Time to plant a tree

IMG_1398For years, this trick-or-treat month was also known – at least, in policy circles – as the four-week period during which to celebrate the achievements of Atlantic Canada’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, an overture that always seemed to me to be one part patronizing and two parts disingenuous.

After all, as any entrepreneur will tell you, this sort of enterprise is a 24-7, year-round proposition. There are no (or few) paid vacations. Supper is, more often than not, consumed cold over a kitchen sink. And don’t even think about a cushy retirement. Who needs a special month to contemplate the textured meaning of the late Steve Jobs’ assessment of the vocation: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Easy for him to say. Still, there’s little doubt that entrepreneurship has played – and continues to play – a disproportionately important role in the regional economy, something the University of New Brunswick must understand to its institutional bones. It just received a large gift of money to support innovative enterprise across the province. Meanwhile, in Fredericton, a non-profit organization recently joined up with a clutch of other like-minded groups to, among other things, spread the gospel of small business.

A few years back, a federal government monograph attempted, mostly successfully, to explain the character and dimension of this dynamic sector on the East Coast. “As we go about our daily routines, small businesses, defined as those that employ fewer than 100 people, are all around us,” it winsomely declared. “We see them in malls, operating out of homes and along the main streets of every town. But of what importance are these small businesses to our lives in Atlantic Canada?”

Answering its own question, the document continued: “Of the approximately 88,000 businesses in Atlantic Canada, 95 per cent are considered small businesses. . . The average annual entry rate of new businesses in Atlantic Canada from 1990-2000 was 18.2 per cent. When one considers that the business entry rate for Canada averaged 14.5 per cent during this period, Atlantic Canada asserts itself as being a very entrepreneurial region. . . In 2000, the self-employed represented 13.4 per cent of total employment in the region or 137,300 people, an increase of almost 20,000 individuals compared to a decade earlier. Self-employment has increased almost 17 per cent, whereas overall employment has increased only 9 per cent.”

What’s more, “The 2001 Census indicates that more than half the self-employed have at least some form of post-secondary education, with 19 per cent possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher. Interestingly, the highest rates of self-employment growth are occurring for those that have a university degree. This trend towards better-educated entrepreneurs is even more pronounced among females, a promising circumstance in light of the growth among female entrepreneurs generally.”

Still, there’s a downside and it remains as stubbornly challenging today as it did 15 years ago. “As the knowledge-based economy continues to grow in importance, so does the need for ongoing training and development of managers and employees to remain competitive,” the government report observed.

All of which suggests the surest path to a more enlightened and entrepreneurial society. That’s the trick, of course. But the treat is clearly worth the effort.

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