by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario
Economic development officers in the upper reaches of Northeastern Ontario have noticed a trend in the past few years — as businesses come up for sale the buyers are first generation immigrants to Canada.
They had no idea where the newcomers were coming from, how they found out about the business opportunity, how many businesses they own, how many people they employ, or much else.
Now they do.
I wrote about this trend for New Canadian Media in December, explaining why municipalities may be better off canvassing for new immigrants from within Canada's borders, rather than launching expensive international campaigns for potential newcomers from other regions of the world.
Working with the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre through a project sponsored by the Far Northeast Training Board, I travelled to Latchford, Temiskaming Shores, Earlton, Englehart, Kirkland Lake, Matheson, Timmins, Chapleau, Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst in the summer and fall of 2016 to interview as many newcomer business people as possible. The full report is here.
Of a possible 55 business owners identified by economic development officers, 38 were interviewed, or 69 per cent. This extremely high sample number provides very reliable data.
So who are they?
The typical newcomer business owner in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area is 44, originally from India but moved north from the Greater Toronto Area, owns a restaurant or fast food franchise, motel, convenience store, or gas station, has lived in Canada 13 years, has an average family size of 3.6, loves the beauty and tranquility of the north and plans to stay. The friendly people in the north, the lack of crime and congestion were the other top draws.
Together the 38 people interviewed own and operate 58 businesses, employ 206 people full-time, of whom 56 are family members, 139 part-time, and 20 seasonal. Almost half of them know people from southern Ontario who would move north for the right business opportunity.
Almost half found out about the business opportunity from friends or relatives, with real estate agents, franchise chains and online information cited by others. Two-thirds of those interviewed are originally from India, with the remainder from Pakistan, China, Egypt, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Iran and Belgium.
Twenty own restaurants or fast food franchises, 15 own motels, 10 own convenience stores, seven own gas stations and two own pharmacies. Others owned a landscaping business, nail salon, strip mall and a movie theatre.
Where they come from
Twenty-four of the 38 people interviewed moved north from the GTA. The remainder came from Montreal, Saskatchewan, Windsor, Orillia, India, Kitchener-Waterloo, Gravenhurst, Hamilton, London England, Florida, Vancouver, Fenelon Falls and Belleville. Seventy-nine per cent say they feel connected to the town they live in and plan to stay.
Gejal Gandhi, 35, and her husband Keyur own the Casey’s Restaurant, Esso gas bar and convenience store and the Park Inn Motel in Kapuskasing. They employ 10 full-time and 25 part-time people. They moved to Kapuskasing from Cochrane and lived in Toronto prior to that. They have been in Canada 17 years, are from India, and have two children.
“We bought the Park Inn Motel first,” she says. “We had a motel in Cochrane and sold it. Once we were in Kapuskasing we found the Esso, and then the same thing for the restaurant. There was a sign and we contacted the owner and went through the process.” They have lived in Kapuskasing for four years.
Minesh Prajapati, 44, is originally from India and owns and operates the Subway franchise in Kirkland Lake. In addition he is in partnership with Indian friends in Mattawa who own the Subway there and together they own Subway franchises in Hearst and Englehart.
Change in careers
“I bought the business primarily for my wife,” he says. “She was working in a Subway but was just getting minimum wage. I was a banker doing lending and mortgages. Next year my wife will take over this store and I will be more like managing it. I can go back to banking if I want. They are still calling me.
“Right now, though, the way it is going, I don’t think I’m going back to the bank. Every year we are buying one more Subway.” He has lived in Canada 10 years and moved to Kirkland Lake from Brampton.
With six full-time and two part-time employees in Kirkland Lake, Prajapati says his two part-timers were hired through a special needs program and are doing very well. He says he attends Subway conventions twice a year “and that’s when people spread the news that they would like to sell.”
David Mohamed owns Willis Pharmacy in Matheson, where he is the sole pharmacist. Born in Egypt, he has been in Canada six years and moved to Matheson from Belleville. A couple of friends owned the business and he became a partner recently, after working at the Matheson location for 18 months.
“I decided to purchase because I like working with them and it was a good opportunity in the north,” he says. “Here you are alone in the business and we don’t have any nearby pharmacies.”
Louiz Soliman is also a pharmacist from Egypt. He owns Smallman Pharmacy in Temiskaming Shores. He moved to Haileybury from Montreal to take over the business a year ago. He came to Canada from Greece seven years ago. I asked him if he knew Mr. Mohamed. He said he did not, and asked “where is Matheson?”
If people ask him about moving north to start or purchase a business he says “I would tell them it’s a good area. The people are very polite. It’s a safe area.”
Peter Patel, 67, owns three motels, a restaurant and convenience store in Chapleau, employing 25 to 30 people. He and his partners also own a motel in Fenelon Falls, near Peterborough.
Starting from scratch
Another large employer is Siva Mylvaganam, 49, of Timmins. His is a Canadian success story. He came to Canada as a refugee from Sri Lanka and Siva’s Family Restaurant in Timmins Square now employs 35 people with the restaurant and catering business. In addition, he has a commercial real estate sideline where he employs another one or two people, depending on business activity.
Very well known in Timmins, he started the business from scratch in 1996. “When I came to Canada I had no English so I worked as a dishwasher, and in a car factory. There were layoffs so I worked in a restaurant and became a cook, and then a chef, and then opened my own business. I found this location and I thought Timmins would never be really high, or really low, because it is a mining town.
“I loved smaller towns because I was born and raised in a small village. I lived in Toronto and it wasn’t my place to live. I always go back but I never enjoy it. It’s not like here. People always say ‘Hi Siva, how are you doing?’ and I ask them about their family. It’s not like that in Toronto.”
Amjinber Cheema , ( “the locals call me Ami”) is typical of the younger entrepreneurs from India settling in the north. Only 28, his wife just joined him in Latchford from India. He came to Canada as a student and in his seven years here he lived in Saskatoon, Regina and Toronto before arriving in Latchford to purchase The Dam Depot, a gas station and convenience store.
“There is value for money in the north,” he says. “The winters are harsher but you get used to it. Compared to the bigger cities like Toronto and Ottawa you get value for your money.” He feels connected to the people of Latchford and laughs that “after I was here for two months they appointed me the honourary Indian ambassador to Latchford. It was in the paper. It was very nice.”
Sam Singh, 24, owns the Mac’s franchise in New Liskeard and is another of the young people from India making their mark in the north. He also came to Canada as a student and started in his business a year ago. “Young people like me don’t have much opportunity,” he says. “From here I can get a start. I am learning a lot of things. It’s a small community and I get involved. In the future if I am going to buy a bigger business I won’t have a problem. For everyone, a small town is the best place to start a business.”
Roger Gandhi, 58, was born in India but has been in Canada 40 years. He is typical of the older immigrant from India who is now well established. He lives in Earlton and owns and operates the Earlton Motel and Coté’s Variety. In addition he owns the mall where the variety store operates, plus the Regal Motel in Timmins.
Navin Tamakuwala, 67, is another. He owns the Thriflodge and Terry’s Steakhouse in Cochrane and has 14 full-time and five part-time employees there. He lives in Montreal most of the year and owns a Sobey’s grocery store there. Also from India, he has lived in Canada for 44 years.
While North Bay was not part of the study area, it has more than 70 first-generation immigrant-owned businesses. Its cricket team is dominated by young entrepreneurs from India. The same is true of cricket teams in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Timmins. Together they are changing the face of Northern Ontario and investing in its future.
Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now chair of the board of directors.
Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay
Municipal councils in Canada’s smaller centres do not appear to be at the forefront in analyzing demographic and diversity trends affecting their communities. They ought to be looking for immigrants closer to home, rather than overseas.
I see it in discussions with municipal politicians from my perch in Northern Ontario, and in a recent Brockville Recorder and Times news article about attracting immigrant entrepreneurs. The municipality secured a provincial government grant to commission a study on the topic, one in which I am particularly interested.
The population of Canada is rising steadily and is more than 36 million people. Approximately 300,000 immigrants are now arriving annually.
Generally, newcomers to Canada do not emigrate to smaller centres, but to the larger ones, with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver taking the majority. What is becoming more prevalent, however, is secondary migration to smaller centres.
In North Bay, population 54,000, where I live, there are more than 70 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. This is a relatively recent occurrence. Temiskaming Shores, population 10,500, is 90 minutes north of North Bay and it has more than 20 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. There, too, this is a recent occurrence.
The Brockville story that caught the attention of New Canadian Media noted the municipality of 22,000 people could attract immigrant entrepreneurs already in Canada. It was based on a study that contained a number of recommendations to make the municipality more receptive to immigrants.
I completed a study for the Far Northeast Training Board that will be released in January that covers some of the issues that Brockville council was discussing. I interviewed 36 immigrant business owners in 11 municipalities in Northeastern Ontario, the smallest with only 400 people and the largest the City of Timmins, population 43,000.
It supports the conclusion of the Brockville study that you don’t have to recruit internationally for immigrant entrepreneurs — they are already here. I expect to report on it in this space when it is officially released in January.
Moving within Canada
But for now, I can tell you that it shows two-thirds of the immigrant entrepreneurs in the study area were born in India, but did not come to Northern Ontario from there. They came from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Dissatisfied with the high cost of GTA home ownership, high cost to purchase a business, and the congestion of the big city, they looked for alternatives and found them in Northern Ontario. They are just as likely to find them in Brockville, just a few hours down Highway 401, and in other smaller Ontario centres.
For municipal councils and economic development organizations, this is terrific news. Many smaller centre business owners want to sell their business and retire. Demographers have seen this coming for years, as more baby boomers retire.
In many cases their children have moved to a larger centre, or they are not interested in continuing the family business. In our region, we are seeing immigrant entrepreneurs moving north to fill the void.
Caught up in detail
The municipal council in Brockville, according to the newspaper report, was receptive to the study but reluctant to allocate funds in its budget to make Brockville a more welcoming community for immigrants. That is typical of what I hear in Northern Ontario as well.
Municipal councils, in my experience, spend far too much time on the mundane day-to-day issues that should be the purview of municipal staff members, and far too little time looking at the long-term future of their communities. The large cities in Canada, however, understand the value of putting policies, procedures, and people in place to ensure they are doing all they can to attract and retain immigrants.
Many of the smaller ones still haven’t figured it out. Studies such as the one presented this month in Brockville and next month in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area of a large chunk of Northeastern Ontario should serve as a wakeup call.
While municipal councils in smaller centres spend months poring over budgets, their population may be in decline and they are doing little to reverse the trend. They are preoccupied with minutiae.
Now they know it is far easier to recruit people from the GTA than from India. But it will take municipal will to make things happen on a larger scale.
Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca). He was the founding executive director the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now the chair of the board of directors.
AS Canada’s big banks release their quarterly financial results, new data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) shows significant shifts in which banks Canada’s small- and medium-sized firms are using.
While Royal Bank still has the largest share of small and medium business customers, the landscape is changing.
by Maria Ikonen in Gatineau, Quebec
Growing up in a small village in Iran near the Caspian Sea, Maria Rasouli felt the rush of freedom as she explored her surroundings riding her bicycle.
Despite being able to provide her with great joy, the activity was seen as inappropriate for an 11-year-old girl.
Things changed when she moved to Canada at age 24. Here, she was finally able to make her dreams of exploring the world on two wheels a reality.
Today, she is the founder and operator of Escape Bicycle Tours, a company that gives tourists and adventure seekers bike tours around Ottawa.
Her company was one of three winners of an Immigrant Entrepreneur Award this year from the City of Ottawa.
“A true source of inspiration [for my business] was my life in Iran as a woman where I was not allowed to bicycle,” she says.
She adds that Escape Bicycle Tours was the result of two years of self-reflection that finally gave her the courage to pursue her dreams of riding a bicycle. Her passion for the sport is what she aims to provide for her clients.
“I have had guests who said they did not remember the last time they were on a bicycle or they had not bicycled for over 30 years,” she shares. “They were so happy that they took a bicycle tour with Escape.”
Challenges of an immigrant entrepreneur
Despite the motivation to take an entrepreneurial path, new Canadians may find obstacles in things like time-consuming bureaucracy and a lack of local networks.
According to David Crick, an international entrepreneurship and marketing professor from the University of Ottawa, a newcomer’s existing skill set or business model from overseas is not guaranteed to work well in Canada – there may be more competition already here.
“They may have to look towards something that offers value [to Canadians like] lower costs,” he says.
Another issue may rise from having no local banking history.
“Even getting lines of credit from banks may be hard,” Crick explains. “[It is] a high risk to banks. This makes starting a business problematic.”
Moe Abbas, founder of Ottawa General Contractors and another winner of the Immigrant Entrepreneur Award this year, points out other difficulties such as prejudice.
“[There] are still many people who put immigrants into a box, and this is not something that will be changed quickly,” he says.
“We must all understand how we are viewed in the eyes of the clients we serve. That judgement may not be a bad thing if we know what it is, and can work with it.”
Rasouli also mentions the challenge of being in unfamiliar territory when new to Canada. She had to take some time to establish herself and gain a better understanding of how business is conducted in Canada.
“I actually think it is a good idea for immigrants to work in Canada for a few years before starting their own business. There are lots of things that an immigrant can learn from co-workers and how organizations are run in Canada by being in a workplace,” she says.
“That knowledge could later on be used for starting a business, building partnerships, marketing, sales and customer service.”
She adds that the absence of family members in Canada can result in the lack of a support net, but may create a platform to improve as an entrepreneur.
“I do not have the emotional, psychological, and sometimes financial support that family members could provide. This has led me to build strong professional and support networks and work harder to succeed.”
Tips for immigrant entrepreneurs
Despite the challenges many newcomer entrepreneurs face, networking with similar ethnic groups could be something beneficial to try, Crick says.
“They may have networks overseas that can help in self-employment practices,” he explains. “For example, depending on the nature of the business model employed, some may have access to import or export linkages that domestic Canadian firms may not have.”
Abbas, who is in the process of working on a social media start-up, Bumpn Inc., highlights the importance in understanding the consumer’s mindset.
“If you are an entrepreneur selling to a demographic, you must look and behave, or at least understand deeply, the demographic you are serving,” he says.
“People buy from people they trust. They usually trust people like them.”
Rasouli emphasizes the value of making connections.
“Network, network and network: people are often very kind and try to help if you ask them,” she says. “So, make sure that you have a diverse, solid network of professionals and friends who could help you with various aspects of your business and life.”
Success is mostly in an entrepreneur’s hands, Rasouli adds.
“Your success is … dependent on the amount of work you put into your business. You don’t have to wait for a performance appraisal or a manager to acknowledge or approve your work. The harder and smarter you work, the more success you bring to your business.”
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Abundant opportunities exist for Canadian small and mid-sized businesses in Asian markets, despite slowing growth in the Chinese economy, according to a pair of leading international business experts.
“We remain bullish on China,” said Geoff Chutter, President and CEO of Whitewater West Industries, the world’s leading supplier of waterparks and attractions based in Richmond. “We do not see our sales dropping at all.”
Scotiabank Chief Economist Warren Jestin echoed Chutter’s optimism, noting that economic growth in China still remains good at 6-7 per cent annually, even as it has slowed from the typical 10 per cent annual growth rate of recent years.
”China is a huge opportunity for Canadian businesses,” said Jestin, noting it is still the largest market in the world, with lots of opportunities for smaller and mid-sized companies selling high value consumer products and services.
Recognizing Asian market potential
Jestin and Chutter were the keynote speakers recently at the City of Richmond’s 4th annual Business and Partner Appreciation event.
Chutter said Whitewater West has grown by building on a reputation for product excellence, diversifying both its market and operations internationally, expanding its product lines and putting increased emphasis on customer service and relationships.
The company has been involved in more than 4,000 projects worldwide and is represented in 19 of the world’s top 20 waterparks. Even though global expansion meant outsourcing some of the company’s operations internationally, the resultant growth in business has seen his local workforce double in size to more than 600 jobs.
Jestin noted that while the U.S. market should enjoy the best growth in the short term, export companies should not “fixate” on the American market at the expense of losing out on the long-term potential of the Asian market.
Overall, Jestin said the forecast for the Canadian economy is sound with continued low interest rates and a generally favourable value for the Canadian dollar. He said B.C. should continue to lead economic growth among provinces due to its balanced economy and global focus.
Richmond's economy blossoming
Mayor Malcolm Brodie opened the session by highlighting Richmond’s economic growth.
“Our business retention, expansion and attraction efforts continue to yield results,” he noted. “Over 130 companies have accessed the city’s economic development information and services dedicated to business. Our business outreach campaign of the last three years has facilitated the retention and addition of over 3,500 jobs.”
The city’s annual Business and Partner Appreciation event provides an opportunity to strengthen ties among stakeholders with a joint interest in economic development in Richmond. It is also an opportunity to recognize the corporate partners who’ve helped directly support city programs and events.
In appreciation of the two keynote speakers, the city will make a contribution to the Young Entrepreneur Leadership Launchpad (YELL) program.
Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.
New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois and New York top investment destinations WASHINGTON, D.C.: Indian based companies are responsible for creating tens of thousands of jobs and $15 billion in investment across the U.S., according to a new report released Tuesday by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Grant Thornton (GT). CII […]
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by Hugh Stephens
An interesting meeting took place in Toronto last month: ABAC came to town.
While it barely registers on the radar of most Canadian businesses, the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Business Advisory Council is fast becoming one of the premier business councils in the Asia Pacific region.
APEC itself is made up of 21 countries and represents 2.8 billion people, 57 per cent of the world's GDP and 47 per cent of world trade. Between 1989 and 2013, its total trade in goods and services increased seven-fold, to $22-trillion. In short, a dynamic region that Canada's business community cannot afford to ignore.
Twenty years ago, APEC leaders appointed high-level business executives from each member economy – including Canada – to band together to provide practical policy advice on regional business priorities. This new ABAC forum was tasked with integrating the region through recommendations for improved trade and investment. Many of these recommendations are backed up by studies or model guidelines, all of which are designed to remove unnecessary impediments to the smooth flow of business.
Canada's own ABAC executive consists of three members of the business community, appointed by the Prime Minister. Currently, these members are Philip Leong, director at ScotiaMcLeod in Toronto; Deborah Close, president of production services at Calgary-based environmental and energy services company Tervita Corp.; and Suzanne Benoît, president of Aéro Montreal, Quebec's aerospace cluster.
'New world driven by Asian growth'
At the June 2 "Engaging Asia" meeting with Canada's ABAC executive, hosted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a roundtable of Canadian business executives heard from representatives of the ABAC organizations of New Zealand, the U.S., Japan and the Philippines. The topics were as diverse as regional trade initiatives (such as the current Trans-Pacific Partnership talks), labour mobility and management, the opportunities for Canadian SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and Canada's agri-food sector, public-private partnerships (PPPs) and the importance generally of APEC for Canadian business.
They were also told that Asia's infrastructure needs as much as $1.1-trillion in investment over the next decade. And that for Canadian companies to take advantage of these opportunities, better access to global supply chains is required.
Our G7 and traditional NAFTA relationships won't connect Canada with this opportunity. We need new institutions for a new world driven by Asian growth. Which is where our seat at the ABAC table comes in, allowing the Canadian business community to leverage its strengths to influence and advance business issues that matter to Canadians in the Asia Pacific region.
Canadian businesses have a golden opportunity here to affect policy discussions that are reshaping how business is done in the region.
Despite important contributions, Canada's understated engagement style has hampered it from truly taking advantage of the opportunities provided by ABAC to forge deeper commercial relations with Asian partners. More effort and support from the Canadian business community in terms of policy input, business engagement and relationship-building is needed to effectively leverage these opportunities.
ABAC is unique, as its members have direct access to presidents and prime ministers without any accompanying panoply of officials. And it is the primary sounding board on critical policy decisions impacting business in the region.
Canadian businesses can't wait for government to answer the call.
Hugh Stephens is a senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and vice-chair of the Canadian Committee on Pacific Economic Co-operation.
Published in Partnership with Asian Pacific Post.
There is a divide in business confidence across the country as low oil prices weigh on the outlook for some regions more than others, according to the latest reading from the Bank of Canada.
The summer edition of the central bank’s business outlook survey suggests businesses on the Prairies expect sales to slow over the next 12 months as the oil price shock spreads across other sectors.
However, the Bank of Canada says the story isn’t the same across the country.
“Similar to the past two surveys, the low commodity price environment is driving the divergence in firms’ outlook: on the one hand firms in the energy producing regions and those that are part of the energy supply chain continue to face tough market conditions,” the report said.
“On the other hand, domestic demand is strengthening in regions that are less exposed to the energy sector.”
Boosting non-energy sectors
Overall, the survey said more firms reported sales growth than sales drops over the last 12 months, but the margin shrank compared with earlier surveys. As well, the balance of opinion among companies that expect sales to grow over the next 12 months improved modestly.
The results of the survey of senior management at about 100 companies between May 15 and June 10 were released Monday, ahead of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate announcement next week.
The central bank is widely expected to cut its expectations for growth in the second quarter following a pullback by the economy in April, however its plan for interest rates is less clear.
“With rate cut speculation heating up ahead of next week’s policy announcement, the modest improvement and the upbeat tone for Central Canada and manufacturing slightly lower the odds of a move,” BMO senior economist Benjamin Reitzes said of the outlook survey.
“Recall that governor (Stephen) Poloz pays particular attention to this type of survey and the positives coming from non-energy sectors could stay his hand for now.”
Stronger U.S. economic growth and a lower Canadian dollar should help lift the non-energy sectors.
“The bank’s confidence in improvement outside the energy sector will be key to its assessment of whether or not further easing in monetary policy will be required in the second half of 2015,” RBC economist Josh Nye wrote.
Labour shortages growing less intense
In terms of spending on machinery and equipment, the central bank survey points to a moderate increase in investment spending over the next year.
However, there are distinct regional differences, with plans to increase spending more prevalent in Central Canada and the manufacturing sector. Energy-related regions and sectors expect to continue to see a decrease in spending.
A lower dollar is also affecting investment decisions as some businesses suggest they plan to restrain spending as a result of higher costs for imported machinery and equipment. Others, which benefit from higher margins on U.S.-dollar denominated sales, plan to use the profits to increase investment.
The outlook compared with a survey by Statistics Canada on Monday that suggested capital spending this year on non-residential construction and machinery and equipment is expected to slip 4.9 per cent to $251.8 billion compared with 2014.
Spending by the mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction sector is expected to fall 18.7 per cent to $67.9 billion.
Meanwhile, the Bank of Canada report also found plans to hire staff have improved in areas less affected by energy prices with the overall balance of opinion on hiring over the next 12 months improving.
The number of firms reporting labour shortages that are hurting their ability to meet demand remains low and labour shortages are generally less intense than a year ago.
The Bank of Canada’s Senior Loan Officer Survey, which was also released Monday, suggested that overall business-lending conditions were broadly unchanged in the second quarter with a tightening in the oil and gas sector.
Published in Partnership with iPolitics.ca
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit