The “Alberta Advantage.” It is a phrase that appears in boardrooms and events across the province. It’s meant to capture the tangible, like Alberta’s competitive taxes for small business (currently at an all-time low) and the more abstract, like our famous entrepreneurial spirit. But is the province a place that can actually claim to have that Advantage?
Blessed with numerous innovative programs, funding initiatives, affordable workspaces and a talented, educated workforce, Albertan entrepreneurs have some of the best opportunities in the world right here at their fingertips. However, that doesn’t mean that challenges and hurdles don’t exist. In fact, these days many new and small businesses are finding it very tough to make it.
Many startups today, for example, rely on students or people fresh out of school for their labour because of the cost and programs that cover wages. This can come with a number of problems. It means that short-term contracts are becoming the norm and many new graduates are taking longer and longer finding a job that pays more than an honorarium, much less something permanent. It’s also frustrating for growing business, who are unable to keep quality talent and train them to be impactful members of their team before they have to replace them with fresh graduates.
For certain industries, especially startups that do not require specialized expertise, higher minimum wages can make growth and profits difficult. Many smaller businesses are also worried about the costs of the new federal carbon tax even after the announced $1.5 billion in subsidies for small business. Between the wage hikes and the carbon tax, it’s like running on a treadmill while juggling and desperately trying not to drop any of the balls – create product while paying higher wages while keeping a tiny carbon footprint while cutting costs while maintaining quality.
Most of the hurdles can’t be solved with tightening belts or picking up bootstraps. As Albertan craft breweries have discovered, some problems small businesses face are out of their control. Late last year, courts struck down brewery subsidies as unconstitutional at the same time that Alberta put pressure on Ontario for freezing out Albertan suds. In a complaint through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, trade minister Deron Bilous pointed to the imbalance of Albertan products heading out east. Ontario, the complaint says, offers deep discounts on listing prices and shelf preferences for Ontario beers, keeping the few Albertan products available on unrefrigerated shelves with higher prices. Albertan brewers are missing out on Canada’s largest market and that limits their growth and success, and it feels completely out of their hands.
The Alberta Advantage is supposed to be everything that makes our province an excellent place to start and grow a company. Our entrepreneurs provide the hard work, determination, risk-taking and grit needed to get a business off the ground and provide job creation. Small businesses need a government in their corner that recognizes the contributions of entrepreneurship, and provides an environment of support instead of finanical and regulatory hurdles.