Indigenous business forecast indicates continued growth
- Angela Hill | January 18, 2019
According to business experts in Saskatchewan, 2018 was a good year for Indigenous business growth and development in the province, with 2019 looking like it will continue the trend.
“We’ve seen lot of growth in partnerships. First Nations are looking to expand and diversify,” said Shaun Soonias, executive director of the Saskatchewan First Nations Economic Development Network (SFNEDN). He points to File Hills Qu’Appelle Developments making partnerships in construction business as an example.
The work of FQH Developments president and CEO Thomas Benjoe caught the eye of Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. McLellan said young leaders like Benjoe and Cadmus Delorme, Chief of Cowessess First Nation, are standing out.
“People have stepped up in many significant ways and become leaders,” he said.
McLellan said positive relationship building is one of the most significant changes he saw in 2018 that he expects will carry forward to 2019. In the past some companies would engage in a quick in-an-out business approach with Indigenous communities and organizations, he said and added people are now understanding that long-term relationships are better business.
“It’s how strong companies become strong companies,” he said. “Go to a table and stay at the table and have a conversation on how to move projects forward.”
The Clarence Campeau Development Fund (CCDF), the Métis Financial Institution, sees 2019 as a year to continue projects, including the Métis Community Capacity Strategy. The five-year pilot project is working with nine Saskatchewan Métis communities to identify business opportunities and build capacity ensuring that the communities are able to capitalize on business opportunities, generate wealth, and provide employment opportunities for Metis people, wrote Pam Larson, the fund’s CEO.
Already four communities have started or purchased businesses and three are working on potential opportunities. One of the 2019 goals is to have all the communities in business by the end of the year.
In 2018 the fund supported 48 businesses with $7.5 million, which created 335 jobs, Larson said.
“We’ve seen a huge increase over the past two years and we are hoping the trend continues,” she said.
Among the CCDF focuses for 2019 is taking advantages of growth in the tech sector and, following the 2018 announcement of the federal governments Women Entrepreneurship Strategy providing increased services to women.
“We’re going to focus on helping more women get into business,” Larson said.
She said that Indigenous procurement is a big topic right now for governments of all levels, as federal, provincial and municipal leaders want to work with Indigenous communities. The CCDF as well as Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce are creating programs to support this desire.
“The objective is to identify opportunities for broader inclusion within the supply chain and leverage the spend to benefit indigenous businesses,” wrote Larson in an email about their work.
As he looks towards 2019, Soonias said he expects to see more examples of First Nations entering emerging sectors such as exploring private health care opportunities.
“I think that something that will be trending is a lot more First Nations looking at the green energy sector,” he said.
Soonias also said he predicts agriculture being a growing trend. From traditional farming to cannabis and the production of hemp. Communities are starting to explore new agriculture techniques, such as vertical farming, agriculture and aquaculture.
“A lot more First Nations are starting to look at how we can take advantage of all the lands we have,” he said.
Another trend to watch for is an uptick in Indigenous tourism. Global tourism markets are looking to experience more about culture and Saskatchewan First Nations are numerous, Soonias said.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity for Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan to share our story and culture,” he said.
There is space for hunting and trapping industries within the tourism sector, said McLellan.
“The growth in 2019, this may not be the quite tipping year for Indigenous engagement in Saskatchewan and Indigenous business, but it’s getting us a lot closer,” he said. “I think in 2019 there’s going to be intellectual growth, I think there will clearly be some business growth and all of that, let’s hope, it’s based upon the tenets of the Reconciliation Calls to Action and therefore a shared, sincere desire that we grow together.”