There are certain communities in B.C. where it’s easier than in others to grow a healthy garden or colourful flowers each spring.
Similarly, there are communities in B.C. where it’s easier to start and grow a small business. Perhaps there are local advantages, like proximity to markets or pools of displaced workers looking to get on a new path by starting their own business. Or perhaps the municipal government has a particularly strong focus on supporting local businesses through bylaws and regulations.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to look at how municipalities across B.C. are faring when it comes to creating the conditions in which local business can be successful.
Of course, there is no one single factor that makes a community more entrepreneurial than another; and no doubt, the influences can ebb and flow over time. But one starting point for looking at these factors and how they interact is the annual Entrepreneurial Communities report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
The report assesses Canada’s 125 largest communities and compares them on 13 metrics of self-employment demographics, small business sentiment, and local tax and regulatory policy. The top cities this year are Winkler, Man., Grande Prairie, Alta., and Victoriaville, Que. The top B.C. location was Squamish in 10th spot.
A relatively strong economy in British Columbia, as reflected in healthy business incomes growth, along with expansion plans and optimism levels, pushed many of the province’s municipalities into the upper echelons of the list.
In the rankings of the 125 cities across Canada, B.C.’s 20 municipalities landed as follows: Squamish (10), Salmon Arm (12), Fort St. John (15), Kelowna (16), Penticton (26), Chilliwack (34), Kamloops (38), Campbell River (44), Parksville and Vernon (tied at 51), Vancouver (56), Victoria (66), Duncan (72), Nanaimo (74), Port Alberni (81), Prince George (82), Abbotsford-Mission (84), Cranbrook (91), Quesnel (100), and Courtenay (123).
Overall, the big cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal did not fare well. A big reason is the tax disparity between what residents pay to support municipal services versus what local businesses pay.
As municipalities grow, it has been the path of least resistance to stick more and more of the property tax bill onto the backs of local entrepreneurs to pay for the rising cost of local governments. This has put many small businesses in a big squeeze.
Of course, municipal governments do not control the economy. But they do have control over local tax policy as well as bylaws and regulations. Rising property taxes are a particularly serious problem for many smaller firms. Since local businesses typically operate in competitive markets, and survive on razor-thin profit margins, they genuinely struggle to pay rapidly rising property taxes.
If local businesses consumed more municipal services than residents, then maybe this tax imbalance could be justified.
But they don’t. Research shows that residents typically receive more than two dollars in municipal services for every dollar of property tax they pay. For local businesses, it’s the exact opposite: They often receive one dollar of service for every two dollars (or more) in property tax paid. And in many cases, they have to pay extra for things like garbage collection and recycling.
B.C.’s economy is doing relatively well, but still faces major challenges, from low productivity growth and lagging capital investment to stagnant wage growth and downsizing by big businesses. It is unfortunate more focus has not been put on how local governments can better support local business and keep our country strong. Those municipal governments that do focus on better policies to support local small businesses will not only help contribute to the success of the local economy, but also create communities that boom.
Richard Truscott is the B.C. and Alberta vice-president at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business