Intro: Sohail Saeed talks about the potential city of Brampton has for infrastructural growth; he’s all set to give South Asians a boost in their businesses too…
“People say South Asians are behind everybody, but I say we are ahead because of our cultural values,” said director of Economic Development Sohail Saeed in an interview to Generation Next. Saeed was awarded The Professional for the year 2012 by PCBC (Pakistan Canada Business Council) at a ceremony held at the Bay View Golf Club, and has about 28 years of global experience in trade and marketing. He discussed with Shivani Sharma aboutBrampton’s infrastructure, plans and its vision for growth.
Were you an immigrant in Canada? What’s your academic background?
I migrated fromPakistanback in the 70s. I landed inMontrealand studied engineering and got into the hotel industry. I worked there for 15 years and then I left for theCaribbeanisland where I worked in hotels. I came back toOntarioand worked in hotels for 12 years and got involved with government and marketing relations. Last year I saw this opportunity and after eight to nine months of a rigorous interview processes I got through. So, it has been eight months now. The team is great here.
What are your key responsibilities for this job?
In our company we have five departments. One department focuses on the key area that is downtown in development, business attraction and retention. Another oversees tourism. We have arenas and indoor soccer centers. We do a lot of sports tourism here. We did about 35 tournaments that brought us 10 million dollars economic development with 25,000 visitors last year. Other one is VFR (Visiting Friends & relatives). We create a tourism guide, which is a very important document that helps people in Bramptonto know about the culture and lifestyle of the city. Then we have a small business enterprise department in Brampton. If you have a business idea especially from your generation, if someone has a thought even, we have an advisory team free of charge, they can come in and we can take that idea and turn it into a business plan. We have all the templates, business plans, budgeting models, organizational chart model, and demo like what neighborhood etc.
What would you like to say to the new immigrants?
Be sure and confident of what you know. Employers don’t want to know everything about you. They only want to know where they can capitalize you. That’s where we become our own worst enemies; we don’t sell ourselves. It’s no one’s fault but there is disconnect between the two. The immigrant coming inCanadais optimistic while the employer is skeptical.
What more are you looking from in the South Asian community?
They need to get involved, come forward and have a voice. I love to see them nourish and grow from a one man operation to giant businesses. South Asians are talented but they need to come back and sit with our business communities to make a voice. If they are successful then it opens the door to the younger generation who is willing to work as free interns. I don’t see any harm in that as you get free labor. This goes such a long way for students, who get to learn and put that experience on their resume. This is where the businesses grow and is where the value of the money comes in.
What are the challenges that you face right now?
The basic challenge is to bring in the customers. We are focusing on the downtown HACE (Heritage Arts Culture & Entertainment). Our South Asian kids are very talented so they should come up for these activities, creating activities for artists of any shape and form.
Why was there a need for new office?
We were on33 Queen Streetbefore. Our rest of the team was here. So here we have finance department, planning, loaning, HR etc. It’s a one stop shop for the businessman
Do you conduct workshops and other programs?
Yes, some are offered free and some at a minimal charge. If we have a third party or a businessman running the workshop then there is a $20 charge at times. We have the workshops posted on our website along with networking events. Our community service department has a lot of programs to offer. We have five libraries, recreation centers, over 150,000 active library card holders. It is amazing as it tells us how educated our city is and how curious the people are. We have a 200-km lush green walking trail.
Brampton is about 31% of South Asian. How do you communicate initiatives of economic development to this community?
Our information policy carries statistics related to location or demography. InBramptonwe have about 178 ethnic groups and 75 different languages. Our objective is to create economy or a knowledge-based society that creates jobs. We are looking for those kinds of direct investments in the city.Rogersis our biggest employer. We have a workforce of 150,000 inBramptonand they are all skilled. I attend lot of business networking events like those of the Canadian Indian Business Council, ICCC and Pakistan Canada Business Council.
What is your ultimate goal?
My goal right now is to create a youth forum. Asian people are coming in the front and our role is to help them out and connect them with the right people for starting businesses.
Does the South Asian community know what the organization is doing to improve the economy or job situation?
They need to step and learn what’s being done in the city. When we presented our annual report in March for the year 2011, we had about 120 people from business community who came for the event. You have to feel proud of where you live. We update our website regularly, and we keep adding new facts in it. We disseminate knowledge through the newspapers as well. I hope people are reading to know what the city is doing for them.
How many jobs have you created so far?
There are 8,000 plus businesses here. Some companies have plans and it takes about four to five years to materialize jobs times. We signed off with air Canada as they moved from Montreal. Their operation centre is being built inBramptonright now. It should be operational in 2013 giving 500 new educational, knowledge-based skilled jobs. Canadian Blood Services is also providing more opportunities.
Do you have any upcoming negotiations with India, Pakistan or Bangladesh?
That is a part of our international market. For 2013, the plan was approved for international markets. I just got back from Brazil. I will be going to Indiain September and it will be a fact- finding mission where we can look to work together and see how we can create some educational opportunities between the two countries. We will be going to Chinain November.