Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The word ‘diversity’ has become commonplace in most workplaces.

 

But according to a local expert in the field, the definition of that concept may be difficult and even confusing to pin down.

 

“Diversity is like the big buzz word right now and it’s a big topic that’s on everyone’s mindset,” says Dr. Nada Basir, Assistant Professor at the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business at Waterloo University. “Companies are putting money into it because we all know that it’s important. But business leaders, when they think about diversity, tend to think of it on the surface level.”

 

As a result, she says the deep level of diversity, not just the observable points relating to gender, race, and nationality, often get overlooked.

 

“While we understand diversity is about differences, we sometimes narrowly focus on one type, and I think that’s where there is confusion and that’s where we need to think a little bit more outside the box.”

 

Dr. Basir will delve into this subject even deeper at our Women Leadership Collective Series event entitled: ‘Collaboration Between Men and Women to Empower Each Other, Inspire Each Other, and Lead Together’. During this in-person event Oct. 21 at Langdon Hall, she will explore what kind of diversity matters when it comes to producing benefits in the workplace.

 

“But I don’t want to make a case as to why diversity is important because we already know it’s important,” she says, noting introducing diversity in the workplace is not just about hiring or collaborating with diverse people. “It’s about the context that diversity is in and how do we make sure the teams or companies we are building are harnessing that diversity. What does it mean to have people come to the table and feel engaged and welcomed, and how do we tap into their identity-related knowledge?”

 

Dr. Basir says many companies may have a 50/50 split between male and female employees and feel they are doing well when it comes to promoting diversity, but this is not always the case.

 

“Who is making the decisions in that company? Who are in the leadership roles?” she says, explaining research surrounding motherhood show that women tend to leave the workforce more than men because they may not feel supported enough when it comes to such things as childcare or fertility issues. “We can have a diverse workplace but if the environment does not cater to it and leverage it, then what’s the point?”

 

When it comes to creating a diverse and collaborative workforce in a post-COVID-19 environment, Dr. Basir says companies have learned about the importance of being more agile.

 

“The world is complex and complicated, and things change very quickly in business since customers and stakeholders are involved in everything that’s happened and we have to keep them engaged, and it can be really costly if we don’t pay to attention to diversity,” she says.

 

Dr. Basir says relying on different perspectives and lived experiences can help the decision-making process at any company and hopes to convey that to participants at the Oct. 21 event.

 

“I hope it’s a workshop of reflection in terms of what people thought diversity was and why it’s important and maybe when they leave, they’ll have a different perspective on what diversity should look like,” she says, referring to the research she will also introduce to build a business case for diversity. “I want to talk about what do we know about diversity in terms of ROI (Return on Investment).”

 

To find out more, visit our Events Calendar.

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As travel levels continue to ramp up towards even higher volumes than they were before the world shutdown due to COVID-19, the Region of Waterloo International Airport is ready to handle any surge.

 

“We’re probably in the top-10 of busiest airports in the country as far as movements but we’re also in the top-20 when it comes the number of passengers,” says Chris Wood, General Manager of the Region of Waterloo International Airport, noting he expects the airport will soon see that passenger ranking move up to the 12th to 13th busiest spot.

 

Chris says the airport is expected to welcome at least 500,000 passengers in 2022, which is slightly less than its initial projection due in big part to the arrival of the Omicron variant but expects to see that number double next year.

 

“We should be able to hit those numbers, with everything being equal,” he says, adding the opening of its new 12,000 square-foot domestic arrivals building in April – part of its $35 million Airport Terminal Expansion Project – is a continued sign of the airport’s importance to the economic vitality of the Region.

 

“Every thriving community has a big, bustling airport. Why should we be any different?” says Chris. “You can’t go to a world-class city anywhere without an airport being part of that.”

 

Currently, WestJet and Flair Airlines are providing a bevy of flights from the airport to a variety of destinations including Calgary and Edmonton, AB, Cancun, Mexico, Winnipeg, MB, and Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. In fact, this summer Flair has unveiled several additional destinations including Charlottetown, P.E.I., Deer Lake, N.L. and Montreal, QC, starting in July.

 

“We do expect Sunwing to return in the winter,” says Chris. “We also have an agreement with Pivot Airlines and expect them to arrive later this fall, but we don’t have a firm date yet.”

 

He says Pivot will offer several flights daily to Ottawa and Montreal, providing a key component in building the airport’s business clientele.

 

“We’ve kind of morphed into a low-cost carrier dream airport because we have a very large and affluent population that has been starved of non-stop service for many years, and we also have a very affluent business community,” says Chris. “But we haven’t really catered as much to the business community.”

 

He’s very candid when it comes to the struggles the airport has had trying to attract more business flyers, noting that smaller business owners and entrepreneurs are more cognizant of their finances so utilizing a low-cost carrier makes sense to them.

 

“But if you’re not paying for your own ticket, it’s more difficult to get people to use the services that are currently here,” says Chris, adding frequent flights a day out of Pearson Airport offered by larger carriers like Air Canada are more convenient for many business travellers.

 

Currently, he says at least 80% of travel at the Region of Waterloo International Airport is leisured based adding the split between business and leisure travel was about 50/50 when American Airlines offered nonstop flights to Chicago from 2011 to 2016.

 

“We saw a lot of people going to Chicago and beyond for business. But if the right type of service comes in, I think the business community would definitely use it,” says Chris, adding Pivot Airlines will be a great draw and caters to the business community thanks to its multiple flights daily to various business locations.

 

When it comes to attracting airlines, he says the process is extremely difficult since airlines must be very strategic where they place their inventory.

 

“The airlines get it. They know there is an opportunity here, but they also know there is more of an opportunity at Pearson,” says Chris, adding carriers like Flair that are destination-based and not interested in connections or using a hub and spoke model, can be easier to attract.

 

“But we’re happy to talk to any airline about service and we’ve got the facility now that can handle them,” he says, crediting Waterloo Regional Council for its continued support. “We can ultimately contribute to the bottom line of the Region.”

 

Chris says the ‘gold standard’ for a regionally operated airport in Canada are Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C., and that Regional of Waterloo International Airport is quickly approaching those levels.

 

“It’s a model we hope to achieve and we’re getting closer,” he says.

 

To learn more, visit Region of Waterloo International Airport.

 

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The forecast is looking good for the summer tourism season in Waterloo Region.

 

After two years of uncertainties, restrictions and pivoting due to the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism sector is poised for a significant comeback.

 

“Everything is coming back this summer,” says Michele Saran, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region. “There is so much pent-up demand, and it seems like the concerns about COVID-19 are receding and people are feeling a lot more confident to get out and about.”

 

Compared to last year at this time, she says tourism operators in Waterloo Region, including hotels and attractions, have already seen a higher demand in the first quarter of this year.

 

“It’s going incredibly well so far, but there are still labour shortages and supply chain issues,” says Michele. “I know some of our hotels can’t run at full capacity just yet because of these shortages which is a shame because we’ve been hit so hard the last couple of years.”

 

To offset some costs surrounding the implementation of health and safety protocols to keep patrons and employees safe, Explore Waterloo Region and RTO 4 (Regional Tourism Organization 4 Inc.) distributed nearly $600,000 to support 125 attractions, hotels, and other operators in 2020 and 2021 through the Tourism Adaption and Recovery Program (TARP).

 

“Our industry was the first hit, hardest hit and the last to recover is what we say, and we still have those impediments in a way with these labour concerns,” says Michele.

 

She says this summer Explore Waterloo Region is taking a ‘divide and conquer’ approach when it comes its marketing tactics.

 

“As we are easing out of COVID-19 we’re looking to our local operators and BIAs to market our region to local residents,” says Michele. “We as Explore Waterloo Region are expanding a little further out with our marketing focus and trying to encourage people from the GTA to get out of the city and come to a place where it might be a little less urban, but with all the amenities of the big city; close to nature where they can get out and enjoy walking and bike trails and still have incredible culinary and cultural experiences, just with a little less of the crowds.”

 

Michele says the many festivals and attractions Waterloo Region has to offer this summer will be a big draw, such as the Cambridge Scottish Festival and the Canada Day celebrations which features a parade and returns to Riverside Park with fireworks.

 

“People are feeling a bit safer in being groups but still outside,” she says, noting this should be a good summer for domestic tourism due to long lineups at major airports which has been blamed on staff shortages and COVID-19 screening.  “There is still a little bit of concern about travelling internationally so I think this is the summer we really have to take advantage of the opportunity to get people in and around Waterloo Region to come and experience everything we have to offer.”

 

For a detailed look at what’s available, visit Explore Waterloo Region.

 

A few summer highlights in Cambridge:

  • Kin Carnival (May 26)
  • Cambridge Tour De Grand (June 12)
  • Cambridge Celebration of the Arts (June 17 – Civic Square)
  • Host Springs Music Festival (June 25 – Central Park)
  • Cambridge Celebrates Canada Day (July 1 - Riverside Park)
  • Thursday Night Live Performances (July 7, 14, 21 and 28 - Mill Race Park Amphitheatre)
  • Hespeler Village Music Festival (July 9 – Forbes Park)
  • Cambridge Scottish Festival (July 15-16 – Churchill Park)
  • Forbes Park Movie Night (Aug. 18 – Forbes Park)

 

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As pandemic restrictions continue to lift in Ontario, the urge to get away is growing stronger.

 

To encourage Ontarians to explore their own ‘backyards’, the Province unveiled its Staycation Tax Credit for 2022 earlier this year in hopes of inspiring residents to not only travel but provide some much-needed boost to the hospitality sector.

 

“Attractions, hotels and restaurants have been extremely hit hard these past two years and could truly appreciate any support,” says Joe Hall, General Manager of Hospitality at Cambridge Hotel & Conference Centre. “This initiative is a great way for families to look within the province for stay packages and get 20% back at the end of the year.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The credit – which covers accommodation expenses for hotels, motels, resorts, lodges, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages, and campgrounds – does not cover tourist attractions or restaurants.

 

However, Vanessa Stevenson, General Manager of Homewood Suites by Hilton Cambridge/Waterloo, says most hotels in Waterloo Region offer stay packages that provide spinoff to other hospitality-based businesses.

 

“If you’re going to take advantage of the credit you can always lean toward a hotel that offers these packages,” she says, referring to places that can provide theatre tickets, or restaurant deals. “So at least you’re benefitting businesses beyond just that hotel and hopefully helping the community and the tourism industry to get back on its feet.”

 

Vanessa says her industry lobbied hard for the credit and was pleased the Government of Ontario introduced its as of December 31, 2022. She says it would have been even more helpful if the tax credit could have been targeted to boost destination areas specifically outside the more obvious ones, like Toronto, Niagara Falls, Muskoka, and Ottawa.

 

“But I understand from a processing perspective it wouldn’t be feasible,” she says, noting tourist regions like ours will still benefit from tourists travelling from these popular spots.

 

The credit itself – which does not apply to business travel or leisure stays longer than a month in Ontario - can only be claimed by one member per family and of the eligible accommodation expenses, 20% (which translates into $200 per individual or double that as a family) can be claimed. As well, eligible expenses of up to $1,000 as an individual or $2,000 if you have a spouse, common-law partner or eligible children can be claimed.

 

To process any claims, detailed receipts of any eligible expenses are required. These include: the location of the accommodation; the amount of that can reasonably considered to be for the accommodation of a stay; GST/HST paid; date of stay; and name of payor.

 

Jessica Reuel, Senior Accountant with RLB Chartered Professional Accountants, says the amount of detailed information required may be the reason the tax credit was not extended to other hospitality businesses.

 

“At a hotel you receive a full listing of information and an email confirmation,” she says, adding it’s unclear if the tax credit will be extended beyond 2022. “I think it all depends on how many people will take advantage of it this year. Everybody needs a break.”

 

Vanessa agrees and says encouraging people to travel, especially in April and May, may be difficult. 

 

“It’s been very difficult to market travel within our province when we haven’t been open due to restrictions,” she says, explaining summer travel is easier for people to support since COVID-19 numbers dropped the last two summers. “I think people are aware of the tax credit but have not connected the dots in terms of the practical sense of using it.”

 

However, Joe says he’s optimistic things are starting to improve for his sector and hopes the new credit will help.

 

“Since the recent announcement in January, we have seen business starting to pick up and we are confident with the lift of the vaccine passports (March 1) we will continue to see an uprise in business getting us back to 2019 numbers,” he says, noting the struggle his sector has faced. “We are confident 2022 will be the year of rebound.”

 

Vanessa says it would be great to see the tax credit expanded to become a federal initiative, which would be a boost to the travel industry nationwide.

 

“At some point, as much as we want people to spend their money here in Ontario, the need to leave is going to be strong,” she says.

 

To learn more about the Staycation Tax Credit, visit: https://bit.ly/3uWgqzs

 

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Pain points throughout Ontario’s economy are impairing business operations, and now consumers are feeling the pinch too. 

 

The frustration is palpable. From the grocery store and trucking industry to their pocketbooks, Ontarians are experiencing the very real consequences of labour shortages, global supply chain disruptions, and inflation. 

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) recently released the sixth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER) providing regional and sector-specific data on business confidence, policy priorities, and economic indicators, which together provide a unique view on the hurdles ahead. 

 

“Ontario began to see some positive momentum in 2021 thanks to progress on vaccines and reopening. Business confidence, GDP, and employment growth are trending upwards after record lows in 2020. However, the road ahead remains uncertain for businesses and households as labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and inflation are hitting home,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “A staggering 62 percent of sectors are facing labour shortages in Ontario and expect to continue facing them over the next year. This is having real-life consequences on the cost of living, service delivery, and product availability.” 

 

“Our small business Members here in Waterloo Region have proven their strength and resilience over the past two years. Business confidence is rising across the province but for many the additional strain on operations as a result of new variants and additional restrictions continues to dampen their recovery,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.

 

This year’s OER reveals the impacts of the pandemic continue to disproportionately impact small businesses, organizations led by women and people with disabilities, with the hardest-hit sectors being businesses in the arts, entertainment, and agricultural sectors. 

 

“We are seeing a domino effect of structural issues. Jobs are going unfilled, demand is outpacing capacity, and these issues are driving up prices for consumers and uncertainty for businesses,” said the report’s co-author, Claudia Dessanti, Senior Manager, Policy, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Two years into the pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need a long-term plan that will provide stability and lay the groundwork for economic growth.”

 

Key highlights of the report include: 

  •  1. In terms of regional economic outlook, Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie is looking at jobless rate of 4.5 percent in 2022, compared to 7.3 percent in 2021. Also, it shows an employment change of 5.4% this year compared to 3.7 percent in 2021. The population change of 1.5 percent in 2021 is expected to remain the same in 2022. Confidence in Ontario’s outlook by Region indicates 38 percent of respondents in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie are not confident, compared to 23 percent (39 percent remained neutral). Also, 52 percent of those asked said they agreed there was a labour shortage in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie, while 29 percent said they disagreed. 
  • 2. Overall, 29 percent of Ontario businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook in 2021 (compared to 21 percent the year prior), and 57 percent are confident in the outlook of their own organizations (up from 48 percent). 
  • 3. Most sectors (62 percent) are facing labour shortages and expect to continue facing them over the next year. 
  • 4. Inflation of raw material and transportation costs at the producer level is affecting consumer prices, which rose 3.5 percent and is expected to rise another 3.5 percent in 2022. Ontario’s year-over-year housing price growth was above 30 percent in December 2021.
  • 5. Small businesses are more preoccupied with cost relief measures such as business taxes and electricity rates, while larger businesses are more focused on long-term infrastructure, regulatory, and workforce development issues.
  • 6. All regions except Northeastern Ontario saw positive employment growth in 2021, though several regions have yet to offset the major job losses seen during the first year of the pandemic.

 

Read the report: https://occ.ca/oer2022/

 

The sixth annual OER offers unique insights into business perspectives across Ontario. The report is driven by data from our annual Business Confidence Survey (BCS) and economic forecasts for the year ahead. The BCS was conducted online from October 6 to November 19, 2021, attracting responses from 1,513 organizations across Ontario. The OER was made possible by our Landmark Partner, Hydro One, and Research Partners, Golfdale Consulting and Bank of Montreal. 

 

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A shortage of rapid antigen screening kits threatens to hamper the ability of local Chambers to assist Waterloo Region businesses stay safe over the next few weeks, says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Since the start of April, the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers have been working with Health Canada and the Province to provide free self-screening kits to small and medium-sized businesses throughout our Region.

 

Since that time, more than 700,000 of the kits have been distributed, not to just to Chamber members but all SMEs with less than 150 employees. The goal of the program was to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals from spreading COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

“Up until December, everything was running very smoothly, and people were ordering kits and they were keeping workplaces safe,” says Greg, noting a provincewide shortage has altered that at very critical time for businesses. “There are a number of workplaces that are in a very vulnerable situation that are essential and it’s very important they screen employees every couple of days. You can’t have an essential business close their doors for 14 days.”

 

The Chamber initiative, which began as a pilot program and was quickly implemented provincewide by other Chambers through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce network, is waiting on a delivery of approximately 150,000 of the kits to fulfill orders placed by businesses through its Chambercheck.ca portal.

 

“But the fact of the matter is we have at least 1,600 businesses who are now waiting in the cue to get their kits and we don’t have any,” says Greg, noting that leaves approximately 70,000 employees in Waterloo Region without access to rapid screening until at least mid-January.

 

“Even when we receive our order that still won’t be enough because to test that many employees we need at least 280,000 kits,” he says, explaining proper screening requirements call for employees to use the kits at least twice a week.

 

The Chamber’s last order of 50,000 kits – a week’s supply - arrived Dec. 6 and was quickly allocated to businesses or re-allocated to other businesses (including restaurants) if they were not picked up. 

 

“We know there are many workplaces that have to have them,” says Greg, adding a decision by the Province to distribute a single box of screening kits containing five tests to students over the Christmas break may not have been the best method. “It’s a great idea, but not enough has been handed out. Five tests aren’t enough and there isn’t a real strategy attached for their use and to even retain some tests for going back to school. Just handing them out is no real strategy.”

 

He says distributing through workplaces has been a great way to reach more people. 

 

“We’ve always said from the very beginning of this to the Province that about 63% of Ontarians are in workplaces so if you make rapid screening kits available for employees you have the potential to reach 63% of the population,” says Greg, noting not all employees may wish to take part in the screening program unless it was mandated. 

 

He says it would have proven cheaper for the Province to distribute more screening kits to workplaces and even curtail the resale of the kits for exorbitant amounts online.

 

“The BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region), along with the Chambers, started encouraging the Province to do rapid screening in May of 2020 and it took them almost a year to get out and going because we stepped up to the plate and said we would do the pilot program,” says Greg. “We literally wrote the playbook so they could pass it on.”

 

He says running the free screening program through the Chambers has also ensured all the necessary safety protocols are followed.

 

“We have all the safeguards in place to make sure these kits are being used correctly and continue to be accessible to answer any questions if businesses have had a problem,” says Greg. “It really has been a seamless program, but now we’ve seen an unnecessary pause during the most critical time for these businesses.”

 

For information, visit Chambercheck.ca

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The ability for businesses to be flexible and creative is pivotal when it comes to finding ways to combat ongoing labour shortages, say local employment experts.

 

“Those who can bend will find they can sustain themselves and grow and those who will not bend, I think they’re going to find it very difficult to maintain their productivity and business size,” says Charlene Hofbauer, Executive Director of Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin. “I think growth will be a real challenge for them.”

 

Her organization promotes workforce development by working with the community to address issues surrounding labour market trends, such as the apparent disconnect between job seekers and potential employers.

 

“The longer we go through this (pandemic), the more I think we’ve entered a workers’ market,” says Charlene, noting many local employers are struggling to find employees. “There isn’t an industry right now that isn’t hiring.”

 

Although the unemployment rate recently dropped in Waterloo Region to 5.2%, she says there exists a ‘small pool’ of talent for jobs that are very specialized. And as of Dec. 3, just over 5,400 jobs remained vacant in our region, approximately 1,500 of those in Cambridge.

 

“That’s a lot of jobs,” says Charlene, noting poaching employees becomes an issue for those seeking specific talent.

 

She says there is a big need for frontline employees in industries that often rely on short term trained workers – including restaurants, manufacturers, healthcare, and construction.

 

“But our tech and engineering firms are desperate for more senior talent,” says Charlene, adding those with seven years or more of experience are in high demand right now. “They can easily find a junior person, but they can’t find a senior person.”

 

When it comes to finding talent, she recommends employers look at other avenues, rather than the more traditional ways they’ve relied on in the past.

 

“Even temp agencies are struggling to have a decent size pool of talent right now,” says Charlene, adding her organization can connect employers with potential sources that can aide in their search. “We can connect you to whoever we can think of that’s local to you and can work to connect you to a bigger network.”

 

Among these connections is Employment Services - YMCA of Three Rivers Waterloo Region, which can introduce employers to talent by utilizing mentorships, job shadowing and financial incentives providing they are willing to engage in on-the-job training.

 

“It’s critical to reduce the number of resumes that an employer will be looking at on a weekly basis,” says Van Malatches, Supervisor of Employment Services – YMCA of Three Rivers Waterloo Region, noting many companies are receiving between 25 to 200 resumes every week. “I don’t know how many employers have the patience to engage in that.”

 

He says his organization can help employers ease that burden by connecting them to viable candidates.

 

“We have a pretty good feeling of who we are referring and often have worked with that candidate from three days at the least, to three months at the most,” says Van. 

 

He believes employers who concentrate on the ‘soft skills’ and can provide training will have an easier time finding people, especially when it comes to hiring newcomers, rather than an employer who is simply looking for a ‘body’ to fill a position.

 

“Newcomers don’t want to be taken advantage of and want to have that opportunity. It’s understanding the cultural shock the newcomer may be facing, and being patient with that,” says Van, adding being authentic in their approach to acknowledging the issues a newcomer is facing will go a long way. “For a newcomer, they are so vulnerable with the experience and cultural changes they are facing. If an employer steps up for them, that’s what’s going to keep the retention and longevity.”

 

In general, Van says employers who can be more accommodating, not to the point where it’s compromising their business, will be successful at attracting and retaining employees.

 

“There is a lot of different nuances out there that have contributed to people ghosting employers because other options are coming up,” he says, adding transportation and childcare issues can play roles in the decision to changing jobs.

 

Given the opportunity, Van says he would like to see employers in various sectors work collaboratively when it comes to sharing potential talent.

 

“I would like to see those resumes pooled together somewhere where everybody could have access to them,” he says, adding the creation of a central ‘hub’ - taking confidentiality into consideration – would be beneficial to the overall job market.

 

As well, Charlene says connecting with local post-secondary institutions is another avenue employers can take when searching for talent and that even providing summer placements to high school students can also set the stage for future growth.

 

She believes a ‘multi-pillar’ approach is the best to solve our current labour shortage.

“We’ve got to do many different things,” says Charlene. “We can’t rely on any one thing as our solution.”

 

For more, visit https://www.workforceplanningboard.com or https://www.ymcacambridgekw.ca/en/index.asp

 

In terms of advice, Charlene says employers should consider the following:

 

1.  Check what you are paying. “When it comes to those key roles you’re stuck on and hire consistently for, know where you stand,” she says, adding local job boards can offer a great snapshot. “Figure out where you are on the spectrum for that job and know what ground you have to make up. And if you’re already paying well, maybe there’s something in the background you have to look at.”

 

2. Look at your job posting. “We’re seeing many job seekers who won’t apply because the posting is without any basic information,” she says. “Where is your company? What are the hours? What is the pay? What does the job look like? You would be surprised how many postings don’t answer these four basic things, so people don’t apply. I think what job seekers are looking for now from potential employers is openness, honesty and that transparency.”

 

3. Look at who is not coming through your door. “Be really honest with yourself. If you never see any women or newcomers apply, why is that? Who can you connect with so you can start seeing these applicants? There are so many local groups you can connect with.”

 

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The war against COVID-19 is far from over, but small and medium-sized businesses throughout Waterloo Region have an important weapon at their disposal that can help bring it to an end much sooner.

 

Since early April, SMEs with less than 150 employees in our region have had the opportunity to receive free antigen screening kits courtesy of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and our partner in this initiative the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce.

 

To date, more than 500,000 of the free kits have been distributed throughout Waterloo Region in hopes of identifying asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals to prevent them from spreading COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

“Even though we have a large percentage of the population vaccinated, we can still carry the virus and give it to someone who is unvaccinated,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “It’s important that we continue to work to identify where the virus is and the simplest and cheapest way to do that is with rapid antigen screening kits that are still free for workplaces.”

 

To access the kits, SMEs can log into https://chambercheck.ca, a joint Chamber website powered by Axonify, and click on the ‘Workplace Self-Screening’ tab to order their two-week supply of Abbott Panbio Antigen screening kits using a very simple form.

 

The business is contacted, and a time arranged for them to pick-up their kits at our office at 750 Hespeler Rd. A designate from each SME is required to attend for the initial pick-up and watch a very short instructional video – only once - explaining how the kits are to be used and safely disposed. (When they attend our office to collect their kits, participants are also provided with surgical grade masks courtesy of Cambridge-based Eclipse Automation and wipes donated by Lysol).

 

Each SME is required to electronically submit screening results after each occasion, and it’s recommended to screen staff twice weekly. The accumulated data is reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly. If a screen shows a positive result for COVID-19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test and wait for further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“Collecting data is an important part of this process and will go a long way in allowing us to get this pandemic under control even quicker,” says Greg, noting screening non-vaccinated employees isn’t enough to keep everyone safe. “Everybody should continue to be screened because we know an unvaccinated employee who has COVID-19 can pass it on to a vaccinated employee who may show no symptoms.”

 

He says interest in the kits, which are available to all businesses not just Chamber Members, continues to come in waves. Following the success of our program, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Ministry of Health and Chambers of Commerce provincewide to distribute screening kits to thousands of Ontario workplaces.

 

“It’s been a variable thing. I think people get a little bit comfortable when the numbers drop and they decide not to screen,” says Greg. “But they should continue because only 25% of the world’s population have been vaccinated and we’ve got a long way to go yet when it comes to screening and testing before we’re out of this tunnel completely.”

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The pandemic’s arrival has jolted our economy both nationally and locally.

 

According to Statistics Canada, the Canadian economy contracted just over 18% between March and April of last year.

 

However, as pandemic-related restrictions began to lift the business climate has continued to improve but it’s not out of the woods just yet. That’s why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to create the #YouGottaShopHereWR marketing campaign.

 

“Now more than ever our small to medium-sized businesses need all the support we can give them,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Our aim is to provide that support by encouraging people to spend their hard-earned dollars close to home.”

 

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber Network partnered with the Government of Canada to support small businesses nationwide through the creation of shop local initiatives by investing approximately $33 million in a plan to motivate Canadians to buy local. The Chambers submitted a joint proposal and received just over $200,000 of that funding which they’ve used to create the campaign, in co-operation with some local community partners and business associations.

 

“Creating these partnerships is vital to ensure the success of #YouGottaShopHereWR,” says Greg, noting the timing of the campaign couldn’t be more ideal since October has been deemed ‘Small Business Month’. 

 

Small businesses made up of 98% of employer businesses in Canada in 2020, according to a recent StatsCan report, employing 9.7 million people which represents approximately 64% of Canada’s total labour force. By comparison that same year, medium-sized businesses employed about 3.2 million people (approximately 21.2% of the labour force).

 

“There’s no question that SMEs are significant drivers when it comes to our economic recovery,” says Greg. “That’s why we hope many of our local businesses, whether they’re Chamber Members or not, will want to take part in this campaign.”

 

Participation is easy, he says, noting all that is required is a short video to promote the business which is then shared through the YouGottaShopHereWR.ca website and various other digital channels such as Instagram and TikTok.

 

“The videos should be fun and not more than a minute long, and there’s instructions that we will provide to show them how to do it,” says Greg, adding the purpose is to not only encourage people to shop locally but generate brand awareness for businesses in Waterloo Region.

The #YouGottaShopHereWR campaign runs until January 15, 2022, as an added boost to assist businesses during the post-holiday shopping season.

 

Learn more about how your business can participate by visiting  https://yougottashopherewr.ca

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While COVID-19 has created a uniquely difficult situation for Ontario’s municipalities, it has also exposed areas to improve municipal fiscal governance.

 

Local governments do not have the fiscal autonomy they need to make them competitive and maintaining the status quo could be devastating for communities in a post-COVID economic recovery. The impact of the virus and the resultant public health measures have meant that most municipalities are seeing a decline in revenue and increase in expenditures.

 

In response, as all levels of government look to balance debt and deficits while protecting the well-being of our communities, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released its latest report, Better Budgets: Bolstering the Fiscal Resilience of Ontario’s Municipalities, which identifies 14 recommendations for both the Province and municipalities which can bring immediate and long-term relief to communities across Ontario.

 

“Municipalities in Ontario are facing a triple threat this year: an ongoing pandemic that has been devastating to local economies, reduced revenue from closed or limited services, and increased spending on public health and human services. The Financial Accountability Office estimates the pandemic will collectively cost municipalities $2.7 billion in 2021, on top of the expected $4.1 billion impact of 2020,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “In Budget 2021, the Government of Ontario committed to a long‐term economic growth plan. It is imperative public policymakers do everything they can do to ensure communities like ours do not get left behind in recovery.”

 

During the June 28 edition of our Chamber Chat, Cambridge City Manager David Calder and CFO Sheryl Ayres took a closer at the report and provided some great insight on the merits and viability of some of these recommendations, while identifying misconceptions relating to others.

 

“I commend the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on their work on Better Budgets,” said David, adding the report contained some ‘old chestnuts’ municipalities having been trying to change for many years when it comes managing finances. “It’s a good variety. Some we can support and some that might not be as supportable.”

 

Greg said for many years there has been ongoing discussion centred on the ‘restrictiveness’ of municipalities’ ability to raise revenue, noting changes are clearly needed, especially when it comes to Ontario’s property tax system.

 

“We have to undue to the system so to speak and make sure taxes are applied appropriately,” he said.

 

Sheryl agreed the current property tax system, which has been in place since the 1990s, is need of a full review.

“In doing that, they also need to look at other revenue tools that municipalities can use in addition to property taxes,” she said, noting that 91% of tax dollars go to the Provincial and Federal governments, leaving the remainder for municipalities. “Yet, we’ve got the greatest portion of expenses related to the assets that we own, and we are closer to the people in terms of the local services we provide. I believe we need a comprehensive review of the whole tax system and how it’s allocated across three levels of government, ensuring there is transparency and equity in how the funds are raised from the residents of Canada.”

 

David said the downloading of services to municipalities is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

 

“We need to review who should be providing what services and whether there are ways to be more cost efficient in the supply of those services,” he said. “It’s a very complex conversation but one that needs to take place.”

David said municipalities have been looking for ways to be more autonomous for many years in effort to make better decisions at the local level.

“We’ve got to figure out where do we want to be in that spectrum,” he said. “There needs to be discussion around trying to make sure we control our delivery a little bit where appropriate.”

 

The OCC report agrees and states the Ontario’s post-pandemic recovery and long-term success will depend heavily on unleashing the economic potential of its municipalities.

 

“Given that local governments in Ontario cannot run budget deficits, their current options for fiscal sustainability are limited to tax increases, service cuts, and the use of reserves,” said Claudia Dessanti, Senior Manager, Policy of the OCC. “Now is the time for municipalities and the province to explore alternative means of achieving fiscal sustainability.”

 

Key recommendations outlined in the report include:

Undertake a comprehensive and forward-looking review of Ontario’s property tax system to ensure the system is more equitable, efficient, and predictable for businesses.


Adhere to the ‘pay-for-say principle’ to ensure that all responsibilities are accompanied by adequate funding.


Enhance and incentivize regional collaboration across municipalities.  

 

The OCC report was created in partnership with KPMG Canada. Read the report.

 

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