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BDC’s CEO Says Access to Labour And Capital Key Challenges to Atlantic Canadian Businesses

BDC President and CEO Michael Denham. Image: Submitted

The Business Development Bank of Canada’s (BDC) president and CEO Michael Denham will be in Halifax and Sydney, N.S., this week, meeting with owners of local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Huddle caught up with him over the phone and talked about his trip, the challenges Atlantic Canadian businesses face and more:

What will you be doing in Nova Scotia?

Last week we announced our annual report. So as part of that, part of my role is to make sure I stay in close touch with all regions in Canada, especially with some of the recent uncertainties around tariffs and trade, etcetera. This week was the first chance for me to visit with our team and clients since. It’s really just a way for me to keep my finger on the pulse on what’s on people’s minds in various regions in the country.

What are you expecting to hear from people in Nova Scotia?

We’ve been surveying our clients and we’ve just finished the result of this survey. We’ll see whether there’s a regional difference to this, but nationally, even though there are uncertainties, more than half of the companies we surveyed intend to invest more in the next six months and 53 per cent anticipate growth in sales for the next six months. So even with all the uncertainties, the underlying intentions and expectations remain positive. We’re looking to see whether that type of attitude and expectations exist within the entrepreneurs I’m meeting this week.

What are some of the issues facing Atlantic Canadian SMEs?

In Atlantic Canada, there’s a number of issues that folks have on their minds. One is, there is a concern about labour and a lot of our clients are hesitating to invest because of perceived or actual labour shortages.

The second issue is access to capital. We put in place last year the Atlantic Growth envelope, which meant more money available for entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada in key sectors like agri-food, ICT, ocean technology and tourism. Getting access to capital is always an issue and we’re doing our best to address that.

BDC’s annual report shows over $140 million has been provided to Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs as part of the Atlantic Canada Growth Strategy. How important is it to invest in Atlantic Canada? 

As a crown corporation, we have an obligation to be present and accessible to all Canadian entrepreneurs. But in Atlantic Canada, the $280-million Atlantic Growth envelope is a special financing facility we’ve put in place quite specifically to support entrepreneurs in the Atlantic provinces.

We’re halfway through the two-year commitment and we’re tracking exactly as planned in terms of the number of loans and clients in specific sectors. It’s been very useful because the companies we’re financing do have great potential not just in the region, but also nationally and internationally.

We have an extensive presence [in Atlantic Canada] and we work closely with [the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency] and the banks. But there aren’t as many financial options in Atlantic Canada as there would be in Toronto or Montreal, so [the initiative is put in place] to make sure that the high-quality businesses and entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada get access to resources that they need to grow.

What other resources can SMEs in Atlantic Canada access through BDC?

We offer a range of products and services to our clients, one is financing. We have a very extensive advisory services business, and on BDC.ca, there’s an enormous amount of information free of charge. We also have a venture capital and equity investing business where we’ll invest alongside our clients to give them the equity they need to grow. We’re active in all those fronts across the country. In Atlantic Canada, we have a particular focus on women entrepreneurs.

Why the focus on women entrepreneurs?

Women entrepreneurs are a priority for us and our aspiration is to make sure that our products are more accessible and more available to this untapped potential. So, we’ve doubled the amount we intend to lend to women entrepreneurs to $1.4 billion over the next three years.

We’ve launched a $200-million venture capital equity fund investing in women-led businesses. It’s the biggest in the world of its kind. And we’ve put in place a number of bootcamps across the country and similar initiatives to provide education, knowledge and networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs across the country. These initiatives, we’re hoping, are going to make financing, and access to mentorship and knowledge better and more straightforward.

You’ve probably visited Atlantic Canada many times, but have you been to Sydney before?

I’ve been to major centres – Halifax, Saint John, Moncton, St. John’s. But this is the first visit to Sydney. I hear the lobsters are pretty good! But we have a business itinerary, so that’s a visit with our team and seeing a couple of client locations, which is important. And we’ll have dinners with a number of our clients and local partners.

This interview has been shortened and condensed for clarity