SUNDRE — The municipality did not hesitate to participate in a provincial program with the objective of incentivizing immigrant investors to either start up a new or buy an existing business in town.
Sundre’s economic development officer said the potential beneficial ripple effects extend beyond stimulating increased business activity and by extension job growth as well as increased revenue for the town, but also fostering a more vibrant and culturally diverse community with an influx of new families.
“It’s not just about the economics spinoffs,” Jonathan Allan said on Wednesday, Sept. 7 during an interview. “It’s about the community and cultural spinoffs that the Town of Sundre will also be able to benefit from as well.”
The Town of Didsbury also applied to be part of the program.
Sundre was this past June approved to participate in the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP) under the Rural Entrepreneur Stream (RES).
The latter enables Alberta to nominate qualified and capable entrepreneurs who aspire to run a business in a rural community. The former defines rural communities in the province as any municipality with a population of fewer than 100,000 people and must additionally be located outside of the Calgary and Edmonton census metropolitan areas.
“There has been a lot of interest. I’ve been getting multiple emails a week from people around the world,” said Allan, adding when asked, “I’ve had people reach out from China, from India, from Pakistan, from Germany, from Kenya – people are reaching out from around the world with a desire to come to Canada. Thanks to this new program, rural communities like Sundre are now high on the list of potential immigrant investors.”
There are of course certain eligibility criteria as with any program.
“Their operations or their business activity need to be non-passive,” he said. “So, they can’t just invest in something and have it generate income for them; they need to actually be actively creating a business and they have to actively hire a Canadian (or permanent resident).”
Additionally, applicants must be under the age of 49 and have a net worth of at least $300,000 as well as be prepared to invest a minimum of $200,000 of their own capital and also meet a level of English language proficiency, he said.
“This very important working-age demographic with a healthy net worth will bring a lot of potential vitality to the community,” he said.
Among the sectors being promoted for potential investments include transportation, housing, health and medicine, craft culinary operations such as a craft brewery or value added food processing, and tourism, he said.
“Those are areas where we think there might be a good fit for new businesses,” he said.
Through his professional network of contacts, Allan said he had been aware the program – which he said was modelled off of similar initiatives in other provinces – was being developed more than a year before it was officially announced.
“I was eager to promote it from day one. I knew that this program would have legs and as soon as it finally became public, I wanted Sundre to jump on it right away,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic program to help incentivize immigrant investors to look at rural communities instead of just the larger centres where they typically tend to gravitate toward.”
Eligible candidates who qualify for the program and choose to make Sundre their new home would then at first meet virtually with the municipality’s economic development department or make arrangements through an immigration consultancy, he said.
“If they are highly interested, we would encourage them to also come to Sundre directly for an exploratory visit in person,” he said, adding they by that point should be prepared to outline in detail their business case and why they should receive a letter of support from the municipality to help expedite the permit process through the federal government.
“They’ll need to complete what’s called a Rural Entrepreneur Stream business proposals summary,” he said, adding that’s a provincial requirement.
From the municipality’s perspective, he said candidates are also expected to provide an expression of intent not only to move to Sundre, but also show they are in the process of planning to enrol any children they might have at local schools.
“And that’s what we want to see – it’s not just about only creating a business in town; it’s about creating vitality in our community. We want these people from around the world to feel welcome here and to become part of the fabric of our diverse community,” he said.
The next step would then be for the municipality to issue a community support letter to endorse their business proposal summary, after which the potential immigrant investor will then be able to submit an official expression of interest to the provincial government through the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program.
Once approved at that level, he said they’ll be encouraged to meet with the municipality’s planning and development staff to ensure all of their permits are applied for.
And the final step, he added, is “we welcome them with open arms.”
Business succession planning
While the municipality hopes “to get some more shovels in the ground” to get new businesses built, Allan said the program also has the potential to play an important role in local business succession planning.
“Should this program pan out and any of the myriad of expressions of interest that we have received so far from people around the world actually turn into a proper investment, it will benefit the community based on the potential for business continuity in the community,” he said.
“If there’s anybody who is planning on retiring, we may be able to help them find a buyer for their business.”
The alternative tends to be the outright closure of a longstanding community business when the owners eventually retire without a plan to hand the operation off to new owners, he said.
“Business succession planning is a major issue in many communities because it’s hard for people who operate their own mom and pop shops to find buyers,” he said, adding there are situations where people who have operated their business for 30 years decide to step down but don’t always know how or where to find a buyer.
“And then what happens is, of course, the business closes. And it’s very sad time for a community and a business owner.”
So, the program’s potential is multi-pronged.
“We’re talking business succession planning, we’re talking new business development, we’re talking employment for for Canadians, and then we’re talking about having a more vibrant community,” he said.
“It is almost surely going to bring some success to rural Alberta, and I hope that Sundre will be able to get a large part of that pie of success.”
For more information, visit the municipality’s website www.sundre.com and click on "Rural Entrepreneur Stream for Immigrant Investors" under the "Business & Development" tab, which also includes links to the provincial government's website that further outlines eligibility criteria.
“Being that program is still very new, we are still waiting to have our first application come in,” said Allan. “I’m very confident that we’ll see our first application soon, and issue our first support letter soon after that.”