As population growth rates slow and baby boomers approach retirement age, Saskatchewan is looking for ways to keep the economy going and boost entrepreneurship, particularly in rural areas. In 1901, 84 per cent of the population of Saskatchewan lived in rural communities1. In 2011, 110 years later, that percentage was 33 per cent2. A significant decline, but Saskatchewan still has a high rural population compared with other provinces and as such, keeping the rural economy healthy and thriving is vital.
One solution to help address this challenge is to encourage entrepreneurial individuals from other countries to come to Saskatchewan to establish and operate a business.
Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP)
Like other provinces and territories in Canada, Saskatchewan has a nominee program that allows skilled people to immigrate with the intent to settle in the province.
The Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) is an immigration program that is administered by the province. It allows the Saskatchewan government to bring immigrants to Saskatchewan to meet the province’s unique labour market needs. The categories and criteria are determined in consultation with the federal government. The SINP nominates approved applicants for permanent residency and the federal government assesses them against requirements for health, criminality and security.
The Entrepreneur category under the SINP is specifically designed to attract entrepreneurs who are looking to set up a viable, long-term business which will support the economy. While the SINP entrepreneur category welcomes entrepreneurs to both urban and rural areas of Saskatchewan, it has incentives for business establishment in rural communities.
Stewart Low is the Program Director for the SINP’s Entrepreneur and Farm Unit. He explains what the goal of the SINP Entrepreneur category is and how it can help with challenges and shortages in rural communities. “We are working to deliver an immigration program in the province that is responsive to the demographic social and economic growth within the province,” he says. “We see [the entrepreneur category] as a potentially useful tool for smaller rural communities to help them sustain or help grow the economy.”
Jason Denbow is the Executive Director of Community Futures Saskatchewan. The organization represents 13 Community Futures offices that provide activities and services to support entrepreneurship, economic development and advancement of local economies across rural Saskatchewan. Denbow points out distance to customers, decreasing population, smaller markets and lack of infrastructure are some of the challenges for entrepreneurs in rural communities. “Population decline has become an issue in rural communities… one of the ways that has helped to combat that population decline has been the influx of new Canadians into these communities,” Denbow says.
Baby Boomers and Business Succession
A particular challenge that is becoming acute in rural communities as the large group of baby boomers approaches retirement age, is the need for business transition, or business succession. Denbow refers to a study by the Business Development Bank3 which identified that 41 per cent of business owners are anticipating to exit their business within the next five years, many without having an exit strategy or succession plan in place. “This creates a huge need for new entrepreneurs to step up to take over some of those businesses,” he says. The need is particularly noticeable in rural areas. “Essential services like a gas station or a grocery store are important but if there aren’t people in the community that want to keep pursuing that opportunity, then having those services and businesses close down could be detrimental with a greater impact than in an urban community,” Low says.
An entrepreneur coming to Canada through the SINP can start a new business, set up a business partnership, or purchase an existing business. Low says most SINP entrepreneurs in rural communities take over existing businesses, filling that specific need for business succession. “The majority of applicants who are proposing rural locations are purchasing an existing business or potentially partnering with existing entrepreneurs in that community.” Meanwhile, it is more common to establish brand-new businesses in urban areas.
The majority of entrepreneur immigrants focus their businesses in the retail, food services and hospitality sectors which generally rhymes well with the need for business succession in rural areas. However, Low also notices an interest in wholesale trade and export businesses. “Applicants are capitalizing on networks in their original countries to import or export products. There is an interest and appetite for high quality Canadian products,” he says.
A Success Story
Abbas (Abe) Eazadi from Iran is exemplifying the successful entrepreneur immigrant. Eazadi arrived in Saskatchewan from Iran in 2013 as a SINP entrepreneur. After researching the Saskatchewan economy, Eazadi and his business partner saw the opportunity as entrepreneurs in Canada. With a degree and background in mechanical engineering, they successfully went through the SINP application process and purchased Mike’s Hydraulics in Saskatoon. Six years later, the business is growing and doing well.
“In terms of doing business there are no limitations. You can do whatever you are capable of,” Eazadi says about coming to Saskatchewan as an entrepreneur. “If you have experience and want to start a business, this is a good place. Canada is the land of opportunities. I can see opportunities at every corner.”
The Potential of Immigrant Entrepreneurs
With an immigration program like the SINP, which can help alleviate some of the challenges that the rural economy in Saskatchewan faces, Low welcomes closer collaboration with rural communities and feedback on how to enhance the program. “We very much want rural communities to learn about the nominee program,” he says. The program can be a tool for many to consider in order to attract investment and foster entrepreneurship. It is meant to be responsive to the needs of the community.”
Denbow also speaks to how immigrants help address the needs in rural communities. “[Entrepreneur immigrants] bring with them an entrepreneurial spirit or they bring experience having managed and operated businesses in their home countries,” he says. “They really help solve that challenge by bringing their work ethic, their experience and education to start their own business or take over the operations of existing businesses. We recognize that new Canadians are a real force within entrepreneurship in rural communities.”
1Saskatchewan, State of Rural Canada, sorc.crrf.ca/saskatchewan
2Number of persons in the total population and the farm population, for rural areas and population centres, classified by sex and age, Statistics Canada, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3210019701
3The Coming Wave of Business Transitions in Canada, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2017/bdc/Iu134-1-4-2017-eng.pdf