By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
Small businesses are the backbone of most rural communities, but maybe more important than the businesses a community currently has is the ones it will have in the future. Will there be more or fewer? As another class of graduates leaves school behind, how many of them plan to run their own businesses? How many have even thought about it?
Chances are, most grads will end up working for a small business, that is, one with less than 100 employees. As of December 2017, 97.9 percent of Canada’s 1.18 million businesses were classified as “small.” These businesses employed 8.3 million Canadians, providing jobs to 69.7 percent of the total private labour force. They were also responsible for 67.5 percent of the net employment growth, creating 640,000 new jobs. In rural communities, where there are very few large, private sector employers, the importance of small businesses is especially pronounced. Looking at rural communities, small businesses drive our local economies, providing the goods and services upon which we rely. Not only that, they provide vital jobs.
The painful truth is that if we want to see our communities not just survive, but grow, we need more entrepreneurs. Small businesses face a number of challenges, which is why less than half of them survive 10 years. Business closures are the result of a number of factors, from a lack of profitability to changing interests of the owners. It’s crucial that every year, new businesses keep opening and someone is there to take over ownership when business owners want to retire or pursue other interests.
Youth need to be encouraged to see entrepreneurship as a viable option. In some industries, it’s more prevalent than others. For example, skilled tradespeople and professionals have a strong connection with entrepreneurship, as many people who enter these careers will run their own business, whether or not they have other employees. The rise of tech companies has also helped to popularize entrepreneurship as a desirable and celebrated career path.
Over the next decade, it’s estimated that about $1.5 trillion worth of business assets will change hands in Canada. According to data from 2014, about half of both small and medium-sized business owners were between 50 and 64 years of age and another 12 to 14 percent are over 65 years of age. Given the demographics, it’s easy to see why 72 percent of Canadian business owners plan to exit their companies in the next decade. We’re approaching a critical juncture, as baby boomer business owners look to retire, who will take over their businesses? Or open new ones that will continue to provides services rural residents need and want? This will be especially pronounced in rural communities.
I’m encouraged, it seems like lately, we’ve reported on a few more stories about people in their 20s and 30s taking over businesses or starting new ones. This is a good start.
We don’t need the Class of 2019 to jump right into small business ownership, in fact, it’s probably best if they spend some time developing their skills and interests. What we do need is every young person to believe that they could become an entrepreneur and to think about it as a viable career path, among many. As this year’s grads head off to the workforce, higher education or travel, I hope we as communities have planted the idea that their dreams can grow here. Running a business is no easy task, but this is an issue of vital importance to any rural residents who want to see their communities continue into the future.