Business Voice - June 2012
Diversity paying off
Halifax’s various ethnic, cultural communities fuelling economic expansion
By Richard Woodbury
Halifax has been described as a community of communities. As a municipality, this is a sort of no-brainer – we’re made up of different communities, such as Halifax, Ecum Secum, Eastern Passage, Prospect and many more.
A community is also something that can be more broadly defined. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a community in part as “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” While Halifax may be made up of geographic communities, it’s also made up of communities that are based on ethnic, religious and sexual identities.
With immigration numbers up over the last decade and higher retention rates, the end result is that Halifax has become an increasingly diverse community, which has many side effects.
One side effect is similar to the economic concept of business clusters. Clusters occur when interconnected companies and suppliers, service providers and associated institutions are located in a specific area. Probably the best-known examples are the high-tech sector in Silicon Valley and the film industry in Hollywood.
Essentially, the prevalence of a specific industry in a given area helps attract more firms in the industry to set up shop there.
While clusters focus on businesses and industries, an argument can be made that communities are just like clusters. Think about ethnic communities as an example. As the different communities grow and begin to have the amenities people are looking for, it helps make it easier to attract people to a particular place and it just sort of snowballs from there.
“When a critical mass starts to form, then people tell their friends and family back home that they’ve settled in Nova Scotia, and then Nova Scotia becomes known as an immigration destination,” says Elizabeth Mills, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration.
When immigrants decide to move to places, there are certain criteria that must be satisfied for them.
“Some of the factors they consider are: do I have any friends and family living in that area?; is there a vibrant ethnocultural community in that area?; and is there a church, mosque or synagogue where I can worship?”
Mills says. “All of that is really important to make this strange place feel like home.”
That being said, there can be a downside to having these large communities.
“If an immigrant integrates into an ethnocultural enclave, they’re less likely to fully integrate into the broader Canadian society,” says Mills, referencing a paper that was specifically looking at immigration in Toronto. Luckily, this isn’t yet the case here in Halifax.
In this issue of Business Voice, we take a look at a few of Halifax’s different communities. We talk a bit about their current state and show some of the surprising ways these communities have influenced the local business world, as well as the broader community.
The Lebanese Community
If you’re ever looking for something to do one day, take a tour around Halifax and focus on the buildings, particularly ones that have been built in the last couple of decades. Now, if you were to dig a little deeper and look into who is behind the development, you’d realize there’s a good chance it might involve somebody from the Lebanese community.
Well known developers such as Joe Ramia (Rank Incorporated), Wadhi Fares (WM Fares group) and Danny Chedrawe & Mounir Haddad (Westwood Developments) are some of the prominent Lebanese developers in Halifax.
Just to use a few examples, these individuals are behind developments such as the Trillium, the Spring Garden Professional Centre and the proposed convention centre. It’s difficult to imagine what Halifax would look like today without the contributions of these individuals and others from the Lebanese community.
“The generation before us came here… and spoke very little English, and really had to scrounge around. But they’ve prospered,” says 32-year-old Leo Salloum, an entrepreneur and president of the Halifax chapter of the Canadian-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He says that a changing of the guard is in place as the torch has been passed to his generation – the next generation of Lebanese people – to continue to grow the community and prosper.
For the next generation, the challenges aren’t as daunting as they were decades ago, Salloum says. He notes the language barrier for new immigrants isn’t as great as it once was, as English has become more and more popular as a second language in Lebanon.
Another factor is the solid groundwork that has been laid by the Lebanese business community here and the network of contacts it has built up. For this reason, newcomers have a leg up on the trailblazers that came before them.
Salloum points specifically to Fares as a business figure who has helped grow the community.
“He’s a guy that really brought us, the younger generation, into the chamber,” says Salloum, noting it’s now his generation’s responsibility to keep the community moving forward into the future by helping those who are both new and established in the community.
Known for their entrepreneurial spirit, Salloum attributes the Lebanese entrepreneurialism to their history.
“It comes from our ancestors, the Phoenicians,” he says. “They were the traders of the Middle East.”
Salloum himself is the co-owner of Salcorp Capital, a firm that owns companies such as HIM, a men’s clothing boutique, and Pillar Properties.
He says there are about 10,000 Lebanese people living in the province, with about half of those living in HRM.
The Shambhala Community
Nova Scotians pride themselves on living life at a laid-back pace and not getting caught up in the materialism that’s so rampant in other parts of North America. These traits are something that were especially appreciated by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the individual who was responsible for moving the Buddhist Shambhala community’s international headquarters to Halifax back in 1986.
“Nova Scotians were very open and connected to the earth and not caught up in the materialistic world as much as many other places,” explains Rhiannon Wells, director of the Halifax Shambhala Centre. For this reason, he felt Halifax and Nova Scotia were the ideal place for Shambhala to be based (previously, Shambhala had been headquartered in Boulder, Colorado).
One of the interesting side effects of the move to Halifax was that it led some devoted followers to move here too. Carolyn Gimian, director emeritus of the Shambhala Archives, says that within two years of the relocation, about 300 to 350 people moved to Halifax to call it home.
“There were some people here already, like there were about 50 to 75 people,” she says. Today, the Shambhala community in Nova Scotia numbers about 1,000, more than half of who live in the Halifax area. Even in the present day, people continue to move here to be a part of the community, albeit not in the same numbers, says Gimian, who estimates the number of annual transplants to be between a dozen and two dozen.
Wells says that people continue to move here “from Europe, the west coast of Canada, the United States.”
Shambalians have left an imprint on Halifax in many ways, both economic and cultural. Metals Economics Group, Biscuit General Store and Steve-O-Reno’s are just some of the businesses run by Shambalians.
The magazine, Shambhala Sun, is also published out of Halifax. The bi-monthly magazine has a circulation of 75,000 across North America and is the largest selling Canadian magazine in the U.S.
‘Shambhala Sun is independent from the Shambhala organization, although it spun off from the internal newspaper of the organization back in 1992. Today, it employs just under 20 people and also produces a quarterly magazine called Buddhadharma.
Shambhala has also had a number of interesting impacts on Nova Scotia society. Gimian thinks one of the lasting effects has been a greater acceptance of meditation, as well as influencing food tastes, such as making it easier to get specialty produce.
The Muslim Community
On HRM’s website, it has something called a newcomers guide, which is a sort of how-to guide for recent arrivals in Halifax and it tells them about the things they need to know to live, work and play here. The guide is available in three languages: English, French and – get ready for it – Arabic.
Near the end of the guide, it even includes ads for businesses and services geared to the local Muslim community. This is an indication of just how large the Muslim community has grown to be in Halifax.
According to Dr. Jamal Badawi, an expert on Islam who has called Halifax home since 1970, the current Muslim population in HRM is somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000.
When asked what the Muslim community was like when he arrived here, his response is simple.
“Very small,” he says with a laugh.
He figures the community numbered about 200 people.
“There was no place of worship at all, mind you there was a small mosque in Truro,” Badawi says.
In fact, local Muslims would use the basement of Saint Andrew’s United Church at the corners of Coburg Road and Robie Street as a place to pray. How times have changed.
As the local Muslim community has grown, so too have its amenities. One example is the Maritime Muslim Academy, which was originally called the Halifax/Dartmouth Islamic School. When it opened in the early 1980s, it had around a dozen students. Today, that number is in excess of 200, says Dr. Hadi Salah, the principal of the school.
Halifax now even has a mosque – it actually has a few. In the immediate area, there are mosques in Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford.
These all help make Halifax a more attractive place for Muslim immigrants to call home.
“It’s a big comfort… that there are places that you can go and find you are the majority,” says Salah, adding people find it comforting to be “among familiar faces, familiar culture, familiar practices.”
While it’s well known that immigrants often start businesses to earn a living, sometimes businesses are designed to meet the needs of the broader community and sometimes businesses tailor services to meet a specific need within the community. An interesting example of this is the Fenwick Dental Centre, which offers dental services specifically for women, especially ones who may have certain cultural sensitivities, such as Muslim women. The staff at Fenwick Dental is entirely female and can arrange the scheduling so that only women are present in the clinic. The local Muslim community has become a very visible part of HRM’s business community,
especially in the home construction sector, where firms range from small ones that build a few homes every year to larger firms, such as award-winner Cresco.
The LGBT Community
As the largest city east of Montreal, Halifax has long been a magnet for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
“Certainly, that has traditionally been the case,” says Rosie Porter, a board member of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP), an organization that acts as a voice for the right to legal and social equality for the LGBT (or Rainbow) community. Seeking greater acceptance of their sexual identity, it’s common across the country for people to seek out larger jurisdictions to live their lives.
“People from small towns may go to larger centres to experience more of life or to be more out than they feel comfortable [with] in their small hometown,” Porter says.
She says Halifax is quite accepting of the LGBT community and notes the community has an active social scene, which revolves around more than bars. There are many sports clubs for the LGBT community, such as curling and softball leagues, as well as cycling and running groups.
There are also more formal activities in the LGBT community.
“There are many formalized as well as social and business networking groups in the city from our community for [people of] all ages,” says Krista Snow, chair of Halifax Pride. She notes that in particular, the youth scene is quite vibrant and includes groups in junior and high schools across the province.
The future does indeed look good for the LGBT community.
“The youth project here is very strong for younger LGBT people,” Porter says. In terms of size, the LGBT community is a significant one. Snow says it’s estimated that eight per cent of people in HRM belong to the LGBT community. Looking at census data, this would mean that just over 31,000 of people in HRM would identify with this label, meaning the community is much greater in size than many of the other communities profiled for this story.
“In my experience, we come with many skill sets – from labourers to specialized professionals,” Snow says. “Have we dominated an industry or sector? I don't think so. I think we are wide and diverse.”
With its large numbers, it also means the LGBT community has significant buying power and is careful about how it spends its money.
“I think we have had a huge impact to the city in the fact that we support our own and the LGBT supporters first,” says Snow. Porter agrees. As a real estate agent, she says she has received a lot of business from the LGBT community because people have seen her march in the Pride parade or her advertisement in gay publications.
“If you get out there and support the LGBT community, they will show their appreciation,” she says.
The Chinese Community
Looking at the source countries for immigrants to Nova Scotia from 2000 to 2009, one of the immediate conclusions one reaches is that China has never ranked lower than fourth. With that in mind, it’s not surprising the Chinese community in Nova Scotia continues to grow.
Hong Tang, president of the Chinese Society of Nova Scotia, says the number of Chinese people in Nova Scotia is around 5,000 and it’s still growing. Tang came to Canada nine years ago. A chemist by trade, he now works as a real estate agent with Realty Connect.
He says there has been a major trend in the Chinese immigrants that are coming here. Fifty years ago they were labourers, but over time the immigrant class that’s coming here has become an educated, skilled workforce.
This skilled and educated class of immigrants holds true to the present day. Another development has been the influx of wealthy Chinese immigrants, which is something Tan noticed started happening in around 2005.
One example of a recent newcomer is Dr. Feng Jia, who came here in 2007. He practices acupuncture through his business, Quality Life Healing Centre, located on Dutch Village Road. He’s an example of an individual who saw a business opportunity that could serve the needs of the local Chinese community, as well as the broader community.
While he isn’t the only one in Halifax practicing traditional Chinese medicine, he is an example of how individuals can take knowledge or practices from their culture and share it with the broader community, which may or may not be familiar with it as an option.
As the balance of power in the world has shifted from the west to the east, the local Chinese community will have an important connection to the enormous economic opportunities that will be available for all Halifax business owners to tap into.
The African Nova Scotian Community
While many of the communities we’ve profiled in this issue of Business Voice have newer roots in Nova Scotia, that isn’t the case for the African Nova Scotian community. According to the Nova Scotia Archives, approximately 10,000 people of African descent came to Nova Scotia between 1749 and 1816. However, the roots for Nova Scotia’s African Nova Scotian community predate even that, going back to the Acadian period of 1604 to 1755.
Fast forward a few hundred years to the present day and the community is a largeone, numbering close to 20,000 in the province, as per the 2006 census. In Halifax, that number was just over 13,000. According to the Office of African Nova Scotia Affairs, there are close to 50 African Nova Scotian communities in the province.
There are approximately 200 businesses owned by African Nova Scotian entrepreneurs within Halifax, says Cheyanne Gorman-Tolliver, the director of client development at the Black Business Initiative (BBI). The BBI’s goal is to develop a dynamic and vibrant presence for African Nova Scotian entrepreneurs within the Nova Scotia business community.
“Our numbers are definitely increasing as far as Halifax businesses, but not in the rural areas,” Gorman-Tolliver says. She adds that one of the challenges facing African Nova Scotian entrepreneurs is that they may not know about all of the support options that exist.
“A lot of times our entrepreneurs don’t know or don’t realize what’s out there,” she says. Part of what BBI does is connect entrepreneurs with other people, service providers and organizations that can help the businesses.
One interesting trend Gorman-Tolliver is noticing is a change in the businesses African Nova Scotian entrepreneurs are getting involved in.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve started to see some really innovative businesses or business getting into innovative sectors, with respect to wind energy and technology,” she says. “There’s this sense of moving away from traditional businesses, like salons, restaurants and retail.”