When it comes to running a business of any size, few can deny that location is critical to survival. This new monthly series highlights some of the advantages and disadvantages of operating in remote or rural communities through interviews with small businesses across the country.
Kirk Havercroft is the CEO of and owner Sustainable Fish Farming (Canada) Ltd., a company based in Hants County, Nova Scotia. The company is also a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Canada's largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 109,000 members across every sector and region.
Sustainable Fish Farming (Canada) Ltd. grows salt water Atlantic salmon in a land-based fish farm using technology which has been developed internally. This technology ensures that 100 per cent of the water in the fish farm is cleaned and re-used meaning the farm is no longer dependent on sources of salt water for its operation. Future expansion could therefore take place away from coastal areas, close to the metropolitan markets they serve, offering significant benefits to product shelf life, quality, freshness and transport costs. Atlantic salmon (and other marine species) could soon be farmed on the outskirts of Toronto or Calgary serving restaurants and retail establishments with locally grown, native and exotic marine fish. The company was founded in 2007 and currently operates in Centre Burlington, a small village in Hants County, Nova Scotia with a population of less than 200.
What position do you hold and do you have employees?
I am the CEO and the company has five full-time and three part-time employees.
Location is obviously important when it comes to running a business: What challenges do you face operating in a small town or rural community?
Our choice of location was originally guided by certain limiting factors where the focus was on technical success of the prototype plant rather than commercial considerations. As such, we operate in a very rural location in Nova Scotia. The challenges include not having access to a large pool of skilled and qualified labour. Logistical difficulties in bringing a broad array of components and items of equipment from all over the world in a timely, cost effective manner. There's also high logistical cost in sending product to market.
What strategies do you use to overcome these obstacles?
We offer very competitive salary rates in order to attract key people from far afield, we have to make it attractive enough to consider relocating. We partner with key suppliers on standard equipment who we know hold inventory of the components we require, this ensures order lead times on equipment are kept to a minimum. We produce a low volume and high demand niche product which commands a price premium in the market, this ultimately gives some flex in the absorption of high logistical costs.
Alternately, what are some of the benefits of operating in a rural or remote location?
Community support tends to be extremely high. Local residents are usually keen to see the business succeed and quick to lend their support to project expansion. Locally hired employees demonstrate high levels of loyalty resulting in low staff turnover. There is often government financial support available for projects which create jobs in rural locations.
What role – if any – does the government play in addressing your specific business pain points?
As a startup project in land based aquaculture, typically a high-risk profile business, access to funding has been challenging at times. We have received financial assistance from both the Federal and Provincial Government which has been critical in establishing the business. There are however no other areas where government takes a role in addressing our various challenges.
Given that hiring is often difficult in smaller communities, do you have a succession plan in place or do you hope to sell your business when you retire?
Our succession plan involves the creation of a standard technology platform which would allow fish farms to be built and operated by third parties under licence from ourselves. In this way, expansion can take place outside of the present rural location in a format similar to franchising.