EDITORIAL: Small business no easy feat in the North

An important sector that must be encouraged to grow in the Northwest Territories

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There is no backup generator for the world wide web.

An interruption in internet service can’t be mitigated with diesel. It hamstrings any small business instantly. It is estimated one day of lost internet service in Yellowknife evaporates about $4.75 million of economic activity.

The Yellowknife and Northwest Territories chambers of commerce know these and many other things, which is why they have quite correctly been hounding political candidates for commitments on the subject for months.

That said, navigating IT is just one of the gauntlets facing current and prospective entrepreneurs.

According to the NWT chamber, the top five issues facing their members leading up to the territorial and federal election season now drawing to a close were red tape/barriers to entry, the cost of living, over-regulation, the mineral industry and housing.

The Yellowknife chamber’s list was a little different. In the capital, top concerns were fibre redundancy (the internet), the under-funding of community governments, the creation of a university in the city and the availability of land.

It’s worth noting the farther away from the capital, the more challenges a business owner faces. Finding qualified staff would certainly be one. Another is simply the vast geographical and logistical challenge of managing the transportation and distribution of goods from a remote community. No doubt, no one is going to be opening a hardware store in Paulatuk anytime soon.

The NWT chamber held a conference in Yellowknife last week called Opportunities North that assembled dozens of chamber members for workshops and networking, and to listen to heavy hitters like conservative darling and Reform Party founder Preston Manning.

The business capacity and economic expertise hosted at the Explorer Hotel from Tuesday to Thursday was, in a word, significant. Many of the folks there were forward-lookers and trailblazers, obsessed with the horizon and no strangers to adversity.

But it’s hard to keep your eyes on the prize when the lights are flickering. Hopefully, some of our new MLAs and the candidates running in the federal election taking place today had a chance to do some listening there.

There are only so many government jobs to go around. It must be stressed that small businesses are an important job provider and thus, must be encouraged to thrive in every community of the NWT.

Obviously, upper levels of government must be part of the story – the GNWT and the feds with hydro electricity, Canada or its Crown corporations with the internet – but it’s the sort of people who pay hundreds of dollars to travel across the territory and attend workshops for three days that should be writing the first draft.

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