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A general view shows the Al Maysat roundabout in Damascus March 11, 2012. (KHALED AL-HARIRI)
A general view shows the Al Maysat roundabout in Damascus March 11, 2012. (KHALED AL-HARIRI)

Small Business Briefing

Turmoil in Syria pays off in some sectors Add to ...

The latest news and information for entrepreneurs from across the web universe, brought to you by the Report on Small Business team. Follow us on Twitter @GlobeSmallBiz. Download our app here.

Black markets fill the voids

Opportunistic builders, loan sharks and black market importers have all done well from the uprising in Syria, Reuters reports.

According to residents of urban centres, security firms, particularly those selling closed-circuit cameras and thick steel doors to citizens who want to beef up home safety, have seen a sales boom. The same goes for the construction industry. "We saw a lot of illegal building in the first few months of the revolution, not only because people were afraid of inflation but because many people had plans to build but they didn't have licences," economist Jihad Yazigi said over the phone from Damascus.

With bank loans nearly impossible to acquire, unlicensed loan sharks are filling the gaps. Bank deposits have shrunk almost a third since the unrest began. And because, due to scarcity, few banks will sell foreign currency, and with demand growing as the Syrian pound weakens, bazaar-based currency traders have profited from panic buying.

The government has also increased customs tariffs on some imports to prevent currency from leaving the country. As a result, Syrians in need of foreign-manufactured goods, such as drugs, have been forced to the black market. They're heading there, too, to obtain oil and gas, as prices continue to rise.

Some Syrian manufacturing companies have managed to exploit the turmoil, though anecdotal evidence suggests the economic crisis is so severe that even the most savvy entrepreneurs are probably only breaking even. Any benefits are likely short term, as cash-starved residents find it increasingly difficult to afford even the most basic goods.

Alberta needs workers

Calgary Chamber of Commerce chief economist Ben Brunnen has told the Calgary Herald that labour shortages are the largest impediment to the province's economic growth. “The Alberta economy is going to be leading the Canadian economy in growth for the foreseeable future and labour shortages are essentially the biggest hindrance to achieving our potential.” A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that concerns about labour shortages have been rising since December, 2009, when15 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed said it was one of their main operating constraints. In a follow-up survey from the CFIB in February, 2012, 46 per cent of business owners noted the shortage of skilled labour was limiting their ability to increase sales or production, making it the top operating challenge in Alberta. A recent estimate from the provincial government identified a worker shortfall of 114,000 jobs by 2021.

Can an entrepreneur suffer from burnout?

In the latest Entrepreneurial Tightrope advice column by USA Today contributor Gladys Edmunds, a reader who has owned a health-and-fitness centre for 23 years asks: Can an entrepreneur suffer from burnout? "Maybe you have reached the completion of your time in the health and fitness business," Ms. Edmunds suggests. "Review the past few years of your life. Do you find yourself taking the same route to your company? Passing the same people who are doing the same things, day after day? Do you eat the same basic lunch at the same time in the same old places? Your description of a 'day-to-day grind' implies that things have fallen into a predictable routine." She recommends business owners make a list of things they want to do before they die, and use it to start living life more fully.


Food for thought

Do you have a great idea for a food business, including the areas of catering, café, food cart, personal chef, restaurant or making and selling food at markets or to other shops? Want to learn more before you venture into a business from home or another existing location? A morning workshop in Waterloo, Ont., is designed to provide information and a forum to ask questions. Takes place April 4, from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Cost is $10, plus HST.

Thoughts on leadership

On March 29, in Vancouver, thousands of leaders from across Canada will gather to discover the ideas and trends that are shaping the future of leadership. The Art of Leadership is a day-long conference featuring six bestselling authors and visionaries, who will share their thoughts and experiences on today’s most critical issues.


The business of big ideas

Instead of guilting business owners into embracing innovation, guest columnist Ken Tencer prefers to remind them that their instinct for discovery and disruption is the reason they became entrepreneurs in the first place. Big ideas made them happy. And big ideas can put the bounce back into their step, and the rev in their revenue statements.


Doing work in hot zones

Former soldiers have always traded on their expertise to sell safety where anarchy reigns. But even the most battle-hardened commandos are humbled by the challenges of starting a company, Colin Freeze wrote in November, 2011. Running a small business is not for the faint of heart. Security is a crowded, competitive field that forces ex-soldiers to navigate market niches with an agility that wasn't often needed in the bureaucratic leviathans from which they hail. Trying to find ways to stand out from the competition can seem counterintuitive, given that their past bosses prided themselves on stamping out individualism.

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