Wage wars
Tough to keep staff, says entrepreneur

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Mar 27/00) - Small-business owner Suzanne Laliberte has a beef with the Nunavut Government, but not one of the usual concerns you might think.

Laliberte, who bought the Iqaluit-based Baffin Hair Studio in 1995, says she can't keep staff because they keep leaving for high-paying government jobs.

"Our biggest competition is government," says Laliberte.

And it's not because there are a lot of calls for hairdressers in the Nunavut Government. Laliberte says the people she hires also gain some basic office-related skills, then head for government jobs.

"I train people to work for government. My dream is to train someone who will stay with me," she said.

Laliberte talked about one employee whose family suggested she go back to school so she could get a government job.

Laliberte added she could easily add several hairdressers to the payroll because of demand. Currently, other than herself, she has one person working at the business.

"I could have four or five more hairdressers and we could all be busy," she said. "I don't know the answer."

Laliberte spoke at an Industry Canada-Business Development Bank of Canada breakfast meeting during the recent Nunavut Trade Show in Iqaluit.

Monica Ell, who left a career in broadcasting to set up Arctic Creations, also spoke at the meeting.

Ell said the entrepreneurs' road is a difficult one.

"When I first started, I was told it would take five to seven years to be successful and make ends meet," she said. "I do believe this."

Ell started the business, which features hand-sewn fur items, four-and-a-half years ago. And she says it has taken that long for the business to get recognized.

"It's been a struggle. When you first start you knock on a lot of doors and they tell you to go next door but what they don't know is that you've already been next door," she said.

Ell suggests there should be help not only for people wanting to start their own business but also for existing small businesses that want to expand.

"Governments want to help, but they don't realize they are creating competition" when they assist new small business, she said.