Small business to the rescue?

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We could put aside any thought of rational problem solving and simply erect a wall along the perimeter of our fair province. Henceforth, anyone who wants to travel in, or through, New Brunswick must fork over fifty bucks.

After a few dozen years, I figure, the provincial debt will be settled, the wall paid for, and the 346 people who stubbornly remained, like crumbling Flowerpot Rocks, almost never worry about a guaranteed minimum income in their golden dotage.

Failing this eventuality, though, we’re stuck with what we have – a province that, last month, lost 5,700 jobs and posted its highest unemployment rate since the Great Recession. That’s not to say we are entirely bereft of ideas.

John Chilibeck, the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s legislature staffer did the province a small favour the other day by asking leading pundits and academics what they would do, if given the chance, about New Brunswick’s ailing economy.

“Fixing the economy is the central question today,” said Marco Navarro-Genie, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. “Obviously, there are more important things than money. But in order to take care of more important things that we love or are fond of – family, education, health – it’s hard to imagine how that can done without an economy. How do we stop our children and our grandchildren from feeing the place seeking opportunity?”

How, indeed?

There is, of course, no consensus. How could there ever be? But one approach that warms the cockles of my self-employed heart is a renewed commitment to supporting small-time entrepreneurs.

You remember those folks? Once, not long ago, governments fairly tripped over their double-wide brogues seeking to curry favour among members of the enterprise class – the reasoning being that if you can’t supply enough jobs in the economy, create the necessary conditions for people to create their own.

A federal government report published a few years ago stipulated that “The birth rate of new firms that have paid employees is consistently higher than the death rate, which means that the pool of businesses with entrepreneurial potential is being replenished regularly. The birth rate improved from nine per cent in 2001 to approximately 12 per cent in 2006. Canada compares well in this regard with virtually every country.

“New firms in Canada have high survival rates at both the one-year and the five-year point. Again, Canada compares well with the other countries. The proportion of Canadian manufacturers that are rapidly growing rank among the best (in the world).”

The study continued: “With respect to Canadian small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and their owners, between 2003 and 2008, there has been an increase in the percentage of working Canadians who are self-employed and own an incorporated business. Canadian SME owners are becoming more diverse and more educated, and this trend is likely to increase the number and the innovativeness of new businesses.

As Pierre-Marcel Desjardins, an economist at UdeM, argued cogently in the T-J piece, “The big projects are sexy and if they work, fantastic. But economic development isn’t always a grand slam; it’s a marathon. You’ve got to look at three, four, eight jobs being created here or there. If you only have a few very large employers, you’re vulnerable.”

In other words, let’s start considering what’s actually scalable in a province as small and modestly equipped to handle big or sudden growth as New Brunswick.

In the end, putting all our eggs in one or two economic baskets makes about as much sense as erecting a wall around the province and charging an admission fee.

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