Minister Schumann Remarks: Akaitcho Business Development Corporation AGM

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Minister Wally Schumann highlighted the importance of small businesses, entrepreneurs and northern partnerships during his speech at the Akaitcho Business Development Corporation's Annual General Meeting and Awards Ceremony on December 7, 2017. Full remarks are provided below.  

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Thank you, I’m pleased to be at the Akaitcho Business Development Corporation’s Annual General Meeting and Awards Ceremony. I would like to welcome everyone and take a moment to recognize the Akaitcho Business Development Corporation staff and volunteers for your hard work throughout the year and for organizing this event.

Premier McLeod can’t be here, but asked me to congratulate the award recipients and thank your organization for everything it does to support businesses and economic growth. Growing the economy and creating jobs for people – especially in our communities and regions – continues to be a priority for our government. The business community is a key player in that and your help and support is essential to the success of the territory.

The Premier got a lot of media coverage a few weeks ago about his red alert on the future of the North. Some people were surprised by the strong stand he took, but sometimes you need to stand up for what’s important.

The fact is that Northerners are missing out on economic opportunities and decisions being made in Ottawa aren’t helping. If we want to take full advantage of all the opportunities to grow the NWT economy, we need to be making more of the decisions here. Bureaucrats in Ottawa have a lot on their plates and we can’t expect them to understand or pay attention to our priorities the way Northerners would. That’s not going to change unless Northerners make it clear that we want to be making decisions about our future ourselves.

That was the Premier’s message, and I hope the government can count on the Akaitcho Business Development Corporation for its support.

The work that the Akaitcho Business Development Corporation does is very important, and our small businesses in the North depend on the support that is provided through them. As one of the 7 Community Futures Organizations in the NWT – the organizations that allow the Government of the Northwest Territories  to provide access to capital for small business owners -   you help us fulfill our commitment to supporting entrepreneurs and business owners by providing significant financial support and training to those in need.

Small and medium sized businesses make up almost 90 percent of all businesses in the NWT and our government understands that owning and operating a small business here can bring with it significant challenges. Together with organizations like Akaitcho BDC, we want entrepreneurs to feel supported, and are also able to feel that owning and operating their business here can be a rewarding experience.

Not only do you and your businesses enrich our communities, but they help to create a resilient, diversified economy. In support of the GNWT’s commitment to economic development and diversification across our territory, the GNWT, through the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment continues to work to advance opportunities and capacity building for entrepreneurs and business owners.

Through the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, our government is developing, promoting and sustaining an environment in which NWT entrepreneurs and small business owners can invest, take risks and prosper. Our government invests daily in small businesses, with targeted policies, programs and funding initiatives.

We know that right now the best jobs in our territories come from resource development and sectors that support it but understand that we can’t rely on resource development forever and need to diversify and grow the territorial economy. This is especially important in communities and regions. We know that as businesses succeed locally, they contribute to regional economic growth, diversification and the sustainability of our economy overall. That is why the GNWT is committed to ensuring that our businesses have opportunities for growth and success and that our residents have access to good middle class jobs and incomes.

The NWT is in a time of change – we all know this and feel it in our economy daily.  In 2007, the NWT had a $4.5 billion economy; as of 2016 our economy had shrunk to $3.7 billion – that means fewer jobs and lower incomes. Though some sectors of the economy are bigger than they were in 2007, we still haven’t made up the gap created by a shrinking resource development sector, which shrank by almost one billion dollars between 2007 and 2016. We need a plan for replacing that billion dollar contribution and making it even bigger if we want to get back to where we were before. Addressing this is critical to the future of our territory. 

Ottawa still makes a lot of decisions that affect resource development, like the unilateral oil and gas moratorium in the Arctic Ocean they declared last year, which has also created uncertainty in the mining sector. If Canada wants NWT residents to sacrifice economic activities to support national priorities like climate change, we think they owe it to the people of the NWT to help us come up with a plan to replace those opportunities.

Last July at a town hall here in Yellowknife, the Prime Minister said he’d work with Northerners to open up many more doors of economic opportunity. Northerners intend to hold him to that commitment. We have asked Canada to work with us to develop a plan to grow our economy by identifying and committing to investing in new and existing sectors that show the most potential for putting Northerners back to work.

While we work on that plan, the GNWT remains committed to doing what we can to ensure that opportunities don’t diminish for businesses and people in the NWT. This includes ensuring adequate funding is available through a variety of initiatives. Some of our more recent funding initiatives include:

  • flowing approximately $950,000 in operations funding to Community Futures organizations to provide small scale loans and business advisory support to local entrepreneurs and small businesses;
  • providing $17.5 million in grants and contributions to entrepreneurs, businesses and business associations across the NWT in 2016-17;
  • and delivering $3.88 million under the Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) program to 441 applicants this year alone.

Overall, in the 2016/2017 fiscal year, the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment provided $17.5 million in contributions to more than 1,400 individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses, governments, and groups across the NWT.

Even in this time of change and economic uncertainty, this number is a demonstration the GNWT’s commitment to supporting you and your businesses. We will continue to make targeted, strategic investments in our people while also working with residents, business owners, and community and indigenous governments as we determine our next steps, and what mix of economic activities is right for the NWT and its future as we all work with Canada to deliver a plan forward.

We have a vision of a strong, prosperous territory that provides opportunities for all our communities and regions. Northerners are innovative, self-sufficient and resilient, and want to do their part to contribute to a strong country while also receiving the same economic benefits as in Southern Canada.

One of the ways we hope to continue to work towards this goal is through partnership.

It cannot be overstated the role our partners play in helping to shape the Northwest Territories today, and into the future. Organizations like Akaitcho BDC are key to the successes of our government and how we operate. It is through partnerships like ours, that we hope to achieve our goal for economic self-determination.

On behalf of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment and the Premier, I’d like to thank you again for allowing me to speak this afternoon and congratulations again to all the award recipients.