The City of Sherbrooke and its paramunicipal development agency, Sherbrooke Innopole, held a joint press conference on Wednesday morning to present actions that are being taken to make the city a more attractive place to start and run a business. The announcement took place in the context of “Entreprendre Sherbrooke week” an event to highlight local entrepreneurship, and drew inspiration from issues highlighted in recent small-business roundtable discussions across the city.
“The thing we hear, the killer phrase, is that it is complicated to do things in Sherbrooke,” said Mayor Bernard Sévigny. “The least we can do is respond to these concerns.”
Citing a higher than average amount of bureaucratic red-tape involved in getting the permissions needed to start a new business in the community, the Mayor announced the creation of a working group aimed at exploring ways to make the local business environment more attractive to newcomers. He pointed out that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has named Sherbrooke one of Canada’s top five entrepreneurial cities only two years ago, recently ranked the city 47th in the country on that same list and said that the disconnect between the needs of businesses and the procedures of the municipal government are to blame.
“We don’t want to be number 47, we want to be number one,” Sévigny said emphasizing that speed is of the essence in making adjustments because while the issue drags on, the city’s economy suffers. “We’ve lost many potential businesses to this and are at risk of losing more.”
While the Mayor said it is in the hands of the working group to determine the details of how to move forward on the issues at hand, he foresees a need for administrative restructuring of the city’s permits service over the coming winter.
Josée Fortin, the Executive Director of Sherbrooke Innopole, expressed gratitude to the city for recognizing the issues facing local businesses and beginning the process of trying to find solutions.
Taking things in a related but different direction, the Innopole Director pointed out that there is a great deal of entrepreneurial energy that has been built up in the city over the last few years without a comfortable of competitive environment in which to foster that energy and help it grow.
“When things come from above it helps,” Fortin said, expressing that the engagement of the municipality represents an important step in breaking down local barriers that are sending attractive businesses elsewhere.
Sherbrooke Innopole has put a lot of focus in the development of Life Sciences industries in the Sherbrooke area, but the Executive Director said that start-ups in that field lack access to collaborative rental space that can be a big help in the early days of a business. Because of the need for scientific laboratories, facilities suited to the needs of the life sciences are rarely available outside of the university or CEGEP context.
To that end, Sherbrooke Innopole is currently waiting for approval from the City Council on a multimillion dollar complex in the Sciences Park next to the CHUS in Fleurimont. Fortin said she is waiting on council approval before discussing the cost of the project publically, but expressed that the plan is to fund the construction in a public-private partnership with the city, with construction starting in 2016.
The Executive Director speculated that while some might ask why a new facility needs to be built when Sherbrooke has spaces sitting empty and explained that the conversion costs involved in installing the kind of equipment needed in such a space resulted in a much higher cost than simply building new. She then added that since Life Sciences businesses interact a lot with the hospital, the underdeveloped Sciences Park is an ideal location which also presents start-ups with space to expand into should they grow beyond the services of the co-op space.
Sherbrooke Innopole will also be creating two new funds to help support young entrepreneurs in association with several local partner organizations.