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Remove the barriers to small business survival.
Words by Don McVie
In this issue of Spirit of the City, James Tonin’s feature on the state of the business sector could just as easily have borne the title “Good Things Come in Small Packages,” since it’s clear that when it comes to creating jobs, manifesting entrepreneurship and generating innovation, there is no business like small business.
If the bulk of all jobs lie in the so-called SME sector (small and medium-sized enterprises), why then would most small business people feel so isolated and unsupported by public policy?
With respect to surviving in a small business, there is a vast experiential disparity between the worldview shared by those who have been “where the tire meets the road” and those who have not. How many well-paid civil servants can relate to what it actually feels like to risk losing your house to cover the business payroll or to face bankruptcy waiting for permission to put up the sign on your new store?
Of course, large businesses are vitally important to our economy. With their bench strength, depth of expertise and access to capital markets, they can move mountains. But they seldom create much from scratch. Just as the large cable monopolies got rich stepping in and scooping up discounted businesses from the exhausted entrepreneurs who wired our communities in the first place, it’s often easier to leave the bleeding edge to those crazy souls full of naive dreams and ambitions.
Think of micro businesses as baby turtles hatching high up on the beach. Their mission is to dodge the manifold hazards and predators on their way to the relative safety of the sea. If they do, chances are they will survive, grow and prosper. Do our public policies and their implementation smooth that critical path or impede it?
SMEs are the lifeblood of neighbourhoods, and as Mississauga strives to get more residents working and playing where they live, our best ally may be those employment creators that can take root in every corner of the community, not just in industrial parks. Distributed employment is a key ingredient to sustainability. Nurturing growth requires more than good intentions. It will take a complete and unqualified commitment to reduce or eliminate barriers to help ensure viability and success for small businesses.
City leadership could start by taking a virtual chainsaw to many of the outdated, ill-conceived or failed policies that drain limited resources and strangle small business growth. Rules like our cumbersome sign bylaws, and cash grabs like PIL (payment in lieu of parking charges) have to go. Small businesses are vitally sensitive to cash flow. Why then would we allow the undue complexity and endless foot-dragging so typical in our linear development process? The need for extremely deep pockets and endless patience makes many great ideas untenable for the little guy and not profitable enough for the behemoths. This reality is driving small developers and their energy, innovation and jobs elsewhere.
If society has the commitment to small business, then perhaps what we need more of is advocacy. There are resources out there from every level of government. Would it make sense for the City to create a small business ombudsman to help connect young enterprises with resources and to identify and advocate for needed policy and process tweaks?
Small counts. How can we help get more of those fledgling turtles safely down to the sea?