Immigrant success stories made harder
By Ashley Csanady, Financial Post
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Vicky and Alan Shipman wanted a change. The high school teacher and business operations manager dreamed of building their own home and starting a small business, but on the latter, barriers to entry in their native country, Engand, were too high.
In 2005, they left Salisbury for Charlottetown, P.E.I., after first considering the United States and Australia. It was the space and pace of life in Canada that attracted them to Prince Edward Island.
“We had already made a decision that we loved P.E.I. We’d visited the island before,” Mr. Shipman said.
They first applied for citizenship through the federal government in 2003. While waiting, they stumbled upon the recently suspended provincial nominee program (PNP) for immigrant entrepreneurs, one of four categories the P.E.I. government offers to facilitate immigration for desirable candidates. PNPs, offered by all 10 provinces and two territories, ease the application process for candidates with specific skills or net worths valuable to a region’s economy.
“It fitted what we wanted to do in terms of starting our own business,” Mr. Shipman said. It “really accelerated the process” that can take years through the federal government, he said.
By 2005, they were settled in Prince Edward Island, building their home and starting up a small business. Although they had considered a tourism or retail venture, they instead decided to open a franchise, a Sylvan learning centre — the first in the province, although there are more than 100 in Canada.
In many ways, the Shipmans are the poster-couple for a program that, until it stopped reviewing applicants in mid-November, aimed to keep aspiring entrepreneurs in a province that struggles to retain immigrants: Only 25% of families who arrive as provincial nominees remain in Prince Edward Island, according to a 2009 study by the University of Prince Edward Island. On Dec. 1, the province launched a new immigrant retention strategy, which leaves one wondering, why cut the PNP?
Alan Campbell, Innovation and Advanced Learning Minister of Prince Edward Island, could not be reached for comment.
“The reality is, if you’re going to start a business, it’s going to be specific to your marketplace,” Bill Martin, director for Atlantic Canada for the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, said. “It’s not likely it’s going to be portable [so] you can take it off to Vancouver or wherever once you’re in.”
The program was the second branch of P.E.I.’s nominee program to be suspended since the immigrant investor option was nixed in 2008. The most recent program required applicants to be willing to invest as much as $200,000 and hold a net worth of at least $400,000. The immigrant investor program required a comparable one-time investment.
That investor option was a source
of controversy in the province, with accusations of conflict of interest and corruption following a mandatory financial audit, which lead to a review by the Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Learning that is still underway. Local coverage suggests these concerns did not extend to the immigrant entrepreneur program.
Mr. Shipman worries the negative coverage lumped all PNP programs together and “put a bad cloud over the whole PNP process, whereas I felt the entrepreneur process was very successful.”
“From our personal experience, it did what we needed and it worked really for the island because we did what the island wanted: We set up a business, established ourselves here, and so on.”
Their business, although slowed by the recession, is growing again. Although they won’t discuss specifics, Mr. Shipman says they are getting enough return on their more than $100,000 investment to maintain their lifestyle.
Although thousands of new Canadians have arrived in Prince Edward Island since the PNP program started in 2001, only 43 chose to start a business, but in a province with a population of only slightly more than 142,000, 43 is a significant boost. Yet, the requirements of the immigrant entrepreneur program may be too high for some potential Canadians.
“In terms of a young entrepreneur wanting to come to this country, that threshold is completely unrealistic,” Mr. Martin said.
“Other people start a small business with $20,00 or $30,000,” said Peachy Yutangco, owner of Brampton, Ont.-based Organic Oven, an immigrant from the Philippines. Ms. Yutangco started her business — which recently added a cafe in Toronto and has a third location planned for Oakville, Ont. — with just $11,000 in 2001.
“It [would be] very difficult to come with $200,000 to invest and a net worth of $400,000 [being required by the government] in Canadian dollars,” she said.
Ms. Yutangco arrived in Canada in 1995, and after taking a computer course and working odd jobs at Tim Hortons and other bakeries, she landed a contract in electrical engineering. After her term was up, she found herself unemployed. With baking in the back of her mind, she enrolled in a program offered by employment insurance that taught her how to run a small business.
After tasting her baking, friends put their money where their mouths were. “I was able to start with the help of friends. Not from the banks,” Ms. Yutangco said, adding her first loan came only a year ago.
Organic Oven, which specializes in sugar, lactose and gluten-free baking, pulled in about $30,000 a month, with about 25% covering overhead costs, before the cafe opened this May. Her new location is bringing about $1,000 a day in sales, six days a week.
Ms. Yutangco’s success is testament to the fact no matter how big their investment, immigrant entrepreneurs bring ideas, capital, enthusiasm and, perhaps most importantly, people to the Canadian economy.