International Avenue’s Business Revitalization Zone looks to provide tools to new Canadian entrepreneurs to rejuvenate area
City council recently approved funding for the first phase of an initiative,c alled The Heart of the New East – Incubation Project, aimed to help immigrants reach their entrepreneurial potential along International Avenue.
Alison Karim-McSwiney, executive director of the International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone, has been at the centre of the new project with planning starting more than a year ago.
“There is much potential here ready to grow,” Karim-McSwiney told The Calgary Journal. “We are excited from this diversity.”
The goal is to create a community economic development strategy for International Avenue, or 17th Avenue S.E. This will uncover the potential of all local recourses in the area to create a vibrant business community.
“This will lay the path for a greater vision that will further include our ethnic community,” says Karim-McSwiney, and adds that already 35 to 40 per cent of local business are ethnically diverse. However, many new immigrants are still under-employed in the community.
Something unique and special about this project is that it is the first time in Calgary that a Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) will take the role of incubator for its community.
Andre Chabot, councillor for Ward 10, which covers 17th Avenue S.E., told The Calgary Journal that the program has great potential. “The intent is to create innovation in a very multicultural area,” Chabot says.
According to Chabot, many immigrants lack the financial means to get their credits recognized in the post-secondary system or to develop their entrepreneurial skills.
“What we found is that a lot of the new immigrants that come to this country have a lot of credentials that are recognized in other countries,” he says, “but have very limited credential recognition to practice their chosen careers and they end taking menial jobs.”
The councillor says the project looks to “bridging” those gaps and maximize the social capital that represent new immigrants and help existing business transition into the rejuvenation of 17th Avenue S.E. However, Chabot points out that despite the program’s primary target being new Canadians many Calgarians in the lower income social economic bracket can also benefit from this project.
Courtesy of Reginald Tiangha/Flickr. Creative Common Lisence
In addition to the local BRZ and The City of Calgary, Momentum and the Alberta Co-Operative Association are partners in this project.
Erin Melnychuk, business development manager at Momentum, has assisted in the development of this incubation project. Momentum is a local charitable organization that through community economic development has helped many Calgarians living on low income launche their own businesses.
About 60 per cent of participants in Momentum’s programs are new Canadians, Melnychuk told The Calgary Journal. Many members of this community can be underemployed due to language and/or cultural barriers or because their credentials aren’t recognized.
The program will uncover the potential of new immigrants’ entrepreneurial spirit. As Melnychuk explains, “Many newcomers were self-employed in their home countries or come from entrepreneurial families. Running your own business is much more common place in other parts of the world.”
According to Melnychuk, International Avenue has the ingredients for success beause the area has the largest BRZ in Calgary with over 35 blocks.
“There are a lot of assets that can be leveraged to revitalize the area, including underemployed individuals with entrepreneurial aspirations,” Melnychuk says.
Also, the community holds some long running successful businesses operated by immigrants who could make great mentors, and the incubator project would help to unite all these recourses with the greater community.
Courtesy of Reginal Tiangha/Flickr. Creative Commons License
Melnychuk adds, “With the proximity to the city centre, it’s only a matter of time before this business district reaches its full potential and it would be fantastic to say a project like this was instrumental in making that happen.”
“This is starting as a pilot project in the east side of the city, but I see this could easily transition to other areas of the city if it generates some positive results,” Chabot says. “Once we completed the project hopefully we can bring something to the city that we can expand to other areas.”
The project is divided into two steps. The first is researching the feasibility of community support for entrepreneurs at the neighbourhood scale. Then, through a demonstration project, an evaluation of the effectiveness of business incubation aimed at local immigrant entrepreneurs and underemployed population to improve a community’s economic development in the area. This will be done by providing “pop-up portable stores” and an underutilized storefront, which will create affordable and adequate workspace to local entrepreneurs to create economic opportunity and activity.