THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Carlo Simmons is proudly carrying on his father’s legacy.
Since he took over his father’s paving operation, Simmons Paving Co., Simmons and his family have been building the business of finishing residential and commercial paving projects — and securing needed employment for the community.
Started in 1974 in North Preston, Simmons Paving Co. was the first black business to be incorporated in Nova Scotia. It has since gone on to receive two entrepreneurial awards in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
“I think we’ve inspired several of the younger generation to start up their own paving businesses too,” said Simmons. “There are probably six paving businesses now.
“They say to themselves, ‘look, if they can do it, we can do it.’ And if you do a little extra than the ordinary, that’s what makes you extraordinary,” he said.
Simmons’ positive business approach is something he says he inherited from his father, but for business support over the past 20 years, he credits the Black Business Initiative (BBI).
The Black Business Initiative (BBI) is celebrating two decades of fostering black business growth in Nova Scotia across a broad range of growth sectors.
“BBI had an impact on our marketing by setting us up with an advertising specialist about a decade ago for a new logo, branding of our trucks, business cards and signage,” said Simmons.
“But they helped with many business startups with financing options and know who to reach out to in the community for resources.”
That knowledge certainly helped Lisa Coates establish Level Ten Landworks in Purdy’s Wharf last September, but she’s rarely there as she navigates between project sites and suppliers. A background in real estate inspired her to start her own home and commercial renovation business after moving back to Nova Scotia from Massachusetts.
In addition to construction tools, Coates needed business tools and skills.
“I don’t know where my business would be today without BBI,” said Coates. “They believed in me and helped my decision and my vision become real by ensuring I was funded.”
Because she was a self-employed woman, most lenders turned her away. “There’s nothing more challenging not getting the start-up capital than you need,” she said.
“When I look back on the past 20 years, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride,” said BBI CEO Rustum Southwell.
More than 340 loans and community development grants have been issued to businesses and community organizations, and more than 800 new jobs created over the past two decades.
Established in 1996, the government of Canada and the province of Nova Scotia set up the BBI to address the unique needs confronting the black business community in Nova Scotia. Today, the BBI is currently core funded by the federally administered Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the province of Nova Scotia through Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI), with some programming from Labour and Advance Education (LAE).
“We have been able to make tremendous strides toward creating economic sustainability for black entrepreneurs and a better future for our youth,” said Southwell, who has been with the organization since its inception in 1996, and is now back after a four-year absence.
“This is our story and it continues, right now.”
BBI is holding a series of events across the province now and regional events into 2017.
Dec. 1 is its official 20th anniversary launch event.
For the first time in four years, BBI is bringing back the Black Business Summit in June of 2017. The Business of the Year Award and Entrepreneur of the Year Award will also be re-introduced at this event.