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REAPontario meets Community Futures

ACFOLA Youth EntrepreneursIt was an exciting week for REAPontario as the research team and some of our immigrant entrepreneurs made a one-day road trip to Orillia to put on a workshop entitled “Building Our Yellow Brick Road: Immigrant Entrepreneurs Share Options for Accessing Capital.”

The workshop was part of the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations (OACFDC) Annual Conference. Community Futures Development Corporations (CFDCs) are rural community economic development associations located in rural areas across the province. CFDCs provide business services and access to capital for rural entrepreneurs.

This “hands on” workshop featured The Bricks (Entrepreneurs), The Road (How Entrepreneurs Innovate & Access) and Building Oz (How Entrepreneurs Grow & Sustain).

Esmira facilitating

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Questions addressed in the panel included:

  • What are the contributions of each immigrant business network to local economies?
  • What services assist them?
  • What challenges do self-employed immigrants face, particular in the agri-food sector and in rural areas?

Several future blog posts will cover the presentations of each immigrant entrepreneur and their responses to the numerous questions made to them during the workshop.

In this post, I would like to answer some of the questions submitted to me after my own presentation that kicked off the workshop.

What has been done to attract immigrant entrepreneurs?

cirro        In terms of attraction to Ontario, current immigration policy has few options for immigration based on interest in agri-food production. For a variety of reasons, the federal government has cut back on business immigration and instead placed an emphasis on “job ready” immigration of persons with strong language and professional skills and who have best options for employment. That being said, Canada’s immigrants have higher rates of self-employment and may be interested in starting businesses even if they are not identified as such in our immigration system.

In terms of attraction to rural Ontario, the provincial government has put some bones into place such as Community Immigrant Retention in Rural Ontario (CIRRO), which provides information and best practices on attracting and retaining newcomers for future economic prosperity.

Also, most municipalities in Ontario have an “immigration portal” that contains various local information of interest to newcomers. This program of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration funds the development of municipal government online hubs which deliver local immigration information and work to attract and integrate newcomers into Ontario communities, including rural communities that immigrants might not otherwise consider. In recent years, many of the portals have been used as attraction tools for immigrants.

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What is a new immigrant looking for when seeking business opportunities ie SMEs and in small rural communities?

Melku in front of Store        Potential and actual entrepreneurs and investors mostly look for the same kinds of opportunities whether they are immigrants or Canadian-born, such as access to markets, good movement, etc. However, immigrants – especially if they are more recent immigrants – may also be interested in a community’s diversity and its settlement and language service offerings. In agri-food, what they are looking for differs according to their property needs and type of expertise.

Would you recommend Rural Ontario to other immigrants?

Personally, I think it depends on the immigrant. If someone is independent and does not need to be surrounded by others from his or her own cultural background, if someone appreciates open space and widespread communities, if someone has traditional values, then I think rural Ontario could be an ideal place for them to settle. Immigrants tend to settle in Canada’s largest cities, but many immigrants do come from rural backgrounds and may appreciate the ability to live outside a large urban centre. Proximity to an urban centre may provide the best of both worlds.

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Our participating immigrant entrepreneurs may also be answering this question in the upcoming posts on the workshop…

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

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