Small businesses, BIG benefits

Small businesses, BIG benefits

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story | Contributors: Heather Laura Clarke | Published: September 12, 2019

Small business owners are the hard-working people who celebrate every sale, create jobs here at home and sponsor our children’s sports teams — all while putting their profits back into the community as they show the same support for other small businesses.

Small Business Week runs Oct. 20-26 this year and businesses across the province will be taking part in special events. Patrick Sullivan, President and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, says more than 83 per cent of their 1,700 members are small businesses with 25 or fewer employees.

“Small Business Week is a celebration of the contributions that small businesses make to our economy,” says Sullivan. “Small businesses power up so many of the neighbourhoods in the greater Halifax area and really help to build our economy in micro-locations, too.”

Sullivan points to the thriving community of small businesses in downtown Dartmouth, like New Scotland Brewing, Portland Street Creperie, The Canteen on Portland and Lake City Cider. He spent a recent sunny Saturday wandering around downtown Dartmouth. He says he shopped — and found unique items he’d never seen anywhere else, had a great meal and enjoyed a crisp local cider.

“There’s an awful lot happening there that wasn’t happening four or five years ago,” says Sullivan. “That revitalization and excitement encourages more people to live in the area and it’s good for everyone.”

Tim Rissesco, Executive Director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, says much of the growth and excitement in downtown Dartmouth is coming straight from its small business owners.

“They’re really making downtown Dartmouth a destination that you won’t find anywhere else in the world,” says Rissesco. “You can go to a chain restaurant that feels the same in Halifax as it does in Ontario or Florida, but in downtown Dartmouth you can find a local chef that’s creating amazing dishes you can’t get anywhere else.”

Rissesco says downtown Dartmouth’s shops are gold mines of funky giftware, vintage treasures and one-of-a-kind items that keep shoppers popping in regularly to see what’s new.

“The focus here is on unique products of high value and locally-sourced materials,” says Rissesco. “You know the products they’re producing are well worth supporting.”

In fact, Rissesco says houses in downtown Dartmouth never stay on the market long because it’s become such a hip place to be — and many of the area’s small business owners are young people.

“These folks work extremely hard and are passionate about what they do,” says Rissesco. “It’s not easy to be a small business owner. I have so much respect for them.”

Patty Cuttell Busby is the Executive Director of the North End Business Association, which represents about 350 small businesses. Members include Good Robot Brewing, Timber Lounge, Lost & Found, Nurtured, Vandal Doughnuts, Petite Urban Pooch and The Foggy Goggle.

She says small businesses are essential in creating liveable, walkable neighbourhoods full of charm and personality.

“Small businesses provide us with the unique character that makes a city an interesting place,” says Busby. “No one wants to see the same old thing everywhere — you want a unique experience.”

Busby says she’s noticing a lot more young people opening up small businesses in the area, which is really exciting.

“Here in the North End, our big focus is on food, experience and supporting local,” says Busby, adding that millennials are particularly good at creating these experiential businesses — spaces where all five senses are explored — and have a refreshing spirit of entrepreneurism.

“Small business owners care deeply about their communities,” says Busby. “Opening a small business can be risky. It’s not easy and it requires a lot of passion and effort.”

Sullivan agrees that the face of small business is changing in Halifax.

“We’re seeing a lot more entrepreneurism among younger people and we’re seeing greater diversity amongst the small businesses starting up — which is a wonderful thing and very reflective of our population,” says Sullivan. “More and more new immigrants are starting businesses and we’re seeing so much growth and enthusiasm.”

Sullivan says people in generations past — like his father — were likely to stick with a single company for their entire career, but his own generation tended to hop around a little more and move between numerous jobs. Sullivan’s children are now in their 30s and he says their generation is even more open to changing jobs and starting their businesses.

“There’s an increasing awareness of entrepreneurism as a way to build your career and maybe step away from larger organizations,” says Sullivan. “Now, more than 90 per cent of Canadian businesses are classified as small businesses, making them the engine of the economy.”

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan has daily interactions with businesses of all sizes and says the province’s business community has gone through an incredible transformation over the last several decades.

“When I think back to my university days, the mindset was to get an education in the field you’re interested in, get a stable job with benefits and a pension, climb the ranks throughout your career and retire at the age of 65,” says MacLellan. “That was the way of the economic world for many years, but now in Nova Scotia — and in many parts of the world — things are different. People are looking to develop and finance their own ideas and to hire people instead of being hired.”

MacLellan says the province’s small business owners stabilize our economy, learning from their successes and failures as they forge new paths. He says entrepreneurship is why many international students are choosing to stay and why many young people who would normally have left Nova Scotia are choosing to make a life here in their home province.

“We now have post-secondary programs and government programs that show young people how entrepreneurship is a viable option that puts food on the table,” says MacLellan. “It’s been a remarkable journey and it’s really been incredible to be a part of it.”

While red-tape reduction policies are helpful to small business owners, MacLellan says, surprisingly, they’re not the most important way the government can show up for them.

“What I hear the most from small business owners is that, from a government perspective, they don’t want any surprises,” says MacLellan. “When it comes to taxes and fees, they want to know what the rules are and follow them. They want a consistent environment without anything being sprung on them.”

Online shopping may continue to take away business from local shops and MacLellan says the laws of supply and demand are always going to hold true, as consumers flock to big-box stores for the lowest prices. But he believes it’s important to support the small business owners who are offering something more valuable than discounts.

“Many small business owners are taking big risks — even sacrificing their own personal finances — and putting their blood, sweat and tears into their business,” says MacLellan. “Take a look around at the small businesses in your area and support them, because they’re supporting us.”

Sullivan says he can walk to quite a few restaurants and stores from his home and all of them are small businesses. He hopes to see them busier than ever during Small Business Week.

“We all need to be more aware of the local businesses in our area,” says Sullivan. “Whenever you’re buying local, eating in local restaurants and picking up local beer, cider or wine, you’re contributing to the local economy — and that’s what’s going to make us stronger.”

Rissesco agrees that small businesses are economic generators and the engines of our communities and believes it’s important to recognize the contributions they make — in our neighbourhoods and across the province.

“They employ our people and almost all of their money stays right here in the province,” says Rissesco. “Small business owners are the people you’ll see at hockey practices and dance recitals and the first ones to step up for fundraisers.”

Busby says small business owners create more jobs and add more value to our communities than any other sector.

“By supporting your local small businesses, you’re supporting your community,” says Busby. “The people who run small businesses live here, have children in our schools, volunteer in our community and support local events.”

She says Small Business Week is a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on the importance of small businesses. After all, she adds, the small businesses in north end Halifax support not just the local economy, but that of the province as a whole.

“When you buy from small, independent businesses, you’re keeping your dollars here in Nova Scotia,” says Busby.

She says she feels strongly about supporting small businesses — not just during Small Business Week, but every week of the year — describing them as “the lifeblood of our communities.”

“We need to keep supporting and encouraging our local small businesses because the benefit to our communities is huge,” says Busby. “We also need to continue to support more diversity and inclusion in small business development and open up opportunities for everyone. That can only make us stronger.”

Whether you’re sticking to shops, services and restaurants in Halifax or venturing to towns and villages across Nova Scotia, MacLellan says you’re sure to find small businesses worth celebrating. You won’t just be making a transaction — you’ll be using your dollars to show your support for local.

“Travel anywhere around the province and take a look at what remarkable things our small business owners are doing — all because they want a better Nova Scotia,” says MacLellan. “We’re really doing something special here.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story

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