Provincial governments keen to boost immigrant businesses
By Robin Arthur
It’s very well recognized that small businesses prime Canada’s economy. That’s why Canada beckons immigrant entrepreneurs to our shores and throws in grant programs and other support systems to get newcomer entrepreneurs on their feet.
A good snapshot of what works and what does not for the immigrant entrepreneur can be seen in a Working Paper published by the Atlantic Metropolis, authored by Dr. Najma Sharif, Professor of Economics at Saint Mary’s University. Sharif’s paper titled “Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia: Factors that Contribute to and Hinder Success” is based on findings from a survey done with 51 immigrant entrepreneurs in a representative sample.
Europe, she says, is the dominant source for entrepreneurs, followed by Middle East and Asia with Africa, North America and Central America making up the rest. But on a countrywide scale, Lebanon is acknowledged as a major source of businessmen, accounting for 10 per cent of businesses, followed by Turkey and China, Greece and Iran.
What is interesting to note in Sharif’s paper is that while 10 per cent of entrepreneurs in that sample came in through the Nova Scotia Nominee Program (NSNP) only two per cent came in through the federal program. None came under the investor class. “Clearly most of these respondents became entrepreneurs only upon coming to Canada,” Sharif observes.
The responses from this survey sample show a high level of educational achievement in this segment with at least 70 per cent claiming a university degree.
As for the categories of business that the immigrant entrepreneur typically chooses, sole proprietorship and incorporated companies are the two popular types of business structure. The largest number of businesses, however, is concentrated in the food category—almost 29 percent, followed by trade and retail—about 20 percent.
“That most businesses are related to food tells us that immigrant entrepreneurs are at an early stage of development where their capital needs are relatively small and the business does not require high technical skills,” Sharif observes.
The average age of the immigrant business, she says, is just 7.4 years underpinning the point that immigrant entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia is in its infancy.
The report takes a look at employment generation as well. The interviews clearly indicated that 40 percent of entrepreneurs in the sample employed no one but themselves, while 21 percent employed anywhere between one and three workers, 17 percent employed anywhere from four to six workers.
The majority in the sample—64 percent—indicated that their net revenues were positive. Another 24 percent said they broke even, while 12 percent reported negative net revenue.
But going by extrapolation based on survey findings and forecasts by businesses, Sharif estimates that there would be some significant job creation in the immigrant business sector next year.
On another note, she points out that researchers have identified social capital by way of ethnic networks and family ties as key bricks in the foundation and operation of businesses (Chan and Cheung, 1985; Galbraith et al., 2003; Waldinger, 1993).
However, Nova Scotia has no large ethnic clusters. Entrepreneurs therefore need to look for social and even economic support in the larger community around them for business success.
She makes the point that openness to immigrant businesses and a welcoming community encourage newcomers to take calculated risks.
Excerpts from her Working Paper are carried in this special report.
That this segment of business is significant to the economy is evidenced from the fact that the governments of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, are looking to boost immigrant businesses.
In July, the government of New Brunswick announced it would be funding a business mentorship pilot program designed to help immigrant entrepreneurs learn about doing business in the province
The announcement was made by Business New Brunswick Minister Victor Boudreau and Lee Winchester, president of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.
“The pilot project will link immigrant entrepreneurs with New Brunswickers who have experience doing business in our province,” said Boudreau. “Ultimately our goal is to help immigrants be successful with their investments in our province, and in doing so, bring our province closer to self-sufficiency,” he said.
Likewise, the government of PEI last month launched its new publication Immigrant Entrepreneurs on PEI. Excerpts are carried in this report.
This report also carries profiles on some major business groups in Nova Scotia, founded and managed by immigrant entrepreneurs as well as carries editorial perspectives on the federal and provincial programs that are directed at the immigrant entrepreneur category.
There is a snapshot, too, of the financing that’s now available to the immigrant entrepreneur—a long way since the days when “no credit” was a shame and banks fought shy of financing retail businesses.