiders doing business here -- due, in large part, to northern parochialism -- enough companies have signed on that Miss Hemming now says, ``We now have a stable of good clients.''

The flexibility of these two businesswomen has been shown in their many activities over the past 10 years. They've done public relations work. They established an advertising agency, designing and placing ads. They've prepared slide shows and video spots.

Then their firm, called Outcrop, The Northern Publishers, turned to book publishing.

Outcrop compiles an authoritative data book on the Northwest Territories, a vast area with only 50,000 inhabitants.

It has published a book of color photos of Yellowknife, a children's book entitled ``Christmas in the Big Igloo,'' a Northwest Territories Explorers Guide, and ``Great Bear, A Journey Remembered,'' by Frederick B. Watt, a story of a real-life search for riches in the Arctic. The latter has become a best seller in Canada and is now into its fourth printing.

The firm's biggest publishing venture was the launching of two magazines just over a year ago. One, a monthly called Business North, was discontinued late last year after failing to reach projections. The market, says Miss LaVigne, ``was just too small.''

However, some of its business content will be folded into the other magazine, a bimonthly entitled Up Here, Life in Canada's North.

The magazine has had a paid circulation of 15,000. Some 10,000 copies of the winter issue were distributed for the first time to newstands across Canada.

Some Americans have learned of the slick-paper regional magazine through the grapevine or ads in other Canadian publications and subscribe for its colorful features on northern culture, art, and adventure.

The partners hope for a paid circulation at $15 a year of 25,000 by March and profitability by the end of the year. Government financial assistance helped launch the venture, in part to promote commerce.

Outcrop itself has, Miss Hemming says, ``always been profitable.'' But, she admits, ``It was a bit of an uphill battle.''

One factor in their favor, according to an observer here, is that there is less discrimination against women in business in the north than in southern Canada. The Canadian north, this observer contends, remains ``a land of opportunity.''

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