Cabinet shuffles bring with them the potential to breathe new life into a portfolio. Every department has room for more vision, and economic development in particular (one of the newly shuffled portfolios) is an area with seemingly limitless room to dive deep. The potential benefits go far beyond a possible increase in the GDP.
Small business continues to be the backbone of the economy, and diversity is key. Helping aspiring entrepreneurs to be successful is an investment in a community as much as it is in the economy. We have no shortage of talented, creative people on PEI taking their ideas to the next level, and accessing supports for those ideas can be relatively easy within a small number of fields. Broadening the range of what is supported would go a long way to diversifying, but even still, the failure rate for startups in their first 5 years is high.
This is where business incubators can come in. Incubators can be the catalyst for success that gets more businesses off on the right foot. Aspiring business leaders often lack resources, particularly if they don’t come into the business world already well connected. Incubators seek to provide the optimal conditions to maximize success. They offer human supports that are invaluable early on, such as mentoring and access to accounting or legal advice. They can create networking opportunities, give marketing assistance, and offer skills development training. Incubators can also offer access to workshops and seminars. Access to shared office spaces, professional meeting rooms and boardrooms can go a long way in the first few years. For many people, it can mean not having to spend limited resources in order to access basic infrastructure like copiers and printers.
Imagine the value of having incubators in some of our rural communities across PEI. They might even be located in some of the underutilized schools we heard so much about last year. A rural business incubator would also give entrepreneurs who wish to live outside of the main hubs access to high speed internet, a critical piece for nearly all new businesses.
Finding a way to secure all of these supports as someone new to the business world can be nearly impossible. I have long thought the absence of a true incubator program in Summerside was a significant oversight. Launchpad is offering incubator-like supports for businesses in IT, and across the province there is a number of programs geared at helping businesses thrive, but the criteria for accessing them can be surprisingly narrow, particularly if your idea doesn’t involve exports.
If a cabinet shuffle is to serve as more than just a new face on old approaches, it needs to bring with it an infusion of fresh ideas. I look forward to seeing what is presented in the months ahead.
Lynne Lund is the Green Party of PEI's Shadow Critic for Economic Development & Tourism, as well as Deputy Leader.