It’s no understatement to say small business plays a vital role in Atlantic Canada, which consists of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The hard work of entrepreneurs influences not only local economies, but the communities in these provinces who rely on them.
Still, as Lidia Kwiatkowska, BMO Small Business Area Manager for Atlantic Canada tells us, the common industries and factors influencing small business success vary greatly by province. In addition to finding out the differences in popular sectors, Kwiatkowska offers her insight on how entrepreneurs can build their businesses by drawing on each other’s experiences.
How would you describe the current small business environment in Atlantic Canada?
As much as these provinces are all considered Atlantic Canada, from an economics perspective they are all very diverse. In Newfoundland, for example, we see a lot of small business owners who are traveling out of the province to work, but still reside in Newfoundland. For example, we might have a truck driver or contractor come in and say, “I need to refinance my truck. Can you do this by Monday, because that’s when I’m going to Montreal.” So our focus there is to make such working situations as seamless as possible for them.
How does this compare with the types of businesses in other Atlantic provinces?
In Nova Scotia, we’re really seeing the effects of the many outstanding institutions of learning Atlantic Canada has to offer. Halifax is so rich with universities and educational institutions, and the region has a lot of opportunity to attract top workers, as other countries go through periods of prosperity. So the challenge in Nova Scotia is to keep the youth living and working here.
What desire exists among these young people to stay and start their own businesses?
It varies. A couple weeks ago we came across an engineering student, who had been working for a major engineering firm in the Halifax area, and had decided to branch out and start up his own consulting engineering business. He’s not going anywhere, he’s setting up his business in Halifax, and he’s staying close to his fellow university students who have their own expertise – one in human resources, and one in IT. They’re looking at staying local, and taking advantage of future prosperity in order to build their own business, which is very refreshing to hear.
What factors influence small business in P.E.I.?
There’s been an influx of tourism over the last few years, which absolutely has an impact on small business. We’re seeing an increase in touring companies, shops and restaurants that benefit from attracting tourists.
There’s also a lot of immigration in P.E.I., and the challenge is to get the immigrants to stay, as opposed to moving to other areas of Canada. Right now we’re seeing an increase in the actual retention of some of the immigrants, who may also contribute to small businesses in the province.
What kind of small business trends are you seeing in New Brunswick?
New Brunswick is a little bit more challenging from a forecasting perspective. We’re seeing some interesting IT sales and up-and-coming startups. On the smaller business scale, we’re seeing individuals who are working for a company, and not quite ready to take the plunge, but are coming in to ask questions about what they need to learn to start a business. They might be dabbling in it as a side business, while working for someone else full time, and waiting for the right moment to jump in full force.
What challenges do these small business owners across the Atlantic provinces share in starting up?
There are many challenges they face when just starting up, and determining what it actually takes. For example, they have to learn about how much capital they need, think about their best options location-wise, and consider whether they remain the sole proprietor or incorporate.
How valuable are small businesses to the local communities across Atlantic Canada?
Small businesses are the backbones of these communities. As a result, business owners don’t lose sight of their roles in the community, and look at what they can do for their local communities in conjunction with other small business owners.
How important is it for these small business owners to build relationships with each other?
It’s critical. When you’re coming into a particular community, other small business owners can help you learn the ropes, and help you learn from their trials and tribulations. By being in close contact with one another, you can find out how you can support each other.
What piece of advice would you provide small business owners looking to start up in Atlantic Canada?
Do your research. Get access to any online expertise you can get. Talk to individuals who have a passion similar to yours. And make sure you’re pursuing something you’re truly passionate about.