Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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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The news we heard Thursday from Waterloo Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang was extremely disappointing to us. Our Board of Directors adamantly encourages all businesses to practice within the law but also echoes your concerns and disappointment at this decision.

 

In fact, officially, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce does not support Dr. Wang’s recommendation to keep the Waterloo Region in Stage 1 of Ontario’s reopening framework, considering the rest of the province will be moving into Stage 2 on June 30, an estimated two weeks ahead of our Region. As such, we would have preferred this move to Stage 2 remain on hold until Waterloo Region can catch up.

 

In fact, our Region did its best to help the province in the early stages of the third wave through the redirection of vaccines to hotspots around the GTA to curb the spread in those communities which significantly helped, but in the end proved detrimental to us, so it seems only fair to suggest some courtesy be extended to the citizens of Waterloo Region.

The Region has been calling for a ramp up of vaccine allocations and while that has started to occur, it is in fact a case of too little too late.

 

We understand the worries surrounding a possible fourth wave if dramatic steps are not taken and are very aware of the threat the Delta variant poses, especially amid troubling reports of people who are not following the provisions of the law by gathering in groups which in turn are creating community and workplace outbreaks. Currently, we are now seeing COVID-19 patients being transferred to hospitals outside our Region due to capacity concerns.

 

This is all very frustrating and discouraging to think that people would intentionally break the rules, risk lives, and in the end hurt businesses.

 

Our local Public Health officials have determined that if we do not hold back a bit, we will very likely see a fourth wave that could easily spread provincewide resulting in not only another round of restrictions, but another potential lockdown.

 

Keeping this in mind, we are continuing our efforts to fight for added supports from both the Federal and Provincial levels of government and calling for more vaccines so we can protect our community and get things open sooner. The Chamber will continue to do all it can to support, guide and advise to the best of its ability until this crisis finally comes to an end.

 

Sincerely,

 

Greg Durocher

President/CEO

 

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The sign outside the Hamilton Family Theatre in downtown Cambridge which usually is ablaze with light announcing current and upcoming productions for Drayton Entertainment has remained blank for some time.

 

But with vaccination rates rising and COVID-19 infection numbers continuing to slide downward, there is a growing sense of optimism in many business sectors, including tourism and sports and recreation, both which generate a hefty spinoff in our local economy and have been hit extremely hard by this crisis.

 

“It (optimism) permeates our industry because the pandemic has reinforced to many arts organizations about how important the arts are to so many Ontarians and recognizing the role they play contributing to a healthy and prosperous society,” says Steven Karcher, Executive Director of Drayton Entertainment. “I don’t think people realized how much they enjoy and appreciate the arts until they ceased to exist.”

 

He recalls how overnight the world changed for Drayton Entertainment in mid-March of 2020 when it was forced to cancel the run of its first show of the season Kinky Boots, which quickly led to pulling the plug on the entire theatre season at its seven stages.

 

“It was a difficult but necessary decision,” says Steven, noting how the company, which is also a registered charity, lost 100% of its revenue and had already incurred the pre-production costs of preparing 832 performances for its 2020 season. In fact, he says an increase of 20,000 tickets over the 2019 season had already been sold.

 

He says recovery will be a ‘multi-year’ effort and that for an arts organization like Drayton Entertainment, it is not something that can rebound in six months.

 

“We’re not able to just take our product and simply put it on a shelf and pivot to reopening with a notice of 48 hours,” says Steven. “We’re talking about an artistic process that takes anywhere from six to eight months in order to realize the end result that people will be seeing on stage.”

 

For sports organizations, detailed planning is also required to prepare of an upcoming season.

 

Indoor Soccer Park Sign“I think we were always optimistic there was going to be a season for our recreational league kids,” says Derrick Bridgman, General Manager of Cambridge Youth Soccer, referring to the 2020 season.

 

He says planning had started in March of last year to prepare for the upcoming season and that 1,000 children had registered to play outdoors when the scope of the pandemic became clear.

“At first we didn’t know how long it was going to last or was it only going to be that ‘magical’ two weeks, or would it be done in a couple of months so we could get our season in,” says Derrick.

 

He says thanks to a comprehensive return to play plan created by the Ontario Soccer Association, his group was able to see a limited amount of action on the field and by the end of last summer had managed to see a few games played.

 

However, that changed in the fall when new restrictions came into play and affected Cambridge Youth Soccer’s Fountain Street North indoor facility, which the group also rents to external users.

 

“We thought it (pandemic) would be behind us when it came to our indoor season but unfortunately there was such a significant impact on indoor sports,” says Derrick, referring to the indoor capacity levels which at one point only allowed up to 50 people – players included - at a game. “We had to get resourceful and creative, just like a lot of other sports organizations and try and maintain a positivity not only for our staff, but for our users. I think a lot of parents just want to get back to normal.”

 

He says there is a sense of optimism for the upcoming season, noting seeing those between 12-17 getting vaccinated has been a positive step. However, he says his group, like many sports organizations, remain at the ‘mercy’ of the province, health officials and the City of Cambridge whom they rent fields from in terms of possible restrictions.

 

“Also, there are parents that aren’t comfortable yet putting their kids back into sports until they’re confident the pandemic is over,” says Derrick, adding his organization is now looking to start its 2021 season the weekend of July 11 in accordance with the province’s three-step reopening plan.

 

“The government has been intentionally vague, in my opinion, in how it has crafted some of the wording when it comes to sports and recreation,” he says. “I think they did that on purpose so provincial sports organizations can amend their return to play documentation.”

 

Minto Schneider, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region, says the sports and recreation sector is returning a little faster than others.

 

“We’re also seeing conferences rebook as well. It’s happening, but happening slowly,” she says, noting experts are not predicting a full economic recovery until 2024. “Part of the challenge is that leisure travel will likely rebound more quickly, but business travel is not rebounding as quickly since conferences generally have a further booking window.”

 

Minto says also having the U.S./Canada border closed and seeing conferences cancelled in the GTA has also affected local tourism due to the substantial spinoff visitors bring to the hospitality industry in terms of hotel stays and restaurant visits.

“One of the things that really drives the tourism business in Waterloo Region is group business, whether it’s a sports tournament or a conference. Those are the things that really drive our visitor traffic,” she says, adding there have been limited ‘windows’ between lockdowns for potential visitors. “We’ve had to be very cautious of how we promote our region. We don’t want to be seen as trying to attract visitors from other areas, particularly at a time when Toronto and Peel were in the ‘Red Zone’. It’s been challenging.”

 

But in turn, Minto says Explore Waterloo Region has been promoting the region to its own residents, encouraging them to get out and see what exists in their own backyards.

 

“That’s been the silver lining to this whole thing. We’ve been able to, hopefully, create ‘ambassadors’ for Waterloo Region within the region itself.”

 

In the future, Minto also says more conferences will operate using a hybrid method, allowing participants the opportunity to attend in person or virtually.

 

“This will be great because never before will so many people have the have opportunity to learn more,” she says.

 

Several virtual initiatives launched in the past year by Drayton Entertainment have also helped his organization, says Steven. Among these was a virtual variety show engaging more than 40 artists using the video platform Vimeo.

 

“We were completely overwhelmed by the uptake on that,” he says, adding the show was viewed by more than 80,000 people worldwide and came away with 125,000 impressions.

 

This was followed by a cabaret series via Facebook, plus Drayton Entertainment has continued its ‘world famous’ 50/50 draw online.

 

“We’ve been able to give away significant jackpots in the three months we’ve been running that,” he says, adding having the 50/50 draw has also ensured Drayton Entertainment fans and supporters remain feeling connected to the organization.

 

And although a virtual component may still play a role for Drayton Entertainment once audiences are allowed to return to its theatres, Steven says it will never replace the feel of having a live audience.

 

“One of the things people don’t realize is how imperative a live audience is to not just a live theatre experience, but any live cultural experience,” he says, adding people crave the ‘connectivity’ of being together, even when it comes to family gatherings.

 

Minto agrees and says vaccinations and initiatives, such as the rapid screening kit program launched by the Cambridge and Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce, and Communitech, have been beneficial to the community.

 

“I think it has given people confidence that they can go to work. In our industry, we’ve had staff who’ve been afraid to go back to work because they hadn’t been working for a while and want to make sure they don’t bring something home with them to their families,” she says, adding Explore Waterloo Region and the Chambers continue to work with other partners to ensure the most up-to-date and reliable information is conveyed to all their stakeholders.

 

“I think everyone is really looking forward to a time when they can actually open their businesses and welcome people back,” she says.

 

For more on Explore Waterloo Region, visit http://www.explorewaterlooregion.com. For information about Drayton Festival, visit https://bit.ly/3z2aqop. And for more on Cambridge Youth Soccer, visit www.cambridgesoccer.ca

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The importance of rapid screening in the battle against this pandemic has been seen as the preferred weapon of choice near the top of the wish-list of health experts and members of the business community since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected more than a year ago.

 

Thanks to the recent introduction of our pilot project that is seeing thousands of Abbott Panbio Antigen screening kits distributed to Waterloo Region SMEs (under 150 employees), many local businesses now have the capability to conduct rapid screening.

 

“If all businesses would jump on board with this process, then we would be able to keep a better eye on the virus as well as the variants,” says Cynthia Fernandez, owner of Accurate Auto Appraisal in Cambridge.

 

She is among at least 1,500 businesses in our region that have utilized the free kits through the www.chambercheck.ca website since the initiative was launched April 5.

 

The goal of the program, created through Health Canada and in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and Communitech, is to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals in effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

Volunteers prepare the kits for pick-up at Cambridge Chamber’s office at 750 Hespeler Rd. and in keeping with all the necessary safety protocols, a designate from each SME receives video training when they pick up their kits that explains how to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of the used kits.

 

“We know that rapid screening has always been the key when it comes to curbing the spread and having these kits is a great way to assist our SMEs get back on track after a difficult year,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. 

Cynthia agrees.

 

“It is a very nerve-wracking thing to still go to work (outside of the home) and know that it’s still a very real possibility,” she says, referring to the threat of contracting the virus. “Everyone who works for Accurate is very receptive of the screening and it provides a peace of mind for them and their families as well.”

 

Shimco President and CEO Peter Voss has discovered the same after utilizing screening kits for his staff.

 

“Employees have commented that they feel safer now coming to work, and they are more comfortable going home to their families now,” he says, noting they are conducting the recommended two sets of screenings every week.

 

In accordance with safety protocols, if a screen results in a positive for COVID-19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test at an approved Public Health Collection Site and await further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“Our employees see it as a positive addition to our already strict COVID cleaning and screening procedures,” says Sara Chamberlin, Human Resources Manager at Cambridge Hotel & Conference Centre.

 

At Swift Components Corp., Managing Partner Kristen Danson says having the kits has instilled confidence in her employees, including two additional hires the company made after she picked up her first order of kits the day the program was launched.

 

“Initially, when I said to them it was onsite work, they were quite cautious which is to be expected when starting in a new workplace,” she says. “(The kits) have really helped the new people to our organization see that we are taking this seriously and we have a process in place to control things.”

 

Besides helping employees, having a rapid screening process in place has also inspired more confidence for the clients of these businesses.

 

“For vehicle appraisal, it is very calming for the customers that we need to see in person to know that any of our appraisers that come out to see them are in fact negative, as well as vaccinated,” says Cynthia. “We are so very blessed to be able to have access to them; I feel that it has been a helping with anything that we need to see in person.”

 

The majority of those who’ve accessed the kits say the process is relatively easy to navigate in terms of ordering and administering them.

 

“You have to find a way that works in your system,” says Kristen, explaining how at Swift Components the first round of screenings were administered in a boardroom. “It took forever to rotate people through. But then we realized we have a cart with wheels that we were able to take out into the production area and literally do the screenings on the shop floor.”

 

She says this simple change expediated the process considerably.

 

“You just have to look at your process and space and figure out what works.”

 

Kristen says her company has picked up a second order of kits.

The initial orders provide businesses with two weeks of screening kits, but most are interested in obtaining more.

 

 “Should we use the supply we have been given, we will be requesting more as we continue to promote the benefits of the program to our team,” says Sara.

 

Peter feels the same.

 

“I know it’s not possible currently, but I liked to do the screenings daily if there was enough supply,” he says, adding his employees are screened before they even enter the building.

Each SME is required to electronically submit their screening results after each occasion and the accumulated data will be reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly.

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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 effects of COVID-19 continue to test our economy, but the fiscal uncertainties surrounding this unprecedented crisis has not stopped many local businesses from reaching out to help others.

 

From local food banks, to frontline workers, to seniors and those with disabilities, the Cambridge business community has come forward to ensure those in need during this pandemic are not forgotten.

 

“The Cambridge community has always been exceptionally supportive of the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank and they’ve stepped up for us in a way like we’ve never seen before,” says Dianne McLeod, the food bank’s interim executive director. “We’ve had lot of different restaurants donating products to us, whether it’s milk or eggs; stuff we’re not typically able to offer to everyone.”

 

But financial donations have also been coming in to allow the food bank to purchase some much-needed supplies for the 100 or so clients it serves daily, and Dianne credits many local businesses for this valuable support.

 

“We have all been so affected by the COVID-19 crisis and even though as a business have had our challenges, we all want to help those who truly need help,” says Christina Marshall, Director of Business Development at Gaslight Events Company Inc. which operates Tapestry Hall.

 

Her company, through its Tapestry Hall Delivers program which offers healthy meals via delivery and curbside pickup, has been donating $1 from every order to the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

 

“We have had two very solid weeks of the food delivery services, which means two weeks of orders that are supporting the food banks in our region,” says Christina.

 

But tasty dishes are not the only way the food bank has benefitted. Funky t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘Eat, Sleep, Quarantine, Repeat’ have been popping up all over our community on social media thanks to a charitable partnership between MitoGraphics and Cambridge Centre Honda.

 

Since mid-April, the two companies have sold dozens of the shirts for $20 each, with every cent from each sale being divided equally between not only the food bank, but Trinity Community Table, Cambridge Shelter Corporation (The Bridges), and Women’s Crisis Services Waterloo Region.

 

“A friend in Peterborough who owns and operates a Honda dealership was creating t-shirts and I loved the idea,” says Cambridge Centre Honda’s Nicole Pereira, explaining how the idea came about. “I thought if Peterborough can make this happen, so can Cambridge.”

 

With the expert help of MitoGraphics’ Kristen Danson, the women went to work creating their #QuarantineTees in several colours and through the power of social media have started a virtual movement of support.

 

Originally, they had hoped to sell 50 of the shirts but during a pre-launch weekend sale in mid-April wound up more than doubling their sales.

 

“We both love our community and think the people of Cambridge are awesome, so it’s not surprising that we have received such great support,” says Nicole, adding the t-shirts have now been sold as far west as Alberta and on the East Coast.

 

She says the four charities have been great at promoting the shirts on social media and that one local store, Once Upon a Child, has also been selling them via its online store.

 

“There are so many great examples of businesses giving back to our community,” says Nicole.

 

For Golfplay’s President and General Manager Steve Harris, giving back seemed liked the best thing his business could do since it was required to shut its doors along with thousands of other Canadian businesses back in March.

 

“There are lots of needy organizations,” he says, noting after sitting idle for about two weeks, Golfplay fired up its stone pizza oven in its Ironwood Bistro to try a new approach. “I thought, we’ve got a perfectly good pizza oven so why not sell pizzas and give some of the money to charities?”

 

They tried doing it one day a week and gave $10 from every pizza sold, starting with the Cambridge Memorial Hospital and The Bridges shelter. They quickly sold out and began doing it three nights a week (Thursday to Saturday), selecting different charities each week to benefit, including Grand River Hospital, St. Mary’s General Hospital Foundation, Family & Children’s Services Foundation, and more recently the Sunnyside Foundation.

 

Orders for pizzas and other menu items are taken online for fast and easy curbside pickup.

 

“We just kind of go around,” says Steve, referring to how the charities are selected. “All of them could use help because their fundraising events have been cancelled.”

He says working with charities is also a good way to foster new relationships and potential spinoffs down the road when restrictions eventually ease.

 

“This has sort of helped increase the awareness of what we do here. People at least get the chance to sample our food,” says Steve, joking many people may not think of getting great pizza from a place called Golfplay.

 

“We’re trying to build a business and trying to give something back in the process,” he says, describing the situation as a ‘win-win-win’ for all involved. “The customers win because they feel good about helping others, we win because we get more exposure and the charities win because they receive some money in the process.”

 

Support among those in the business community is crucial says Christina, especially as the recovery process begins.

 

“By banding together and helping each other get through this, we show our strength as a community economically and socially,” she says. “If a business closes, the employees lose their income and that means other businesses do not benefit from that person’s buying power.”

 

Keeping that in mind, Tapestry Hall’s Delivers and HIP Developments have formed a partnership to create the Feeding the Frontlines program. On the Tapestry Hall Delivers’ website, customers have the option to contribute to the program which aims to see $5,000 in meal vouchers distributed to essential workers in Waterloo Region, including those working in healthcare, shelters, and grocery stores. On the site, the public can nominate businesses where essential workers are busy.

 

“They are doing the hard work in this community,” says HIP Developments President Scott Higgins. “We are just trying to find ways we can say thank you and make their family lives a little easier.”

 

Christina agrees and says these workers have gone into work each day to ensure the rest of us have the things we need.

 

“We wanted to do something kind to say thanks,” she says. “A stress-free meal may not seem like a lot, but when you have had a long and sometimes scary week at work, one less thing, like cooking a dinner or meal planning, can help ease that stress.”

 

Easing stress for others is what prompted Driverseat Cambridge owner Sean Mulder to follow the lead of the company’s Calgary office and offer a ‘shop and drop’ program free to seniors and those with disabilities. Those in need of groceries can call, or text Driverseat and will be provided with a link that allows them to fill out a grocery order.

 

“It’s kind of cool. We’re the third location to test this out,” says Sean, adding having fewer people going to grocery stores means less points of contact to spread the virus. “This makes great sense.”

 

Driverseat chauffeurs, many of whom Sean says are doing this on a volunteer basis since many only work part time for the company, do the shopping for the customer using a preauthorized payment system and then deliver the groceries following strict physical distancing guidelines. Currently, Driverseat is offering this at a few stores but expects that will increase as the program expands.

 

“A lot of our posts on social media have received a wide reach and from that, we’re getting quite a lot of people calling and messaging us,” says Sean.

 

He says since a huge portion of Driverseat’s regular services have been scaled back considerably since the lockdown began, this has allowed the company team to stay connected. Also, Sean says it has been a boost for those in need and are isolated on their own.

 

“It gives people peace of mind. We’re a person they can talk to,” he says, adding clients can call the chauffeur if they have special requests that may not be on the grocery list, or if they forgot to add something. “They’re not just punching information into an app; with us there’s a voice you can talk to.”

 

Sean admits even though businesses are facing challenging times it shouldn’t prevent them from lending a hand.

 

“There’s a huge need in our community and if you have the means or the time, you should do something,” he says.

 

Christina agrees, especially when it comes to assisting the non-profit sector.

“If you have the chance to help those that are helping others, isn’t it the right thing to do?” she says.

 

At the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank, Dianne says she is thrilled by the extent of generosity from the business community which has included free security service and the creation of safe work stations for staff to work with clients at the front of the building thanks to the donation of free reno work.  As well, she says the local CAA office has deployed its vehicles to pick up food bank donations from the grocery store bins.

 

“No matter what people’s struggles are, they’re still considering us and donating to us which helps us keep going,” says Dianne.

 

Contact Information:

 

For information about Tapestry Hall Delivers, visit www.tapestryhall.ca

 

To order a #QuarantineTee visit www.cambridgecentrehonda.com/community-fundraiser/

 

For information about Golfplay, visit www.golfplay.ca

 

Contact Driverseat Cambridge at www.driverseatinc.com, or call 226-241-3736

 

For information about the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank (which now has community donation bins set up at St. John’s Anglican Church in Preston and PetroKing in Hespeler), visit www.cambridgefoodbank.org

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Physical distancing and thoroughly washing your hands are ways for the general public to battle the spread of COVID-19.

 

For manufacturers looking to find ways to help fight the battle by retooling their operations to create much-needed medical supplies such as masks and face shields, collaboration is the key way says Steve Mai, CEO and President of Eclipse Automation, one of many local companies stepping up to the plate.

 

“It really helps if you build networks,” says the Eclipse founder. “Don’t work in a bubble, get out there and do it.”

 

 

The Cambridge-based company, which has been an industry leader in custom automated manufacturing equipment for 20 years, recently inked an agreement with Harmontronics Automation in China to manufacture, sell and distribute its automated N95 vertical flat fold respirator mask production line system in North America. As well, Eclipse also signed an agreement last week with Irema Ireland to access its N95 and FFP2 mask product designs and technology, including respirator designs, specifications, and manufacturing process for exclusive use in Canada.

 

These agreements will provide Eclipse the opportunity to rapidly create automation systems to support the design and assemble these important medical supplies, plus pave the way for a domestically produced N95 respirator.

 

Ultimately, Steve has a goal to produce vital life-saving protection products domestically.

 

“We shouldn’t be losing sight of the fact that we have a definite problem in quality of what is coming in through the supply chain,” he says. “I want to know there are masks produced in this country that have every element of the supply chain controlled.”

 

He admits the overall process has been taking place at a slower pace than he’d like, taking into consideration the strict regulations in place to have a mask receive NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approval, but notes Eclipse has not lost sight of  its end goal to ensure these supplies get into the hands of those who need them most. According to a recent media release, Eclipse expects to be first-to-market domestically by early July and plans to ramp up to make one million units per week.

 

“This is what we do for a living, this is not a secondary thing we’re trying to get into,” says Steve, describing the company’s decision to enter the battle against COVID-19.

He says the company, which employs approximately 800 people among its locations in Cambridge, U.S., Europe and China, has used a foundational approach by building on its core competencies to reach its goal.

 

He recommends other companies wishing to retool should consider doing the same.

“They’ve got to be careful not to overextend themselves and stay with what they know and focus on their core competencies,” says Steve, adding working with others is also important.

 

“We’re learning about a completely different network than we’re used to,” he says. “I’m seeing people sharing their ideas and being quite open.”

 

Since Eclipse undertook this major endeavour back in March, Steve says he has connected with many businesses that he has never had contact with before and expects to see these new relationships only strengthen.

 

“There’s some decent networking that’s going to come out of all this,” he says, describing the numerous phone calls he has had with various business leaders. “It’s really been amazing. I can’t wait to meet them in person.”

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I am a small business owner based in Cambridge, Ontario.  Along with my partners, we operate two manufacturing operations employing a total of about 25 people.

 

I am proud of all of the response of our political leaders to this crisis on all levels – local, provincial and federal.  They have taken a sober and analytical approach to the immediate needs of the citizens of this country.

 

Their willingness to commit funds, resources and support to our front line workers, small businesses and all in need will get Canada through this ordeal.

 

As a business owner, my top priority is always looking ahead to determine how I can not only succeed; but avoid unexpected disruption to my team; and minimize our potential for risk of any kind.

 

This is where I think the business community needs more support from our leaders.

 

The question of when we should re-open for business is open for debate.  The leaders in Canada, USA and abroad have differing opinions on this matter. 

 

There is only one question on my mind – what is required for me to do business in a way that will be safe for my team, clients and supply chain?  This is the question that must be answered prior to our return to regular business.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that the scientists of the world will determine when it should happen; using the tools and expertise available to them.  It brings me comfort to know that our Canadian politicians are being guided by science in their decision making process on these issues.  

 

However, there is another component to this decision that I think we are neglecting.  Whenever we return to work, it will be to a new business landscape.  There are new risks, new considerations and a higher expectation from the community for business owners to provide a safe working environment.  As a community, we need to determine what will be required to have in place prior to a return to “regular” business. Until we have a vaccine / “herd immunity”, do workers require masks to be safe?  Do we need to require hand sanitizer at entry points to work areas and require all team members to use?  In Taiwan, there are some common practise expectations for citizens that have allowed them to maintain a very low infection level of COVID without restriction on children being at school, or businesses operating normally.  What can we learn from their example that can help us to prepare to resume our work?

 

If Toyota, Honda, or even my business or a local hair salon re-opened in two or four weeks without making any adaptations to how the risk of COVID transmission is controlled; how will we have made progress against this disease?

 

The saying “time heals all wounds” has never resonated with me.  Time doesn’t heal all wounds; but time does offer us the opportunity to prepare for what is coming at  us next.  We know that the economy will have to resume prior to COVID being completely eradicated.  The question is – what will we as a community do to mitigate the risk of another peak of infection as we make that return to the new normal?

 

There is no question that children will have to return to school; I am less concerned about when that happens than I am about what the plan is to keep them safe and healthy once they are there.  We have the example of how Taiwan has made this work; kids wearing masks and having plastic cubicle style dividers between desks during meals.  Will we use this time to learn from their example and adapt our own action plan for what is required to be in place prior to resuming their in class education?  My hope is that we do. 

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is starting to gather experts and business owners to start this discussion.  I am proud to be a part of this discussion; I look forward to learning and planning together with others to determine how we as a business community can plan to get back to business.  This is new territory for everyone – consumers, business owners, employees, politicians, government, youth and seniors.  If we can agree on the supports that are needed to re-open in a safe manner, the time spent until that happens can be spent planning and making the required changes to how we do business to accommodate the new reality we live in.  If as a community we neglect this opportunity to plan and adapt, we are destined to repeat this cycle of the pandemic again in the not so distant future.

 

This is work that our Chambers of Commerce, professional associations, industry associations, regulatory bodies or governing standard registrars, perhaps the labour unions and school boards are well poised to do.  They have connections to business in their sector, a communication channel with a broad range of companies in a vertical market, and the support of their members.  If we all pressure these organizations in our own industries to get to work on our behalf, we can start planning for the future.

 

It’s time to change the question from “when can we re-open” to “what is required for a safe and healthy re-opening in my workplace to get through this crisis”?

 

Let’s get to work.

 

Kristen Danson

Managing Partner

MitoGraphics Inc. / Swift Components Corp

519 240-4205 Direct

 

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