Passing the torch

New Brunswick program entices youth to take over for small business owners

RESTIGOUCHE COUNTY in northcentral New Brunswick has a problem.

The problem is that as its population ages, entrepreneurs and the small businesses they run are drying up. “We were finding that businesses were closing doors not because they weren’t successful but because owners wanted to retire and they had no one to take over,” says Melissa Irvine, youth entrepreneurship officer with the Campbellton-based Restigouche Entrepreneurship Centre.

To address this challenge, the Centre launched the Business Succession Project in 2013. The project included three parts: conducting a survey of the Restigouche business community to determine how many small businesses had succession plans in place; presenting the survey’s findings to the six high schools in the region; and pairing small business owners who were looking to retire with high school students who had expressed an interest in becoming entrepreneurs.

Irvine says of the 560 businesses that took part, 68 per cent (384) didn’t have a succession plan. Irvine says the Centre took the findings to Restigouche high schools and then got to work matching up entrepreneurs willing to take on coop students interested in the line of work they did.

The project wrapped up in January of 2014, but Irvine says the high schools have been given the information on small business owners willing to employ co-op students and the schools continue to try to match entrepreneurs with interested teens. The program appears to have had a positive impact. Irvine says the communities of Bathurst and Edmundston are starting similar projects to address the challenge which aging business owners present to rural economies.

“The closure of businesses isn’t good for anybody,” Irvine says. “For business owners, selling their business is their pension plan. For the communities, closures represent a loss of services and employment.”

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