Business Retention Expansion in Nova Scotia, Canada

By: Lorraine Boyd, BREP –

The economic development landscape has changed in Nova Scotia, influenced by the release of two independent reports.  The first, Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians,1 also known as the Ivany Report.  The second, We Choose Now: A Playbook for Nova Scotians,2 lays out a plan for all sectors to work together to achieve the Ivany Report goals to create sustainable, long-term change and growth in Nova Scotia by citizens, business and government.

The Government has responded to these reports by developing a framework for private sector growth which describes how government is going to operate to enable the private sector to help achieve the Ivany Report goals.  The proposed framework states that Government and public support should focus on new start-ups and the retention and expansion of existing enterprises that hold measurable potential to increase employment and investment and that are aimed at export markets.1   The Government’s guiding principles indicate that its role is to be strategic; actions will be focused and decisions will be based on evidence and impact.

These goals, strategies and framework represent a distinct and definite shift in the economic development landscape in Nova Scotia.

In 2013 the Nova Scotia government moved to create the Regional Enterprise Networks (RENs).  The RENs are a provincial government initiative with the mandate to guide and navigate regional economic development, while providing support to business through collaboration with First Nations, municipal and provincial governments, and, businesses working together with a regional focus.

The RENs have three core activities they are mandated to carry out.  One of these core activities is to develop and implement a Business Retention and Expansion program (BR&E)  All RENs have made progress in implementing a BR&E initiative in their region.  And now all share the common brand of Business Now.   This unified brand is an important component of their regional strategies to address the impacts of local and regional economic conditions; and also report on business climate conditions. There will no doubt be refinements and adjustments over time ensuring that they keep their business focus as sharp as possible.

The Business Now program is maturing under the guidance and oversight of the Department of Municipal Affairs and mentorship from Halifax Partnership’s SmartBusiness team .  Both the Department and the Partnership have BREI certified staff that mentor the RENs in program development and implementation, and identify and deliver BR&E training opportunities.  The SmartBusiness program is an internationally recognized and award winning model which has been replicated in various jurisdictions since 2004 and this is one reason why Municipal Affairs is accessing this local expertise to create a trained, informed and supportive environment for the RENs to be successful in rolling out their Business Now program.

As we know a BR&E visitation program is a team effort focused on understanding and meeting the needs of local businesses.  The BR&E methodology captures the essence of what the Nova Scotia government felt needed to happen in Nova Scotia.  The Government wants relationships built between businesses and service providers that can identify opportunities or barriers to growth and then navigate the business to programs and service providers that meet their need.  A well run BR&E program fits the bill.

The RENs are building their partner networks to provide seamless navigation in matching services to businesses’ needs, outcomes are being monitored and will be analyzed to determine future actions for businesses or regional issues.

BR&E programs can begin to see results very quickly, especially in service delivery to businesses.  However, the benefits arising from gathering business intelligence can take longer, perhaps a year to 18 months after the first business visit.  A good rule of thumb is ‘once you survey at least 90 businesses in your region, you will have captured enough data to draw from for a good reflection of your community, anything over and above that number generally does not drastically change your results.’3

Since the inception of BR&E in the 1970s, two broad approaches to implementing a program have emerged.  These two approaches have been labeled “traditional” and “continuous” (Kraybill 1999).4 Today, these types of programs, as well as variations on each type, are in operation throughout the United States and Canada.

While the goals of BR&E programs can vary, they all have common elements:

·      Leadership by economic development organizations and the community

A shared belief by local economic development professionals that it is easier and less expensive to retain existing businesses that it is to lure new businesses (the same thing is true for business owners

·      Partner organizations are important to success

·      Interview process and questionnaire

Data analysis and interpretation skills

·      Regular reports documenting activities and progress

·      Measures to assess program success

In addition, it is widely known that the benefits of implementing a BR&E are:

·      It is easier and less expensive to retain existing businesses than it is to lure new businesses

·      Keeping the business base is good for development and growth of smaller service firms

·      Existing businesses are best positioned locally to replace job losses due to retirements, business closings, and product life cycles ending.

·      An added benefit for BR&E is that existing businesses are ambassadors for industry recruitment.

The BR&E model delivered in Nova Scotia is the “continuous” model.  The long-term success of the continuous model in Nova Scotia is due to the use of paid economic development staff, and other administrative and technical supports provided through this model.  The business community enjoy a trusted systematic process which focuses on relationship development within a sound governance framework relating to data collection and privacy of information.  The continuous model is also ‘dynamic’ and can respond to external events and changing conditions.

One of the strengths of the Nova Scotia BR&E program has been the governance framework on which the program has been implemented.  The structured approach Nova Scotia has adopted helps with buy-in, development and consistency of the program.  It should be noted that as programs progress, they require a linkage mechanism that ensures alignment between business strategy and direction, and the path to outcomes over the life of the program.  This linkage program can help a BR&E program sustain its potential and deliver its promised value.  To achieve the necessary linkages, oversight and control a program must develop and institute an effective governance framework.3

The economic development playing field in Nova Scotia is occupied by several agencies with diverse mandates, all of whom are united by the goal of promoting the economic well-being of our communities and the province as a whole.  Some of these stakeholders have emerged to support the benefits of a sustainable province-wide BR&E program and have generated unique partnerships with the RENs.  As the initiative continues to mature, other partners are being engaged to provide support services in various ways to improve the effectiveness of the network.

Another important component of the Business Now initiative is the continual training and educational opportunities provided to participants.  Municipal Affairs in partnership with Business Retention and Expansion International (BREI) is able to offer BREI continuing education workshops designed and hosted by BREI certified trainers (  In addition, operational and other types of training are offered by Municipal Affairs and Halifax Partnership throughout the year.

My final observation is that it is important for everyone to understand the basic philosophy underlying a BR&E program – communities benefit far more by working together to support the health of existing local businesses, than to attract new businesses from elsewhere.

OneNS Coalition1;  We Choose Now2;  Hank Cothran, Instructor, BREI training, Halifax 20083;  Kraybill, D. 1995. Retention and Expansion First. Ohio’s Challenge 84;  Louisiana Community Network, Business Retention & Expansion, 2012;  Case Study: Business Retention and Expansion Programs – Winnipeg, Canada:  MillerDickinsonBlais, March 31, 2013;  Michael F. Hanford (November 13, 2007). Defining program governance and structure. Article retrieved February 3, 2011 from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s