By Karen Bradley
From the United Nations Sustainable Development program on down, there’s surprising agreement that developing locally based businesses, especially businesses founded by young people, is a key to reducing rural poverty.
t’s a common complaint that the planners in HRM’s urban core pay little attention to the overwhelmingly rural areas of HRM’s Eastern Shore. But a recent UN report points out that what happens in rural areas, economically and agriculturally, is critical to the viability of a region.
For example, to improve rural job creation, the UN report points to farming, processing, building rural infrastructure, and the “sustainable management of natural resources, waste, and residues” as having the most potential. And just how should we develop those jobs? The UN suggests that the best way may be to empower women and youth, via cooperatives and bottom-up development.
I was able to speak with Michael Shuman about the link between youth and local jobs. Shuman is the author of several books and many reports on strengthening local rural economies (The Local Economy Solution and Local Dollars, Local Sense are two of his books.) “There are 4-5 studies that I cite to document that in communities across the US, local youth-founded businesses produce a higher per capita growth rate,” Shuman said. “A different analysis of communities shows that where there is the highest density of youth business, there is also the greatest reduction of poverty. And we know from a pretty robust set of findings that local businesses spend more of their money locally and this grows the local economy.”
Another study from B.C. concludes that about 2.6 times as many local jobs are created when spending is directed to independent businesses instead of chains. Shuman has written about research that shows that larger businesses with absentee owners spend elsewhere, so the local multiplier has a much weaker impact.
So what are people doing about this on the Shore? I spoke with Kathy Spearing, who is overseeing a program at the Old School in Musquodoboit Harbour in which 15 local youth are engaged in a fulltime program to develop their own businesses, go back to school, or find jobs. One of their first tasks is to learn what’s already available. “Our region is so spread,” Spearing said, “that young people often don’t get to know about the resources and services that are available. For example, we took them to visit Memory Lane; most had no idea the Shore had such a place. We offered them short-term work placements with local businesses and organizations, which also gave employers the opportunity to see future employees.”
“One participant was intrigued when we visited a local farm. He went back to do a work placement on that farm and he is now starting his own farm in Sheet Harbour. Professionals are now helping him create and build that business.”
One student summed it up this way to me: “We are learning how to start a business. I want to have that control over my life. Most of us have had jobs but haven’t yet found our niche. We have something to offer society but we don’t necessarily know what that is. But now I have more hope—there’s more out there than we know.”
So let’s all consider that the responsibility for growing our economy may not lie entirely with government and big industry initiatives. Our communities have a wealth of intelligent young people who need pathways and visions, and most of all, local support. We have local resources and knowledge about how to preserve and utilize our resources. Imagine: what could the Shore and the Valley become?