Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

 

 

(February 5, 2021) – The Chamber Network is looking forward to create a co-ordinated approach to reopening the province’s economy in the wake of the pandemic and calling on the Provincial government to ensure this happens in a balanced fashion.

 

“In the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, it is difficult to think beyond confronting the immediate demands of COVID-19,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.   “However, even as we continue supporting each other today, we must also begin looking over the horizon to ensure businesses are prepared for the province’s reopening and recovery. It is never too early to start planning how our province and economy can emerge stronger while doing everything necessary to avoid further lockdowns.”

 

Each region’s experience differs significantly across the province when it comes to transmission rates, tracking and tracing capacity, and other variables.  The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce have written to the Premier so that when the time comes businesses of all sizes have a predictable and coordinated effort to ensure society reopens in a harmonized fashion that prioritizes individual safety as well as economic stability asking for the following:

 

  • A readiness plan with a focus on sectors and regions hardest hit. It is critical that Ontario’s employers are aware of how reopening will take place step-by-step so they can properly prepare.
  • Advanced notice. Businesses and their employees need sufficient time to prepare to get back to work. 
  • Clear guidelines. Businesses need to clearly understand the rules and how they will be enforced. Inconsistent and unclear public health guidelines cause confusion among businesses, employees, and consumers alike, and make it difficult for individuals to take appropriate action to protect themselves and their communities.
  • Fulsome communication. Educational training via virtual workshops in advance of reopening would equip employers with practical information to help them keep staff and customers safe.
  • Workforce management systems. Employers in Ontario should adopt a scalable digital software tool for routine self-screening and assessment by employees, as part of a comprehensive workforce management system.
  • Rapid testing. Sufficient and timely testing and tracing gets employees back to work quickly, ensuring continued productivity and reduced strain on families.
  • Evidence-based decision making. A strong testing and tracing apparatus ensures the province can accurately assess where and how the virus is spreading, so that efforts to target restrictions can be confidently based on solid data.
  • Continued supports for those who need it most. Finally, continued timely and accessible supports for business will prevent further layoffs, closures, and bankruptcies.
  • Leveraging private sector to support vaccine distribution and deployment. Businesses will be critical in supporting public awareness, logistical capabilities, and best practices.

“As the government explores options to safely re-open the economy, it is worth noting that businesses already adhere to a number of existing health and safety protocols and will do their part to support a safe re-opening. The business community will continue to prove their commitment to safety protocols to protect their worker and customers to keep their doors open,” added Durocher

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The pandemic has not only dramatically altered our lives, but also the way we do business.

 

Conducting business online has become paramount for many operations which makes the the importance of effective marketing even more vital to ensure a strong client base.

 

“Is your website SEO and is it navigational intuitive? Have you thought about using Google ads?” asks Mike Jennings, president of the Cambridge-based digital marketing agency MoreSALES.

 

These are just some of the many questions that will form the base of the discussion he will lead at our next YIP Growth Learning Series event later this month ‘Marketing 101: 4 Ps of Marketing – Place, Price, Promotion, Product’.

 

This seminar is aimed at assisting entrepreneurs in understanding how to effectively market their product/service by utilizing the basic ‘4Ps’ strategy to create a sales and marketing strategy.

 

Mike says the onset of COVID-19 has resulted in many marketing changes.

 

“Prices aren’t going to change that much,” he says. “But promotion is going to be the main difference in a COVID world. How do you promote your product?”

 

He says the seminar will focus heavily on digital marketing, which has been his speciality for many years, and the importance of being able to shift when it comes to doing business.

 

“Do you shift your price to be more attractive on e-commerce?” asks Mike, noting that e-commerce is a vital tool for businesses when it comes to competing. “People are not going to be rushing back to your building. They’re still going to want to buy online and those businesses that are easy to buy from are the ones that are going to get the business.”

 

He says an important takeaway for seminar participants will be to realize these changes don’t have to signify the end for their business.

 

“There are ways to adjust,” says Mike, adding looking at the expected trajectory of the market is key. “You have to think six to 12 months ahead and how you apply these principles (4 Ps).”

 

He says a business will never ‘lose’ using e-commerce and digital marketing.

“It’s only going to compound the return to normalcy and accelerate that return to normalcy,” says Mike.

 

‘Marketing 101: 4 Ps of Marketing – Place, Price, Promotion, Product’ takes place Wednesday, Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. to noon and is sponsored by Deluxe.  Click here to register.

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This year, the conversations around proper mental health resources and funding are more important than ever.  A recent poll shows that 40 percent of Canadians have reported their mental health declining over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the continued enormous pressure and strain families, employees and employers have been dealing with. There is no question this pandemic has taken a toll and as we continue to navigate a second wave and ongoing lockdowns, now more than ever it is important we take a moment to remember our own needs and support each other to get through these challenging times. While we are physically apart, no one is alone when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

 

We have put together a list of resources that business owners, employers and employees can use to help navigate and manage mental health when it comes to our daily lives, the workplace and longer term tips and tricks. You can take a look at our full list of health resources here and even more resources from Bell, here.

 

Wellness Together Canada

Wellness Together Canada provides mental health resources and direct access to peer support workers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential chat sessions or phone calls.

 

Mental Health Commission of Canada
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a hub of credible information and resources about maintaining mental health during this time of crisis and supporting people managing a mental illness in this new context.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health by Canada Life

Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health website is a leading source of free, practical tools and resources designed to help Canadian employers with the prevention, intervention and management of workplace mental health issues.

 

Lumino Health Stress and Anxiety Guide from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Lumino Health platform, which is free to use and available to all Canadians, features a wide variety of mental health information and tools, including a Stress and Anxiety Guide that helps Canadians easily navigate to resources that fit their needs.

 

Workplace Mental Health Solutions from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Workplace Mental Health Solutions website provides organizations and their plan members with relevant resources that support all stages and needs, including free mental health e-training and industry-leading thought leadership.

 

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The amount of information surfacing almost daily surrounding COVID-19 can be daunting, especially for those running a business.

 

Trying to keep customers and employees safe while trying to conduct business has become a real change for many. But there is help available thanks to our ‘Chamber Check’ program.

This free and innovative program powered by Axonify and created in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce offers valuable certification training to business owners and their employees when it comes to operating in a COVID-19 environment.

 

Through our Chamber Business Ready platform, Chamber Check participants are provided with a series of valuable resources, including videos and quizzes designed around various safety issues and potential scenarios that can arise while working in the midst of this pandemic.

 

For Patti Harris-Lindstrom, Office Manager of Towcon Holdings in Cambridge, receiving her Chamber Check certification proved to be a great way to collect additional knowledge.

 

“We’re trying to gather as much information as we possibly can because no one seems to know what this virus is all about,” she says. “We’re trying to take in as much information as we can to make informed decisions.”

 

As they work their way through the interactive and educational tools contained in the training, the knowledge the participants gain is designed to benefit them in the day-to-day operation of their businesses.

 

“We’ve been trying to keep on top of this as much as we possibly can and when this (Chamber Check) came out I decided to take it and see if there is anything we don’t already know,” says Patti, adding there was new information which proved beneficial and would gladly recommend others participate. “It’s very informative.”

 

Sara Chamberlin, Human Resources Manager at the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre, discovered the same and is pleased by the training provided.

“I was impressed that dealing with difficult customer service interactions was also part of the training, not just technical processes of wearing PPE,” she says. “This was very useful for our company.”

 

Stephanie Melo, Office Administrator/Health and Safety Co-ordinator at Sousa Concrete, also says the training she and members of her management office team received has been extremely helpful.

 

“One of the major things I learned was there is a difference between sanitation and disinfection,” she says, adding it only took her about an hour to complete the required modules.

 

The program can also be completed in short increments depending on work schedules, which is exactly what Sara did.

 

“It took me approximately two weeks as I did one to three modules a day,” she says.

But regardless of how participants approach it, the training they receive will strengthen the business community by helping create more consumer confidence.

“I knew it would be beneficial for the company to have since we take COVID-19 very serious,” says Stephanie, noting building consumer confidence is vital right now for all businesses. “It is very important since this is a very strange time we are living in.”

Sara agrees and has recommended that all her managers now complete the program.

 

“Any training program we can participate in, we will look into,” she says.

Providing as much support as possible to small businesses, especially now during COVID-19, was the key reason the Chambers developed Chamber Check.

“Being small businesses, it’s in our hands to do what we can to keep people safe, both those who work for us and those who enter our places of business,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “That’s the best defence we have towards keeping our businesses open.”

 

Upon completion of the training participants receive a ‘Chamber Check’ certificate indicating they have received extensive safety education to conduct business in our COVID-19 world, plus the business receives a decal to be placed in a location to let customers know that workplace offers a safe environment.

 

The program, developed in consultation with Region of Waterloo Public Health, is available to not just business owners but any number of their employees who receive an email confirming they have completed the training.

 

“We’re proud to partner with The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce on the Chamber Check program. As a Waterloo‐based business we’re dedicated to doing our part to keep our local residents safe,” said Carol Leaman, Founder and CEO of Axonify.

To get your Chamber Check training, visit www.chambercheck.ca

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Report outlines solutions to tackle the backlog in healthcare and ensure all Ontarians have access to timely and appropriate care

 

 A recent report from Ontario’s Auditor General has put the spotlight on virtual care.

 

 And although telemedicine sites have been in place for decades in Canada, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of virtual care in Ontario.

 

“In primary care, upwards of 80% of visits were conducted by phone or via video virtual platforms in the first wave,” says Dr. Sharon Bal, Primary Care Physician Lead for the Cambridge-North Dumfries Ontario Health Team.

 

Dr. Bal, who also took on the role of tri-chairship for the Health Sector Control Group which has been co-ordinating a five-hospital response to pandemic, has seen firsthand how virtual care has assisted patients throughout the crisis.

 

“In long-term care and retirement homes, virtual visit pilots allowed physicians to liaise with staff more easily. And in area hospitals, tablets facilitated ‘visits’ with family members and caregivers, and were essentially to ensure compassion and humanity in the face of COVID-related restrictions.”

 

Virtual visits have enabled more and more Ontarians to continue accessing quality health care while not exposing themselves to the virus. The latest report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) network, which includes the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Realizing the Full Potential of Virtual Care in Ontario, underscores the need to permanently integrate virtual care into Ontario’s health-care system.

 

The Chamber network believes permanent integration of virtual care – which saw temporary measures used during the SARs crisis - into the health system will ensure all Ontarians can access timely and appropriate care, plus alleviate some of the pressure facing the system, such as reducing unnecessary visits to the ER.

 

According to Canada Health Infoway’s September 2020 survey, 60% of health care visits with primary care physicians and specialists were conducted virtually at the onset of the pandemic.

 

The report notes that given the uptick in virtual care usage, the resurgence of the pandemic in a second wave, and an uncertain timeline for a vaccine, a more permanent and comprehensive solution is needed.

 

“Long before COVID-19, Ontario’s health-care system faced numerous pressures and growing costs. By empowering patients to manage their health while at home, virtual care has the potential to reduce the strain on primary care providers and hospitals, lessen the backlog in care, and protect frontline workers from exposure to the virus,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “We are calling on the Government of Ontario to consider urgent policy reforms such as modifying the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent and effective delivery of virtual care in Ontario.”

 

The report explains that, while the implementation of temporary billing codes in March 2020 allowed physicians to conduct virtual visits, these temporary codes were a stop-gap measure and have limitations.

 

The report provides the Government of Ontario with four recommendations to ensure virtual care is not only permanently integrated in our health-care system, but is more equitable, accessible, and widely adopted:

 

  1. Develop a comprehensive framework for virtual care in Ontario.
  2. Modify the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent delivery of virtual care, and provide physicians with training and knowledge supports to allow care to be delivered virtually.
  3. Focus on equity to improve access to virtual care, including ensuring all Ontarians have internet access so that the expansion of virtual care options does not exacerbate inequities for patients in rural, remote, northern, and Indigenous communities.
  4. Support employers’ continued investment in virtual care for their employees that expand beyond care delivered virtually though the health system.

 

These recommendations were developed with the OCC’s Health Policy Council, a group of expert practitioners and industry representatives.

 

The report explains how virtual care is not solely about convenience for patients, but it also benefits the health-care system as a whole. Further, virtual care should be viewed as one modality in which health care can be delivered, and should continue to complement, not replace, in-person care.


“Primary care recognizes that a ‘new normal’ with options that include both virtual and in-person visits will be ideal,” says Dr. Bal, noting innovations like these need to become a permanent part of health care delivery in Ontario with the correct supports.  “Technology as a barrier will need address and future focus should be integrated solutions across the community and acute sector, as well as ensuring health quality.”

 

For more on the virtual care report, visit: https://bit.ly/3oJtIcw

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Plexiglass shields and hand sanitizer dispensers are just a few items that have become commonplace in many companies since COVID-19 took hold back in March.

 

But what does the future hold for offices and workplaces once this pandemic has become a thing of the past? That’s what a team of experts in conjunction with fabrik architects inc. in Cambridge are in the process of determining through the creation of possible pandemic responsive design possibilities.  

 

“The physicality of our built-in environment will have to change, even though we might be COVID free a year or two from now, people will always have a fear that it can happen again,” says Elisia Neves, fabrick’s Principal Architect. “It’s going to be ingrained in us.”

 

In response, the firm’s in-house design team began working on creating a series of possible designs back in the spring, bringing together an outside advisory board consisting of professionals including architects, pandemic disease specialists and materials science engineers. Together, the group has been feverishly looking at design matrices linked to pandemic responsive design for the commercial, office, residential and multi-residential sectors.

 

“Our building types are going to change,” says Elisia, adding that installing plexiglass shields and reconfiguring workstations to create more physical distance are just ‘Band-Aid’ solutions.

 

She says the changes in design will be systemic and centre on a rethinking of the long-lasting cycles of demolition and construction.

 

“We’re looking at all aspects of architecture; from the physical ways in which we plan and lay out our spaces, to looking at the systems integrated into our buildings,” says Elisia, referring to the mechanical systems. “How do we get cleaner air into our buildings? What does that look like? How do we retrofit? We’re going to have a lot of retrofit projects in the future.”

 

And when it comes to new builds, she says the design matrices will also consider potential materials and what will provide the least possibility for contamination and can be easily maintained.

 

Besides materials, the layout of office spaces is also being considered which could mean fewer traditional work ‘cubicles’ since many people may be working from home and the creation of more communal places for employees to connect, such as conference spaces and communication areas.

 

“The thing that will never change is the need for a variety of different spaces,” says Elisia, referring to places where employees can gather to access office equipment, such as photocopiers and other supplies.

 

“We want the design to be thought-through, so we don’t have those things in place,” she says, referring to plexiglass shields and barriers.

 

Also, automation, touchless and digital technologies are other considerations that Elisia says are being addressed to make buildings ‘smarter’, even having the capability to identify you before allowing you entry.

 

“I think we (Architects) are going to make them (buildings) more intelligent so you’re not going to even need a key or a fob,” she says, noting all these changes will take time and study. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a very gradual thing.”

 

Elisia says the fabrik team has a couple of office space projects on the horizon that could provide them with good models to test their new matrices.

 

“The idea is to have two matrices vetted by the advisory board by the end of the year,” she says, adding work on one of these significant new builds could be starting in January 2021. “That would be a really good pilot project to test the research we have been doing.”

 

Elisia says developing these matrices fits perfectly into the many ‘strands’ that encompass what fabrik strives for as an innovative architectural firm.

 

“I think this is a very strong strand that’s not going to go away very quickly in the minds of people,” she says. “We want to do it right.”

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The Federal Government has unveiled details of its new commercial rent subsidy program, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS).

 

This new program replaces the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) which by early October has delivered more than $1.8 billion in rent support to more than 130,000 small businesses.

 

The CERS will provide financial support to help businesses, charities and non-profits who’ve suffered a revenue drop due to the pandemic by subsidizing a percentage of their expenses on a sliding scale, up to a maximum of 65% of eligible expenses, until Dec. 19, 2020.

 

Unlike the CECRA, businesses do not require a 70% revenue decline to qualify. Even with a decline of 1%, businesses can still qualify.

 

For example:

 

  • 30% revenue decline;

  • $15,000 monthly rent for office space (before H.S.T.);

  • Calculation of subsidy is 0.8 x 30% = 24%, then 24% x $15,000 = $3,600/month. 

This means for each 1% of revenue decline, you are entitled to a 0.8% rent subsidy.  Once you hit a revenue decline of 50%, the calculation changes to a 1.25% subsidy for each 1% decline in revenue, up to a maximum subsidy of 65%.

 

Also, a top-up CERS subsidy of 25% will be available for companies that are temporarily shut down or “significantly limited” by a mandatory public health order. 

Applications will be made directly to the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) for this subsidy, not through the landlord.

 

Expenses that are eligible for the CERS include commercial rent, property taxes and property insurance (capped at $75,000 per month).  This formula is applicable until Dec. 19, 2020 and retroactive to Sept. 27, 2020. 

 

More details outlining the program between Dec. 20, 2020 and June 2021 are expected to be released towards the end of this year.

 

The CRA is expected to announce shortly when businesses can begin to apply for the CERS.

 

For further details, visit:

www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/11/canada-emergency-rent-subsidy.html

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The release of the province’s Budget 2020 Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover has gained the support of the Chamber of Commerce network and business community.

 

The recent budget lays out $187 billion in expenditures this year to help the province recover from the impact of COVID-19, earmarking cash for healthcare and subsidizing electricity rates for businesses.

 

 

“These are extremely difficult times for businesses, and we understand that there is only so far a provincial government can go,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “I was particularly please with the reduction in electricity, education tax and the increase in the exemption to the employer’s health tax.”

 

Many of these items were called for in a pre-budget submission released last week by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which Cambridge Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Darren Drouillard says the board supported.

 

“Focusing intently on reducing overhead for SMEs through lower utility costs and tax reductions to business and improving IT infrastructure throughout the province, it is evident that the OCC is in touch with the needs of business and has a well thought-out set of recommendations to guide us through the next stage of the pandemic and economic recovery,” he said.

 

The OCC and Cambridge Chamber have long advocated for greater investment in broadband and cellular infrastructure, reforming taxes to enhance business competitiveness, developing new skills training opportunities, and lowering the cost of electricity for industry, all of which are priorities in Budget 2020.

 

“I certainly welcome a reduction for small businesses in the property tax, however, we will need to see how that comes off the page,” said Greg. “Municipalities cannot hold the burden of these reductions when they are unable to run deficits or borrow money for operational losses.”

 

The province is looking at spending $45 billion over the next three years on the crisis, taking into account the $30 billion already announced earlier this year, plus $15 million in new funding over the next two years. The plan also shows a record deficit of $38.5 billion for this year, which is in line with the government’s projections in the summer. A plan to balance the budget is expected in next year’s budget.

 

 “Now is the time to explore innovative partnerships – such as pubic/private partnerships to build our needed rail infrastructure, commissioning, alternative financing, and community and social impact bonds – to share risk and make the most of every dollar spent,” said Greg, noting small businesses are the heart of the community.

 

Darren agrees.

 

“We, as a business community and network of Chambers and Boards of Trade, will continue to overcome through collaboration, innovation and resilience,” he said.

 

Some key measures in Budget 2020 supported by the Ontario business community include:

 

  • Reducing commercial and industrial electricity rates will make Ontario businesses more competitive and enable them to invest in recovery and growth. For years, Ontario businesses have paid more for electricity than most other jurisdictions in North America, and the pandemic has only increased electricity system costs.
  • Business Education Tax rates vary throughout Ontario; as a result, businesses in London, Waterloo, Hamilton, Toronto, Windsor/Middlesex, and Kingston are paying higher taxes than those in other regions. The government has announced it will both reduce the BET rate and address regional variance within that rate, both of which the OCC and its Chamber network have advocated for in the past.
  • The decision to make the higher Employer Health Tax threshold permanent is a welcome one that will free thousands of businesses from having to pay this tax.
  • The move to allow municipalities to target property tax relief specifically to small business is a creative and important tool to grant communities, given that small business has been hardest hit by the pandemic.
  • Broadband is a basic infrastructure requirement in today’s economy, but the ongoing pandemic has made it even more essential to public health and economic resilience. The Chamber network is very pleased to see the government take this seriously with an additional investment of $680 million (for a total of nearly $1 billion) over six years.

 

For a look at the budget, visit: occ.ca/rapidpolicy/2020-provincial-budget

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Depression. Anxiety. Addiction.

 

These issues have intensified over the course of the last few months as COVID-19 continues to take its toll on our mental health, just ask Angela Englander, a registered psychotherapist and trauma specialist who operates Ways to Wellbeing Therapy in Cambridge and Tillsonburg.

 

“I’ve had clients who were perfectly stable pre-pandemic and now have completely fallen apart,” she says, noting some are in the healthcare profession which is facing much strain as this health crisis continues. “I’ve talked to a lot of doctors and nurses who want to go on leave. These people are the webbing of our health system and if their mental health crashes, everyone is going to fall through that gap.”

 

Identifying what mental health is, as well as trauma and therapy, will form the base of her discussion at our YIP Growth Learning series event on November 19.

 

“People have such a small amount of knowledge they’re working from when it comes to mental health,” she says, adding the amount of stress people are under right now is skyrocketing as the second wave of the pandemic appears to be escalating.

 

According to a CTV report, a recent federal study has highlighted a jump in alcohol and drug use during COVID-19, as well as an increase in opioid deaths. Also, according to that same CTV story, overdose calls in Waterloo Region have spiked higher since August and 68 people have fatally overdosed so far this year compared to 63 deaths in 2019.

 

Angela says at the start of the pandemic in March adrenaline was high as people went into ‘crisis mode’, putting their emotions on the backburner as they adapted to this new reality.

 

“But the bigger risks will be over the next year because that excitement and adrenaline has started to wear out,” she says. “People are starting to feel more hopeless and facing depression and anxiety.”

 

Angela says the approaching winter will only add to that negative situation since unlike the past few months, many won’t have the option to go outdoors and enjoy the sunshine and nicer weather.

 

“I’ve already talked to people who say they’re experiencing SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and are already getting their winter blues and we’re only in October.”

 

Besides current concerns such as increased addiction issues and a rise in suicides, Angela fears the ripple effect of COVID-19 could manifest in other mental health problems over the next several generations.

 

“Many people may become germaphobes or even become agoraphobic,” she says, adding people must learn to accept the negative emotions they may be facing now in order to deal with them in a healthy way.

 

“We are a very emotion-phobic society. The truth is you have to be willing to step towards those emotions and feel them and accept the reality that is.”

 

During her YIP presentation, Angela hopes to break down how the brain functions into several categories pertaining to mental health and outline how trauma works.

She intends to provide participants with some valuable takeaways.

 

“They’re going to get a lot of self-awareness and coping skills,” says Angela, noting more typical coping skills such ‘date nights’ with a partner or hanging out with a few family members may not be sufficient enough for some during this pandemic.

 

She says self-care and emotional awareness will play key roles in the presentation in hopes of giving people more understanding.

 

“No one is above this virus,” says Angela.

 

Our YIP Growth Learning series virtual event ‘Mental Health for Young Professionals’ sponsored by Deluxe will take place Thursday, Nov. 19, from 9-10 a.m. For more, visit: https://bit.ly/34OBryG

 

 

 

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Small business keeps the Canadian economy healthy, but the continued effects of COVID-19 have left many SMEs on life support at a time when we need them the most.

 

“Never has there been a time that is more important to shop locally and spend locally, and support your friends, family and your community by buying from a local small business,” says Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Despite a strong local economy thanks to a number of larger industrial businesses and manufacturers, he says at least 70% of our local workforce is employed by SMEs.

 

“They employee most of the people who live in the community,” says Durocher. “So, it’s vital for us to make sure we do whatever we can to help small business.”

 

He is hopeful the federal government’s revamped COVID-19 relief programs which aim to steer $2.2 billion into the pockets of commercial tenants and the extension of the wage subsidy that should cover 65% of eligible costs for business owners through December, will provide some assistance.

 

“The problem is that the big gears in government turn very slowly,” he says, adding processes that normally could take months or even years are being put in place in a matter of days. “That bucks against the system and it makes it difficult for government to do that because they like to analyze everything before they send it out the door.”

 

Durocher says the original and much criticized CECRA (Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program) is as an example of an initiative that needed serious fine tuning.

 

“They rushed stuff out putting in legislation, which to some degree protected the government, and then found no one qualifies for it because of those protections,” he says. According to a CBC report, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CIFB) estimates that 47% of small business tenants who needed help with rent couldn’t access the $3 billion budget set back in April, and that as of early October approximately $1.8 billion of that budget had been spent.

 

“We’re (Chamber network) cautiously optimistic at this point the new commercial rent assistance program is going to be better and appeal to more small businesses, or include more small businesses in the equation,” says Durocher, adding the Chamber network has been encouraging Canada’s Minister of Small Business Mary Ng and the finance ministry to roll it out soon so they can review the regulations.

“They’re (federal government) trying to make key changes necessary to make the program more responsive to small business owners, so I think they’re trying to move it along fairly quickly.”

 

He expects the new program will appeal to more small business owners because it will take the onus off the landlords, many of whom were also facing heavy financial burdens under CECRA, and will feature a ‘sliding scale’ that will give businesses who’ve seen a 70% drop in revenues up to 65% of rent coverage.

 

Besides rent relief, Durocher says the extension of a revamped wage subsidy program until June 2021 is also a positive move since our economy is facing some ‘sluggish’ months ahead.

 

“The wage subsidy is going to be very important moving forward, however, the criteria around the new program is that it’s variable so depending on what your revenue has dropped by will determine the amount of subsidy you’ll receive,” he says. “The new program really takes into account those businesses that have reopened and are getting more of their revenue back.”

 

As well, Durocher says the revamped CEBA (Canadian Emergency Business Account) program, which will now provide interest-free loans of up to $20,000, on top of the original $40,000, can also provide much-needed relief for small business owners.

“I think it’s a really important part of the puzzle,” he says. “It’s not that a small business needs, wants, or should accumulate debt, but these are extraordinary circumstances. The important thing will be how do you find a path to ensure ‘my business’ comes out of this pandemic.”

 

Unlike larger businesses, Durocher says SMEs do not have the luxury of being controlled by the global status of the economy.

 

“They can only survive, or fail, based on the local economy,” he says. “What we all know is that we’re sick and tired of the pandemic, but the virus isn’t tired of making us sick.”

 

Impact of COVID-19 on SMEs – (StatsCan and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce)

  • 68% saw revenue decrease by 10% or more
  • 22% unable to stay fully or partially open during the pandemic
  • 25% can’t stay open more than three months
  • 1.2 million SMEs in Canada (426,490 in Ontario) as of December 2017
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Brian Rodnick
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February 9, 2021
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Canadian Chamber of Commerce
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Cambridge Chamber
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