From the sidelines to the frontlines

From the sidelines to the frontlines
Sheri Somerville, CEO

Helping Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs hit it out of the park

To many, the perception has long been that large companies employing hundreds of people dominate the business landscape in Atlantic Canada. But almost overnight it seems the world around us has morphed into a new frontier for brave mavericks: the solo-preneurs and small-to-medium sized businesses that now comprise the largest percentage of business in the region.

Of the 78,000 businesses in Atlantic Canada, nearly 98% are small-to-medium (with less than 100 employees) and they account for 75% of our region’s employment. The same holds true for the Atlantic Chamber and our network of 93 Chambers: 90% of our growing 16,000 member-ship are entrepreneurs and SMEs—a number only expected to increase given current economic conditions.

Given the uniquely high proportion of small business and entrepreneurs driving the Atlantic economy, it is critical we create an optimal playing field for their success. Communities, govern-ments and the Chamber all have a role to play.

Success requires proud, welcoming, innovative and action-oriented communities that value input from newcomers. As a starting point we need to assess, catalogue and appreciate the unique assets and characteristics of our communities and build on those strengths. Communities need to be more than ‘sustainable,’ they must convince residents (beginning at a young age) that the profitable opportunities and exceptional quality of life they crave exist here—and they must encourage young people to attach or return to their community. By undertaking a continual process of self-assessment, our communities can provide the foundational infrastructure and services that will encourage entrepreneurs to create new businesses and jobs.

Ask anyone whether more or less government is needed and you can expect a similar response—we are over governed. Excess regulation has the potential to stifle innovation and restrain investment, both key characteristics of an environment that supports entrepreneurs. To maximize prosperity, we need governments to become more transparent, efficient and reliable. Investors creating new businesses need governments to reduce ‘red tape’ and make compliance less complicated and more service-oriented. Nova Scotia’s Business Navigator program and Newfoundland and Labrador’s publication of maximum response times are two innovative programs that accelerate access to information and increase the ability of businesses to plan for growth. And most pressing, governments at all levels need to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of our tax system to reduce the complexity and improve equity.

As local community builders, our network of Chambers will continue to evolve as they devel-op and offer responsive programs and services to support our Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs and SMEs. A significant benefit of belonging to a community Chamber is their local presence and ability to tailor solutions specifically to meet local needs. For example, the St. John’s Board of Trade has launched the #InvestStJohns, ConnectorNL and Climate Smart programs for entrepreneurs and SMEs; the Eastern PEI Chamber offers a 50% discount to new business start-ups who participate in the Skills PEI program; the Pictou Chamber opened the ChamberHub community workspace for local entrepreneurs and members; and in Truro, the Chamber partnered to create the Truro–Colchester Partnership for Economic Prosperity which is helping increase business start-ups plus support business growth and innovation as well as workforce development, attraction and retention.

Within our network, there are as many examples of entrepreneurial and SME support mecha-nisms as there are Chambers. But what’s unique is our network connectivity because we share ideas and best practices so as to strengthen the entire Atlantic Canada network. If you want to do business or develop partnerships in this region, simply connect with your local Chamber. They will facilitate connections for you through our 93 chamber network. It’s the common thread that gives strength to our economic fabric: Chambers are dedicated to supporting business success in their community and Atlantic Canada—it’s the power of our network.

We often hear about the significant challenges facing Atlantic Canada. Yes, there are many. But there are also numerous opportunities emanating from those seeking to realize their business dreams. By working together to optimize our playing field, we can help aspiring entrepreneurs and growth-minded SMEs to knock their ambitions out of the park. The Atlantic Chamber and all of our Chambers are ready to do our part. Come on team, let’s win this thing!

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