Keeping British Columbia in Business

Ministry for Tourism and Small Business

A whopping 98 percent of all businesses in British Columbia are classified as small businesses. These small businesses, which are defined as employing fifty or fewer employees, are responsible for over half of all private sector jobs in the province and provide employment for over one million people…

“That is why it is really important for us to listen to small businesses [and] make sure that they thrive and grow,” says the Honourable Naomi Yamamoto, B.C.’s Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business. “My role is to ensure that government actually works in partnership with our small business community because the small business community in British Community is very important. It is a critical driver of jobs.”

Ms. Yamamoto understands the positive impact of small business from experience; after working for her family owned business she went on to own and operate her own small business for over twenty years. Now, Ms. Yamamoto is heading up British Columbia’s efforts to increase small business growth and success throughout the province.

This effort starts by listening to the needs of people who are actually involved in small business. British Columbia’s Small Business Roundtable, which was established in 2005, is one initiative that is helping to create a dialogue between government and small business owners. The goal is to identify the key issues and opportunities facing small businesses in the province and develop strategies to enhance small business growth and success. “We make sure that we identify their concerns,” Ms. Yamamoto explains. As a result, the government has a much better understanding of what needs to be done “to further our goals of making BC the most small business friendly jurisdiction in Canada.”

Government’s “Have Your Say” website is another initiative that is giving voice to small businesses throughout British Columbia. The website gives the public a chance to comment on specific regulations and to offer suggestions on how government can reduce the regulatory burden on small business. “We take all those comments and suggestions very seriously,” Ms. Yamamoto asserts.

Indeed, government’s recent efforts to slash burdensome regulations show that they are listening – and acting. In fact, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) has given British Columbia an A rating for the last three years in a row for its efforts to reduce red tape. B.C. was the only province this year and last to receive this coveted, top notch rating. “It reflects our continued efforts to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses,” Ms. Yamamoto remarks. “Making sure we reduce that burden is important.”

British Columbia wasn’t always this friendly to small business. “In 2001, when we were elected, B.C. was considered to be a highly regulated province, with a lot of unnecessary regulations on the books,” Ms. Yamamoto recalls. “So we made a concerted effort to reduce the number of regulations by 42 percent; we have now knocked over 154,000 regulations off our books. We lead Canada in that respect.” The province has been so successful in cutting red tape that other governmental bodies, both in North America and around the world, are studying British Columbia’s model to learn how best to tone down their own regulations.

British Columbia is also committed to reducing the small business tax rate. “When we were first in government in 2001, the small business tax rate was 4.5 percent. We’ve reduced it to 2.5 percent – that is around a forty percent reduction. And, we have committed to reducing it to 1.5 percent by 2017.”

Government also recently created the B.C. Small Business Accord to ensure that it does everything possible to support small business. Over 35,000 individuals participated in the process via community meetings, online surveys, and a Twitter town hall, which took place from November 2012 through February 2013. The end result is an accord made up of six key principles designed to “hold government accountable to the small business community,” Ms. Yamamoto explains. “For example, one of the principles is to ensure that government policies and programs respect the impact that they will have on the small business community.”

The B.C. Small Business Accord isn’t just lip service; government has already acted on many of the recommendations. For instance, substantial progress has already been made regarding the need for a more streamlined government procurement process. “Government buys a lot of goods and services, and we have heard from small businesses that the process to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP) is really onerous,” Ms. Yamamoto says. Before the Accord identified the problem, it was commonplace for a small business to have to fill out sixty pages of forms just to procure one small job; now, that has all been changed. “For any government contract worth less than $250,000 we are going to reduce the RFP to two pages.”

The B.C. Small Business Accord also identified the need for mentoring programs to help support small business. “We heard over and over again from small businesses that one of the key things that led to their success was having a mentor,” Ms. Yamamoto shares. “We wanted to formalize that process.” The end result is an easy to use website that puts people in small business in touch with the right mentor. “It’s really simple. Anyone in B.C. can go online, answer a few questions, and then be matched up with a mentor.” For information on the Small Business Accord mentoring programs, visit: http://www.jtst.gov.bc.ca/sbaccord/.

Government is also working to promote the products, tools and services available to small business owners in British Columbia. Many of these small business owners simply don’t realize how many resources are out there. For example, Small Business B.C., which is funded by government, provides a wealth of information and tools for small businesses. “One of the things that is a challenge for us is to make business people aware of that resource,” Ms. Yamamoto says. Small Business B.C. also partners with Community Futures, an organization established by the Federal Government to support rural communities, to get the word out. “I think it is important that we provide that seamless service, so we work with our partners to ensure that small businesses have access to information.”

Supporting tourism is also critically important. In fact, the tourism industry’s interests often overlap with those of small business – of the approximately 18,000 tourism related businesses in British Columbia, 16,000 of them are actually small businesses. Government is committed to helping all of these businesses thrive and is working hard to ensure that the province makes the most of its tourism potential.

This potential is remarkably high. “We are blessed with incredible natural resources in British Columbia,” Ms. Yamamoto points out. These natural resources attract a huge crowd each year, allowing the tourism sector to employ over 127,000 people throughout the province. This means that one out of every 15 people in British Columbia has a job related to the industry. And these numbers are on the rise. “We have seen a growth of the industry year after year,” Ms. Yamamoto reports. “2013 was a fantastic year. We saw [visits from] international visitors increase by 4.3 percent overall.” The majority of this increase came from the United States, while visits from Chinese tourists increased by an impressive 26 percent and visits from Mexican tourists increased by about 10 percent.

Destination B.C. was recently created to help increase tourism even further. “We had an organization within government called Tourism B.C., but the tourism industry told us they would like to have an industry driven organisation,” Ms. Yamamoto explains. “So we listened to the tourism industry.” The new, industry-led Crown corporation markets the Super, Natural British Columbia® brand to the world and receives generous government funding in order to carry out its mission. Destination B.C. works collaboratively with tourism stakeholders throughout British Columbia to coordinate this marketing at the international, provincial, regional and local levels.

Small business and tourism are key drivers of the British Columbian economy and government is determined to provide as much support as possible for both. From roundtables to twitter town halls, government is listening to what insiders think needs to be done – and responding with action. With decreased regulation and tax rates, the principles spelled out in the B.C. Small Business Accord, and several new organizations supporting small businesses and tourism, both of these sectors have a bright future ahead of them. As Ms. Yamamoto says, “I think that, if we are not already, we are well on our way to becoming the most small business friendly jurisdiction in Canada.”

November 19, 2017, 3:37 AM EST