New study urges Atlantic Canada’s smaller communities to import less, produce more

Robert Cervelli in Shelburne last week (photo: screen capture from film of presentation)

A small, non-profit organization says Atlantic Canada could create thousands of jobs and rejuvenate its smaller communities by replacing some of the goods and services those communities import with locally produced ones.

The Nova-Scotia-based Centre for Local Prosperity released a 56-page study last week showing that in 2012, Atlantic Canada imported $11 billion more in goods and services than it exported to other places. New Brunswick’s trade deficit was about $1.4 billion while Nova Scotia’s was $4.8 billion.

“One of the analogies we use is small communities tend to be like leaky buckets,” the Centre’s Executive Director Robert Cervelli said last week in Shelburne, N.S. during a town hall presentation that has been posted online.

He added that money leaks out of communities when they buy imported goods and services instead of producing their own.

Cervelli showed a slide of a typical fast-food strip.

“We’ve all seen strips like this,” he said, “you’ve driven down them, all the big brand names, you know what they look like.”

He added that smaller communities have been quietly co-opted by international businesses like those on commercial strips as well as banks, insurance companies and big retail stores that are highly efficient at funnelling consumer dollars from local economies into their headquarters in faraway cities.

Cervelli said a statistical analysis conducted as part of the study showed that four out of every ten dollars that circulate in Atlantic Canada leak out of local economies this way.

The study found that if people shifted 10 per cent of their spending from imports to local goods and services, the four Atlantic provinces would gain 43,000 jobs, $2.6 billion in wages and $219 million in new tax revenue.

Focus groups

Slide illustrating leaky rural bucket

Aside from statistical analysis, the study on import replacement (IR) is also based on a series of eight focus group discussions conducted with local residents as well as business and community leaders in four communities: Miramichi, N.B., Shelburne, N.S., Souris, P.E.I. and the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland.

Karen Foster, a professor at Dalhousie who specializes in rural economic development, said the focus group sessions showed that people understand the need to produce and buy more local goods and services.

“People were not at all surprised by this idea of import replacement,” she said during the Shelburne town hall meeting. “They wanted to plug the leaks in their community…people understand the need to plug the leaky bucket.”

Foster said the one of the main barriers people in rural communities face when they try to start their own businesses is that government regulations are biased against small, locally owned outfits in favour of bigger businesses such as the chains that can be seen on commercial strips.

She also mentioned that small rural businesses can have trouble attracting enough workers and some, such as tourist operators, have difficulty getting insurance.

Success stories

Meantime, Cervelli said imported food and energy are the easiest imports to replace.

He pointed, for example, to ACFOR, a small company in Cocagne, N.B. that uses selective harvesting to produce wood chips for heating public buildings while restoring the Acadian forest. He also mentioned New Brunswick’s Farm to School project in which school cafeterias serve locally produced food.

The study outlines a series of steps local communities can take, such as setting up a broad-based group to work on finding ways to produce more local goods and services.

It says municipal and provincial governments can also help by buying more local goods and services, providing incentives for community investments and changing regulations and zoning restrictions that inhibit small businesses.

Gregory Heming

Gregory Heming, a municipal councillor in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis County and a founder of the Centre for Local Prosperity, told the town hall meeting in Shelburne that his municipality has set certain goals including producing 80 per cent of its own energy and food by the year 2050.

Heming, who holds a PhD in ecological studies, says the prevailing wisdom of economic experts is that businesses have to learn to compete on global markets. But, he adds, it makes sense for smaller communities to become more self-sufficient instead, generating local wealth instead of importing goods and services from afar.

“The more you can produce locally, the better off you are,” he said. “This study and this documentation gives me great hope in the power and strength of local people and local government.”


To view a six-page summary of the study on import replacement, click here.

To read the full study, click here.

To watch the town hall presentation last week in Shelburne, click here.

Note: The Centre for Local Prosperity says it plans to hold a series of regional meetings and workshops in the coming year to discuss its study on import replacement.

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11 Responses to New study urges Atlantic Canada’s smaller communities to import less, produce more

  1. bruce graham says:

    Great ideas !



    • marilyn lerch says:

      this group has been doing substantial work for years and we need to build on their ideas.
      why do we need a Robins, or Dunkin Donuts, or whatever corporation, when we have wonderful pastry, dessert makers in town, for example. That’s why something like a community bank that gets small entrepreneurs up and going is an idea that needs to be looked at. oh, and it doesn’t have to be drive- ins.

      • Wendy Alder says:

        Drive thrus will help to bring more people off the highway and hopefully keep my business going for years to come! With changes the government has made to fuel tax rates and HST rates it has had a major impact on our business. There are drive thrus in every town and city; it’s time the ban be removed in my opinion. Not saying we need 10 more but one on exit 506 would help a small business like ours survive. But everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have over 1,000 signatures in support of council changing the bylaw. Cheers

  2. Percy Best says:

    Sackville is a prime example of the uphill battle that small entrepreneurs face with each attempted business effort when they try to create more local jobs. It appears we do NOT have the backing of an Economic Development plan and basically nobody in place to bring one into play, despite the multitude of promises put forward during the last municipal election campaign. We are sitting here at the HUB of the Maritimes with the busy TCH on our doorstep. We are not at the far reaches of Cape Breton or in the middle of the Renous Forest. We have to take advantage of our gift.

    Dieppe, for example,has increased its population from just over 3,000 in 1951 to well over 25,000 today. Now, just take a look at what has happened to Sackville’s population since ’51. Mount Allison has grown its staff by almost double since then but yet our overall area population has basically remained the same at a shade over 5,000. The Town of Sackville (without Mt A) has shrunk its population much more than one realizes because of this. One cannot continue to ride along on the coattail of the University.

    If Sackville wants assessments of existing homes and businesses to increase, then the Town Council desperately needs to take some of the ten million dollars they annually budget for running the Town and redirect it towards an ambitious and thoroughly researched Economic Development plan. The time is LONG past due.

    • Wendy Alder says:


      • Rima Azar says:

        Marilyn (Lerch), you are right. We do have delicious local talents.

        This being said, very well said, Percy (Best). I agree with you and Wendy (Alder).

        Ms. Alder, thank you again for the great service to your clients. It is an honour for me to be part of the 1000 signatures you collected.

  3. Joanne MacPherson says:

    I think domestic food production would boom if there were tax incentives and grants to get this back in business here. We need federal inspection plants built, commercial kitchens, tax incentives for food producers, and funding programs to offset the expensive barriers from field to market.

  4. Sharon Hicks says:

    This article touches on a subject which is dear to my heart – the idea of producing and consuming locally as much as possible. Even if this sometimes means paying a little more for a local product or service, this slight disadvantage is more than balanced by the overall benefits of spending dollars within our local area. Various studies have clearly demonstrated that money spent to support a local business has widespread benefits for the entire community. Each dollar spent locally, according to one such study, touches at least seven different people before it leaves the community. This alone is a powerful reason to Shop Local.

    The study cited in this article encompasses the entire Atlantic region, but perhaps one should look first at our own local area, as Percy has suggested in his comment.

    There is currently a move afoot in our town to encourage residents to SHOP LOCAL, which has so far been met with varying degrees of interest and support. The most obvious advantage to shopping locally is that more dollars would remain here in town, with far-reaching benefits for other businesses and individuals located here, when you consider the “rule of seven” mentioned previously.

    Shopping for daily commodities in other localities can be seen as a form of “importing”.

    When the bulk of our shopping is done outside our own boundaries, it means that every dollar we spend in another community goes to support and benefit up to seven people in that other community.

    Lack of support for local business means there will eventually be no local business to support.

    Many people cite ‘lack of availability’ as the main reason they shop elsewhere. The problem with this rationale, however, is that they end up not just buying the items they cannot find locally, they will do ALL of their shopping “while they are there anyway”, rather than continuing to seek out what they can get here ‘first’, before heading farther afield to pay out their hard-earned dollars.

    This becomes a vicious cycle, since the more money we spend elsewhere, the less support there is for local business, and those few shops which do still remain here could eventually be forced to close their doors, like so many others have been forced to do in the past half century, reducing Sackville from a once-thriving self-sufficient town to largely a ‘bedroom community’ which supports nearby larger centres.

    In time, if the impetus to “shop local” were to become more successful, it could result in more local stores being able to remain open, and could also attract new businesses to locate here in our midst.

    • Rima Azar says:

      Thank you Sharon. I can only agree and I feel like sharing the following: I always feel proud, moved, (and amused :)) when I see my mom recycling a beautiful cloth gift bag from the Craft Gallery of our own Sackville (NB) when she is doing her daily groceries in their neighbourhood in Beirut (Lebanon). Mind you, all my relatives (I have lots of them– all over the planet :)) and friends have souvenirs from all our great stores in town and from Mount A’s bookstore.

      • Sharon Hicks says:

        What a great story Rima – about your mum recycling our Craft Gallery gift bags!! I’ll be sure to pass that along to the rest of the CG members – it’s always rewarding to find out our efforts are appreciated 🙂

  5. Jim says:

    If we look at the food industry side of things, why are we buying apples, carrots, etc. From foreign sources when our farmers are leaving crops in the field? Our population needs to be educated in the ways supporting local benefits the whole local economy. Our government is the same. Large companies have no problem stepping up to get start up funding . But let a small business look for start up funding and it’s , ” Oh, no. We can’t do that!”

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