1.14 Billion Strong

In today’s blog post we will discuss the findings from the 2016 research study 1.14 Billion Strong: Indigenous Economic Performance in Atlantic Canada, by Group ATN Consulting Inc. in partnership with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat. The study found Indigenous communities and businesses contribute greatly to the Atlantic economy with the Atlantic Indigenous Economy totalling around $1,144,000,000.

That number has grown to $1.6 billion in Atlantic Indigenous business revenue according to a 2019 study Highlighting Successful Atlantic Businesses conducted by APEC.

At a time where the general population of the Atlantic region is ageing, moving to larger city hubs, leaving municipalities feeling hollowed out, Indigenous communities in the region are generally younger, have larger families and support and stay within their communities providing a much-needed stimulus.

In 2016 there were approximately 300 Indigenous-owned businesses in the Atlantic region with retail sales being the most common sector, followed by business services, arts and crafts and construction.

In the 2019 study that number had grown to 850 Indigenous-owned businesses in the region.

Most Indigenous-owned businesses started in 2000, which shows a recent drive among Indigenous communities and individuals to pursue entrepreneurship.

The boom in business allowed for employment opportunities not only for Indigenous peoples but non-Indigenous peoples as well. In 2016 the average Indigenous business employed five workers, 68 per cent of employees were Indigenous while 32 per cent were non-Indigenous.  In 2019 that number grew to 70% Indigenous employees and 40% non-Indigenous.

The total wages paid by Indigenous businesses in 2019 was $296 million with $178 million going to Indigenous workers.

The study found a common theme that shows Indigenous peoples staying local with their money. Community businesses are considered assets to residents making it unnecessary to venture outside the region to purchase goods and services.

It was also found that half of the Indigenous businesses employ contractors from the local area. This means overall spending stays within the region most of the time.

In the 2016 study three communities were highlighted as economic development leaders amongst the Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada. Madawaska First Nation, Millbrook First Nation and Membertou First Nation were setting the stage for other communities in the region, acting as an inspiration.

In Millbrook First Nation they developed the Millbrook Power Centre, a 52 acre fully serviced commercial lot along Highway 102 in Nova Scotia, which provides a hub for retail businesses. They also own housing in Cole Harbour, N.S., the General Dynamics Building, the East Coast International Building and have started a partnership in the Shannon Park development.

On the island of Cape Breton, Membertou First Nation has developed many local businesses in the community, a hockey rink, mini-malls, housing developments and the latest venture is the purchase of Clearwater Seafoods. The development of the Membertou Corporate Division, which started in 1989, has helped the community focus on business partnerships, joint ventures and exploring new opportunities in order to create wealth, prosperity and employment for the community

Lastly, in Madawaska First Nation they have developed Grey Rock Power Centre, a 35.81 hector economic development project that is home to several restaurants, a major truck stop, dealerships, casino, a strip mall and a hotel.

Even though the statistics show an incline in Indigenous businesses and profits there are still many barriers to starting an Indigenous-owned company.

Participants in the studies indicated there are still policy issues, land management issues, problems accessing capital and other issues that create barriers to greater economic success for both communities and entrepreneurs. It was also pointed out that education, training and local role models are still viewed as factors that need to be supported in order to grow an entrepreneurial mindset amongst youth.

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