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Report finds immigration a viable solution to succession planning

A new report from the Far Northeast Training Board has found that secondary immigration can be a viable answer to succession planning in the North.

The North’s New Entrepreneurs details the results from interviews with business owners identified in the Training Board’s catchment area, which includes Latchford, Temiskaming Shores, Earlton, Englehart, Kirkland Lake, Matheson, Timmins, Chapleau, Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst.

In that area, 55 newcomer business owners were identified, but only 38, or 69 per cent, were interviewed.

Compiled by Don Curry of Curry Consulting, the report explains who the newcomers are, where they’ve come from, how they found out about business opportunities, which businesses they own, who they employed, and their plans for the future in their adopted communities.

Three years ago, while Curry was the director at the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, the organization conducted an informal survey to see how many of the first-generation newcomers were business owners in North Bay.

It yielded some compelling results: more than 70 businesses in North Bay were owned and being operated by newcomers.

The new report suggests those numbers are replicated across the region.

“I had suggested that we look at every municipality in their region to see if what we see in North Bay is happening through the North as well,” Curry said. “It was encouraging to see it’s happening everywhere.”

The Training Board report notes that two-thirds of the business owners are secondary immigrants: they first immigrated to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and then relocated to Northern Ontario.

Two-thirds of the people interviewed are originally from India.

Curry said it’s interesting to see that so many newcomers from India, via Toronto, are entrepreneurial in nature.

Many said they wanted to start a business in Toronto, but were thwarted by the cost of living and an inferior quality of life.

“They were not happy with the crowded conditions, the congestion in the Toronto area, and the high cost of living,” Curry said. “If you want to buy a house in Toronto — and it’s been in the news steady — it’s very expensive. So they did their research, and they looked at prices in the North and thought, ‘Hey, I can afford it there.’”

Many of those interviewed were informed about opportunities in Northern Ontario through family and friends who are already living there. But a majority said if they were looking to expand or acquire new businesses, next time they would use the internet.

The average family size of newcomer business owners is 3.4, “which is higher than the Canadian average,” noted Curry, who said families are typically younger, with children who will go to school and be raised in the North.

In some cases, the newcomer business owners were having trouble finding local people to fill employee vacancies, and so they were recruiting workers from Toronto to move north; many of those recruits were also newcomers to Canada, Curry said.

A few of the newcomer business owners were trained in other careers before coming to Canada, but on arrival, went into business instead after failing to find work in their fields of expertise.

However, that wasn’t reflective of the majority.

“The vast majority are businesspeople who want to work for themselves, and the franchise operation is a quick way to get in,” Curry said. “The franchise teaches you how to run it and the business investment is not as significant as building from the ground up.”

Of the newcomers interviewed, 20 owned restaurants or food franchises, 15 owned motels, and 10 owned convenience stores; many had gas bars attached to them. Altogether, the businesses employ 206 full-time people, 139 part-time people, and 20 on a seasonal basis.

Curry said if the North wants to recruit more successors as business owners retire, they would do well to market and recruit from the Indian community in the GTA.

“The fact that very few of the people came directly from their home country was significant,” Curry said. “So it shows that federal and provincial immigration programs aren’t working very well for Northern Ontario.”

In fact, a report by Michael Hahn, the Canada Research Chair in Migration and Ethnic Relations at Western University, showed that Canada recruits 300,000 newcomers a year, the majority of which go to Ontario, and more specifically, the GTA.

Yet Northern Ontario receives only one-tenth of one per cent, or 300, of those newcomers.

For the most part, the newcomers said they enjoyed living in the North for its quiet, slower pace, its beauty and the friendly, welcoming nature of its residents. The majority planned to remain in the North to raise their families.

A few had experienced racism, although Curry noted they were in the minority, and education in the schools could help to combat those negative experiences.

The report, which will be released in both French and English in mid-February, includes a number of recommendations; however, it will be up to the economic development officers in each community to devise any strategies stemming from the information in the report.

Curry said there will, however, be opportunities to develop new immigration streams for Northern Ontario, some of which are being worked on right now.

“So, if that happens, that’ll affect the entirety of Northern Ontario and get more immigrants here, but it’s going to be long-term,” Curry said. “We’ll have to get people together to come up with a plan and then get governments to adopt it.”