Tuesday, 21 February 2017 19:22

Entrepreneurs Moving North

by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

Economic development officers in the upper reaches of Northeastern Ontario have noticed a trend in the past few years — as businesses come up for sale the buyers are first generation immigrants to Canada.

They had no idea where the newcomers were coming from, how they found out about the business opportunity, how many businesses they own, how many people they employ, or much else.

Now they do. 

I wrote about this trend for New Canadian Media in December, explaining why municipalities may be better off canvassing for new immigrants from within Canada's borders, rather than launching expensive international campaigns for potential newcomers from other regions of the world. 

Working with the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre through a project sponsored by the Far Northeast Training Board, I travelled to Latchford, Temiskaming Shores, Earlton, Englehart, Kirkland Lake, Matheson, Timmins, Chapleau, Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst in the summer and fall of 2016 to interview as many newcomer business people as possible. The full report is here.

Of a possible 55 business owners identified by economic development officers, 38 were interviewed, or 69 per cent. This extremely high sample number provides very reliable data.

Entrepreneur profiles

So who are they?

The typical newcomer business owner in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area is 44, originally from India but moved north from the Greater Toronto Area, owns a restaurant or fast food franchise, motel, convenience store, or gas station, has lived in Canada 13 years, has an average family size of 3.6, loves the beauty and tranquility of the north and plans to stay. The friendly people in the north, the lack of crime and congestion were the other top draws.

Together the 38 people interviewed own and operate 58 businesses, employ 206 people full-time, of whom 56 are family members, 139 part-time, and 20 seasonal. Almost half of them know people from southern Ontario who would move north for the right business opportunity.

Almost half found out about the business opportunity from friends or relatives, with real estate agents, franchise chains and online information cited by others. Two-thirds of those interviewed are originally from India, with the remainder from Pakistan, China, Egypt, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Iran and Belgium.

Twenty own restaurants or fast food franchises, 15 own motels, 10 own convenience stores, seven own gas stations and two own pharmacies. Others owned a landscaping business, nail salon, strip mall and a movie theatre.

Where they come from

Twenty-four of the 38 people interviewed moved north from the GTA. The remainder came from Montreal, Saskatchewan, Windsor, Orillia, India, Kitchener-Waterloo, Gravenhurst, Hamilton, London England, Florida, Vancouver, Fenelon Falls and Belleville. Seventy-nine per cent say they feel connected to the town they live in and plan to stay.

Gejal Gandhi, 35, and her husband Keyur own the Casey’s Restaurant, Esso gas bar and convenience store and the Park Inn Motel in Kapuskasing. They employ 10 full-time and 25 part-time people. They moved to Kapuskasing from Cochrane and lived in Toronto prior to that. They have been in Canada 17 years, are from India, and have two children.

“We bought the Park Inn Motel first,” she says. “We had a motel in Cochrane and sold it. Once we were in Kapuskasing we found the Esso, and then the same thing for the restaurant. There was a sign and we contacted the owner and went through the process.” They have lived in Kapuskasing for four years.

Minesh Prajapati, 44, is originally from India and owns and operates the Subway franchise in Kirkland Lake. In addition he is in partnership with Indian friends in Mattawa who own the Subway there and together they own Subway franchises in Hearst and Englehart.

Change in careers

“I bought the business primarily for my wife,” he says. “She was working in a Subway but was just getting minimum wage. I was a banker doing lending and mortgages. Next year my wife will take over this store and I will be more like managing it. I can go back to banking if I want. They are still calling me.

“Right now, though, the way it is going, I don’t think I’m going back to the bank. Every year we are buying one more Subway.” He has lived in Canada 10 years and moved to Kirkland Lake from Brampton.

With six full-time and two part-time employees in Kirkland Lake, Prajapati says his two part-timers were hired through a special needs program and are doing very well. He says he attends Subway conventions twice a year “and that’s when people spread the news that they would like to sell.”

David Mohamed owns Willis Pharmacy in Matheson, where he is the sole pharmacist. Born in Egypt, he has been in Canada six years and moved to Matheson from Belleville. A couple of friends owned the business and he became a partner recently, after working at the Matheson location for 18 months.

“I decided to purchase because I like working with them and it was a good opportunity in the north,” he says. “Here you are alone in the business and we don’t have any nearby pharmacies.”

Louiz Soliman is also a pharmacist from Egypt. He owns Smallman Pharmacy in Temiskaming Shores. He moved to Haileybury from Montreal to take over the business a year ago. He came to Canada from Greece seven years ago. I asked him if he knew Mr. Mohamed. He said he did not, and asked “where is Matheson?”

If people ask him about moving north to start or purchase a business he says “I would tell them it’s a good area. The people are very polite. It’s a safe area.”

Peter Patel, 67, owns three motels, a restaurant and convenience store in Chapleau, employing 25 to 30 people. He and his partners also own a motel in Fenelon Falls, near Peterborough.

Starting from scratch

Another large employer is Siva Mylvaganam, 49, of Timmins. His is a Canadian success story. He came to Canada as a refugee from Sri Lanka and Siva’s Family Restaurant in Timmins Square now employs 35 people with the restaurant and catering business. In addition, he has a commercial real estate sideline where he employs another one or two people, depending on business activity.

Very well known in Timmins, he started the business from scratch in 1996. “When I came to Canada I had no English so I worked as a dishwasher, and in a car factory. There were layoffs so I worked in a restaurant and became a cook, and then a chef, and then opened my own business. I found this location and I thought Timmins would never be really high, or really low, because it is a mining town.

“I loved smaller towns because I was born and raised in a small village. I lived in Toronto and it wasn’t my place to live. I always go back but I never enjoy it. It’s not like here. People always say ‘Hi Siva, how are you doing?’ and I ask them about their family. It’s not like that in Toronto.”

Amjinber Cheema , ( “the locals call me Ami”) is typical of the younger entrepreneurs from India settling in the north. Only 28, his wife just joined him in Latchford from India. He came to Canada as a student and in his seven years here he lived in Saskatoon, Regina and Toronto before arriving in Latchford to purchase The Dam Depot, a gas station and convenience store.

Harsher winters

“There is value for money in the north,” he says. “The winters are harsher but you get used to it. Compared to the bigger cities like Toronto and Ottawa you get value for your money.” He feels connected to the people of Latchford and laughs that “after I was here for two months they appointed me the honourary Indian ambassador to Latchford. It was in the paper. It was very nice.”

Sam Singh, 24, owns the Mac’s franchise in New Liskeard and is another of the young people from India making their mark in the north.  He also came to Canada as a student and started in his business a year ago. “Young people like me don’t have much opportunity,” he says. “From here I can get a start. I am learning a lot of things. It’s a small community and I get involved. In the future if I am going to buy a bigger business I won’t have a problem. For everyone, a small town is the best place to start a business.”

Roger Gandhi, 58, was born in India but has been in Canada 40 years. He is typical of the older immigrant from India who is now well established. He lives in Earlton and owns and operates the Earlton Motel and Coté’s Variety. In addition he owns the mall where the variety store operates, plus the Regal Motel in Timmins.

Navin Tamakuwala, 67, is another. He owns the Thriflodge and Terry’s Steakhouse in Cochrane and has 14 full-time and five part-time employees there. He lives in Montreal most of the year and owns a Sobey’s grocery store there. Also from India, he has lived in Canada for 44 years.

While North Bay was not part of the study area, it has more than 70 first-generation immigrant-owned businesses. Its cricket team is dominated by young entrepreneurs from India. The same is true of cricket teams in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Timmins. Together they are changing the face of Northern Ontario and investing in its future.

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now chair of the board of directors.

Published in Economy

by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

Canada’s big city mayors have been vocal in their support for doing more to expedite the process of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada – as they should be.

Large cities have large capacities to do more – to raise more money and sponsor and settle more refugees. What I have not seen reported so far in the national media is the growing support in smaller communities to do more as well.

In our part of Northeastern Ontario we have two small cities, North Bay and Timmins, eager to sponsor refugees, but unfamiliar with the process.

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald started a Facebook campaign to fundraise the approximately $30,000 necessary to sponsor a family for a year and in its first couple of days he had $10,000 in commitments. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Syrian crisis has been going on for years and has been well documented, but this photograph hit a nerve around the world and changed everything.[/quote]

In Timmins, City Councillor Pat Bamford plans to raise the issue at the September 14 city council meeting and propose that the city itself allocate funds toward sponsorship.

Our settlement agency, the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre, will provide guidance and support for both initiatives.

This recent municipal engagement is, of course, a result of the powerful photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Turkey. The Syrian crisis has been going on for years and has been well documented, but this photograph hit a nerve around the world and changed everything.

The small city challenge

Some may question the capacity of immigrant and refugee settlement agencies across Canada to settle and help integrate large numbers of refugees.

What they may not know is that many front-line settlement workers are immigrants or refugees themselves, and have the compassion, knowledge and resources to get the job done.

When I look at the names behind the Toronto group, Lifeline Syria, the ones I know – Ratna Omidvar, Naomi Alboim, Jehad Aliweiwi, Mario Calla, Carolyn Davis – have vast settlement sector knowledge, and I am sure have no doubts about the capacity of the sector to out-perform. Lifeline Syria is in capable hands.

Smaller cities don’t have the wealth of expertise that Lifeline Syria has, but they have knowledgeable leaders in the settlement sector and I hope they are being put to good use across the country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Settling Syrian families in communities where there are no other Syrians will be a challenge.[/quote]

This is a new issue for many smaller city municipal leaders and that’s good for the settlement sector in those cities.

Some settlement agencies in smaller cities have extensive experience settling refugees, while others have little or none. However, they have experience settling newcomers and this is an opportunity for them to provide leadership.

Settling Syrian families in communities where there are no other Syrians will be a challenge.

In North Bay we have none on our client list and in Timmins only one family. However, North Bay has a mosque (a high proportion of Syria’s population is Muslim) and Timmins has a group of Muslims actively trying to create one, so at least there is some religious commonality.

An Anglican minister dropped in to my office to see what she and her church could do to help, and North Bay’s mayor has approached the United Church for support. Ordinary citizens are e-mailing their moral and financial support, so it is gratifying to see communities come together.

Not everyone supportive

On the other hand, online comments about Mayor McDonald’s request for funds to support a family were not all positive.

The online world attracts the ill informed with strident opinions, and they were out in full force. Comments ranged from religion-based to ‘foreigners coming in and taking “our” jobs’ sentiments, and they were neither literate nor enlightened.

It will always be a work in progress to educate people about how immigrants and refugees make Canada a stronger nation. This work has been led by immigrant settlement agencies and local immigration partnerships and now there is an opportunity for others to get involved in the discussion.

Leaders have to lead, whether they are municipal politicians, church leaders, or settlement agencies. It is gratifying to see that in our corner of Canada, and in the big cities, they are doing just that.

Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative, Timmins Local Immigration Partnership and northern region board member for OCASI. He is also a board member of Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research organization.

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 18:05

Life is Better in Smaller Cities

by Don Curry (@DonDoncurry) in North Bay, Ontario

Increasingly, immigrants are learning what many of us already know. Life can be better in the smaller centres of Canada.

It takes me five minutes to drive to work. I can walk it in 30. After work, my golf course is five minutes from my home. The lake—you can see it from the office. Oh, and we have two of them in the city.

University? College? Vibrant arts scene? Restaurants? Check, check, check, and check.

Politicians readily available for a chat? Look out the office window one way and you see the MP’s office. Turn your head the other way and there’s the MPP’s office. Behind you and a block over? City Hall and the mayor’s office.

Life is just so much easier in a smaller centre.

I am talking about North Bay in Northern Ontario, (population 54,000) but I could be talking about many smaller centres across Canada.

I arrived in North Bay in 1978 to begin teaching journalism at Canadore College. I left the college in 1992 but I never left the city. We like it here too much. I have lived in many large cities. Life here is better.

Back in 1978 the only diversity in the city was provided by residents of Nipissing First Nation, which borders the city. Now, our office, the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre right in the middle of Main Street, is a hub of diversity. There is lots of diversity on the streets.

And it’s seeping into even smaller centres in Northeastern Ontario. We are working with three in particular—the town of Cochrane, an hour east of Timmins; the city of Temiskaming Shores, 90 minutes north of North Bay; and the Central Almaguin area, 40 minutes south of North Bay.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Why should we start attracting immigrants if my son can’t find a job?” is a question we have heard more than once.[/quote]

Local Immigration Partnership

They see what North Bay saw in 2005 when it created a Local Immigration Partnership involving a number of community organizations interested in creating an immigration strategy for the city. They see the demographic trends—baby boomer retirements, low birth rate and youth out-migration.

Increasingly, they see the fixes—tap the increasing aboriginal population for jobs, bring people with disabilities in to the work force, and attract immigrants.

Some communities see it quicker than others. The three communities we are working with are what I call “green lights.” We still have amber light and red light communities in Northern Ontario. They are the ones who don’t get it yet, or resist immigration.

“Why should we start attracting immigrants if my son can’t find a job?” is a question we have heard more than once. If the person’s son is a philosophy major and the town needs skilled tradespeople or medical professionals, the answer is pretty obvious.

What can regions of Canada with little experience attracting immigrants do to get the ball rolling? One strategy is to host an immigration symposium. We have organized two in North Bay, one in Temiskaming Shores and one in Timmins. They create a buzz in the community, generate media coverage, create partnerships and get people excited about the possibilities. Get the hall donated by the municipality, charge for lunch, and you have a symposium at no cost.

Develop a Local Immigration Partnership if you don’t have one already. They are funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and they rally the community behind the immigration cause. Quickly you learn it is not just about attraction. Settlement, integration and creating a welcoming community are even bigger challenges.

Community champions

Find your community champions and let them lead.

Keep coming up with new projects that will enhance immigrant attraction and retention. Work with your local politicians to get them on board. Push them.

Produce materials like our video on why permanent residents should have the right to vote municipally and get it in front of city council. The video, found here, helped produce an 8-2 North Bay City Council vote in favour of asking the Province of Ontario to change legislation to allow permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections.

A recent mid-term evaluation of our project with Timmins, Temiskaming Shores and Central Almaguin by Meyer Burstein of Ottawa and Dr. Michael Haan of Western University referenced project communication, noting it could be improved. While we stressed the goals and strategies in the original information sessions, we neglected to reinforce them as we moved forward and some lost sight of where we were going and why.

Communication is an ongoing challenge. You have to tell the community why you’re doing it and constantly reinforce the message. Many will forget and some will resist. Don’t waste too much time with negative people and work with the green lights. They are much more fun to be around and they get things done.

Don Curry is a journalist and former college journalism teacher. He is the executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, a member of the board of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and a board member of Pathways to Prosperity. 

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Published in Commentary

by Don Curry (@DonDoncurry) in North Bay, Ontario

For more and more new Canadians arriving in Ontario, Toronto and Ottawa are no longer the desired destinations. Newcomers seem to be moving further north in the province. As such, an innovative project is under way to assist them in the settlement process and create welcoming communities at the same time.

In North Bay, which is a three-and-a-half hour drive north of Toronto on a four-lane highway, and four hours northwest of Ottawa, staff at the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre (NBDMC) counted 66 businesses owned by newcomers. In fact, there are enough cricket enthusiasts in the newcomer community to form two teams to compete with teams in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There is now a Filipino community in Moosonee on the James Bay Coast, with entrepreneurs, health care professionals and skilled trades’ people.[/quote]

The Timmins & District Multicultural Centre, four hours north of North Bay, is seeing a similar phenomenon. To a lesser degree, it is starting to happen in smaller centres, such as South River, Temiskaming Shores and Cochrane. There is now a Filipino community in Moosonee on the James Bay Coast, with entrepreneurs, health care professionals and skilled trades’ people.

Increased immigration is new, even for the larger centres like North Bay (population 54,000) and Timmins (population 48,000.) The North Bay immigrant settlement agency opened in 2008 and expanded to Timmins in 2011. Between the two offices the agency serves the region from Parry Sound in the south to the James Bay Coast in the north – some 20 per cent of Ontario’s land mass.

A two-year project, led by NBDMC, to reach out to smaller communities began in September 2014. With almost $300,000 in funding over two years from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, FedNor (Industry Canada) and the participating municipalities, the project is administered in partnership with Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research body, providing advice and evaluation services.

The project began to formulate when James Franks, Economic Development Officer for Temiskaming Shores, approached the centre for assistance. That conversation developed into an immigration symposium in Temiskaming Shores in October 2013, and the project evolved from the symposium.

“We had no expertise in settlement services and we were starting to see newcomers arrive in the community,” Franks says. “Now, through this project, we have monthly visits from a qualified settlement worker from North Bay, and other community agencies know they can now refer newcomer clients.” Temiskaming Shores, population 10,500, is on the shore of Lake Temiskaming, the headwater of the Ottawa River and 90 minutes north of North Bay.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Skills shortages, the need to market the region to newcomers, business succession planning and the need for more rental accommodation to attract new residents are common priorities identified by (some Northern Ontario regions).” - Garvin Cole, HR North[/quote]

Many key players from Northern Ontario attended the symposium. For example, Jean-Pierre Ouellette, Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Cochrane, population 5,340, who got his community involved with the follow-up project and Adam Killah, Economic Development Officer for the Central Almaguin Economic Development Association, south of North Bay, who represents the third municipal partner group. The Almaguin Highlands area has 15 municipalities with a total population of 23,570.

“Skills shortages, the need to market the region to newcomers, business succession planning and the need for more rental accommodation to attract new residents are common priorities identified by the three regions,” says Garvin Cole of HR North, a project of the North Bay Newcomer Network and NBDMC, which uses the skills database of internationally trained professionals, augmented by resumes of recent university and college graduates from Northern Ontario to fill positions for employers. Originally conceived as a human resources service for small businesses in the north, he finds that even large employers seek his services. Cole helped create employers’ councils in each of the communities and these priorities came from the first round of meetings. They will all meet again in March.

The project is also addressing settlement needs of newcomers, by having trained settlement workers from the North Bay and Timmins offices visit each community monthly.

“It is so important to have personal contact,” says Deborah Robertson, NBDMC program coordinator. “Some follow-up can be done remotely but trust is developed in person.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I see other parts of Canada being interested in how this project turns out. It could be a model for rural Canada.” - Meyer Burstein, Pathways to Prosperity[/quote]

Creating events so newcomers can meet one another, as well as long-time residents, is another facet of the project. First up is a bowling event for newcomers and volunteers in Temiskaming Shores in March.

NBDMC receives core funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Ontario’s newcomer settlement program, but it seeks supplemental funding for projects such as this one.

Meyer Burstein of Pathways to Prosperity (P2P), who attended the Temiskaming Shores symposium and was involved in the formation of the project, is now leading the P2P evaluation team and is serving on the project executive committee. “I see other parts of Canada being interested in how this project turns out,” he says. “It could be a model for rural Canada.”

By the end of the project, its leaders will produce a bilingual “how-to” document. That, along with the P2P evaluation and articles published during and after the project will help disseminate the learned information nationally.

Don Curry is a journalist and former college journalism teacher. He is the executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, a member of the board of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and a board member of Pathways to Prosperity.

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Published in Top Stories

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