The numbers don’t lie. According to Industry Canada, a small business is one that has less than 100 employees. Not including self-employed entrepreneurs, there’s over a million small businesses in Canada. In fact, over 98 per cent of all businesses in this country have between one and 99 employees—and over half of them have four or less staff. When you include the self-employed operations without any employees, well… you quickly realize that ours is an economy of micro dimensions. For governments, that means a smaller tax base; for employees, it frequently translates to fewer opportunities for advancement, fewer benefits and lower wages.
But the numbers don’t tell the full story either.
For starters, corporate careers aren’t always the most rewarding. Just ask Lyndell Findlay (See MsDirection), who walked away from a lucrative but stressful job with the United Nations to set up her own manufacturing operation in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Talk to Myrna Gillis, the former Queen’s Council lawyer who changed course to become a cannabis producer because it mirrors her values as an advocate for persons with disabilities. Share a sud with Sonja Mills, another former lawyer who found her true calling as a craft brewer in rural Newfoundland. And learn how microenterprise transformed the life of this issue’s cover model, Mo Handahu.
Innovation isn’t limited to big businesses with equally impressive R&D budgets. Small businesses are incubators of creative solutions as owners find ways to make their operations work on the slimmest of budgets. Like Adam Blanchard of Five Brothers Artisan Cheese, the only secondary dairy producer in Newfoundland and Labrador. He mines his Facebook network for “mules” willing to ferry his fromage the four-and-a-half-hour drive from Goulds to Grand Falls-Windsor (See The long whey home).
Do you have a favorite local small business? Tell me what you love about it and I’ll post your comments on our website.
And, as we write in our story Heart & Soul, they are the literal heart and soul of communities like Victoria-By-The-Sea in Prince Edward Island. Once a dominant shipping port, this picture-perfect village has sustained itself for 200 years on a vibrant small business culture. From its historic involvement in farming and fishing to its more recent theatrical and artisanal endeavours, micro-operations have been integral to the town’s survival since its founding in 1819.
Further, self-employment and small business are frequently a gateway to economic integration for new Canadians (See Bloody Foreigners). Did you know that 22 per cent more immigrants are self-employed compared to their Canadianborn counterparts? Or that they are less likely to seek start-up funding from financial institutions, lease or trade credit financing, or government assistance?
None of this is to say that small business is better than its super-sized cousins. I’d argue that we need both—and more of them—for a healthy economy. I do think, however, that we frequently take this mighty mite of a sector for granted; this issue of Atlantic Business Magazine is meant to correct that by acknowledging the strength of our enterprising culture. Though historically grounded in the traditional resource sectors, Atlantic Canada’s entrepreneurial activities are as varied as they are prolific.
When we asked this issue’s contributors to tell us about their favorite locally-owned small business, none of them opted out of the question. Not only were their answers detailed, but they also revealed a customer loyalty based on emotional attachment. They talked about quality products and pride in supporting local enterprise, of exceptional service and the personalities they encounter in these quaint shops and family-run operations. Essentially, their comments demonstrated how small businesses are integral to their sense of community.
Do you have a favorite local small business? Tell me what you love about it and I’ll post your comments on our website. Think of it as a way to say thank you to a sector that continually punches above its weight class.