Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Portions of the provincial government’s 2024 budget and the economic impact they will have on businesses are being welcomed by the Ontario Chamber network, but a call remains for more to be done.

 

“This budget takes important steps in the right direction, and at a time when Ontario faces declining productivity, we hope it sets the stage for bigger leaps forward,” said Daniel Tisch, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) in a release. “The government has been bold in attracting investments and committing to build infrastructure to create jobs – and we need similarly bold investments in our people, public institutions, and communities.”

 

Building a Better Ontario, tabled by Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy on March 26, is the Province’s largest spending budget coming in at $214.5 billion.

 

While it featured no tax hikes or tax breaks, it did include substantial funding for infrastructure and highways, something Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher says is vital to the business community.

 

He notes Minister Bethlenfalvy’s mention of the long-awaited Highway 7 project between Kitchener and Guelph, as well as improvements along the Kitchener Line to facilitate future two-way all-day GO Train service, should bode well for local businesses.

 

"This shows these projects are still a priority for this government and that’s what we have been fighting for in this region for a very long time,” he says, adding a $1.6 billion investment also announced for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program to help Ontario build at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031 also comes as good news. “The cost of housing is very concerning to businesses because they can’t attract the brightest and best people to come and work here if housing costs are beyond the pay-scale they are willing to offer.”

 

Housing Crisis

 

However, Greg questions whether the financial commitment outlined in the budget will be enough towards creating a long-term solution to the housing crisis.

 

“The reason housing and rent costs are through the roof is because the supply isn’t even close to the demand. Everybody needs to understand the price of any commodity is based on supply and demand,” he says, adding the Province should amend the Planning Act to give municipalities the broader ability to accelerate the housing construction process. “I also think the Federal government needs to weigh in as well if they are truly concerned about it and reach out to municipalities to see what areas of responsibility the feds can have, perhaps on the subsidized housing side.”

 

Greg says costs surrounding new home construction, which rose during the pandemic, have also not decreased despite the fact supply chain issues have improved. “You can’t ask a builder to build a home for less than what it costs them.”

 

The budget also outlined an additional $100 million investment through the Skills Development Fund and an additional $49.5 million over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy in hopes to address the growing skills gap in Ontario, something both Greg and the Chamber network were pleased to see.

 

“We have the country’s No. 1 skilled trades school (Conestoga College Skilled Trades Campus) right here in Waterloo Region, so this announcement is very important,” he says. “What is even more important is that Cambridge has such a density of advanced manufacturing and each one of those facilities need skilled tradespeople to work. Investment in skilled trades is certainly paramount for us and it should be paramount for the province and the entire country.”

 

And while the Chamber network applauds the Province’s $546 million investment in healthcare access, Greg admits he’s disappointed the budget contains only an overall 1.3% hike for health care.

 

“I really believe this government is working hard behind the scenes to try and figure out where the money will be best spent because with a system like health care, which is the biggest piece of the puzzle here in Ontario, you can’t just keep dumping in money. You have to rationalize where we’re putting it,” he says. “Our healthcare system is a rationalized system where we get what we need, not what we want. So, let’s make sure we get the money directed in the right places to ensure our health needs are taken care of.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

 

Several positive measures in the budget to help the business community:

 

  • Housing through an investment of $1.6B for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program and an additional $625M towards the Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund to build roads, water and infrastructure needed to enable Ontario to reach its goal of building at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031.
  • Workforce development by continuing to address skills gaps in critical sectors of the economy through an additional $100M investment through the Skills Development Fund, and an additional $49.5M over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy, supporting programs that reduce stigma and attract younger Ontarians into skilled trades.
  • Healthcare access through a $546M investment expected to connect 600,000 underserved Ontarians with access to primary healthcare teams of doctors, nurses and professionals, and the opening of a new medical school at York University to improve the pipeline of family doctors.
  • Mental health, addictions, and homelessness through an additional $152M over three years towards supportive housing, $396M in mental health supports through mobile health units, and $60M to Indigenous mental health.

 

As the government enters the second half of its mandate, the OCC urges action to support:

 

  • Business competitiveness by improving access to private capital and credit for small businesses, developing an employee ownership policy framework, and supporting greater business adoption of co-operative conversion.
  • Interprovincial trade by signing mutual recognition agreements and/or unilaterally recognizing standards in other parts of the country, where appropriate, to promote trade and labour mobility.
  • Post-secondary institutions through aggressive investment to create a financially sustainable and globally competitive post-secondary education and research sector, aspiring to have the best-funded system in Canada.
  • Energy infrastructure by investing in generation, transmission, and distribution to support expanded charging infrastructure and address expected electricity shortfalls.
  • Climate resilience through a climate adaptation and mitigation plan, with strategies that value nature and ecosystem services, and support the federal Task Force on Flood Insurance and Relocation.

 

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Advocating for public policies that can benefit businesses has been a cornerstone feature of the Chamber of Commerce movement for generations.

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, like many of its counterparts in the Ontario Chamber network, works consistently all year striving to translate the needs and wants of their members into potential policy resolutions aimed at prompting change at both the provincial and federal levels of government.

 

But this work, and the work of other Chambers, is often carried out without many of their members even aware there is a widespread network advocating on their behalf.

 

“This isn’t unique to the Chamber movement and quite common for any advocacy organization because it’s a concept so intangible to a lot of individuals who aren’t engaging in it and don’t necessarily understand the value of it,” says Andrea Carmona, Manager of Public Affairs for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Advocacy, I feel, is a little bit like a unicorn. When you’re a small business owner who is probably focused on keeping your business running, you’re more likely to be looking towards your local Chamber for what are the more tangible services they can offer – programs, events, and grants.”

 

She says collectively, promoting its advocacy work is something the Ontario Chamber network must communicate clearly as possible.

 

“It is kind of a difficult thing to explain to people, but really it’s all about amplifying issues and having a chorus of voices saying the same thing so that we can move the needle and make an impact,” says Andrea. “That’s ultimately what advocacy looks to do.”

 

Making that impact formulated the basis of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent Advocacy Day at Queen’s Park. This nineth annual event gave nearly 100 delegates representing Chambers provincewide, including Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher and Board President Kristen Danson, the opportunity to meet with MPPs to discuss various issues facing business communities.

 

Some of the key areas targeted by delegates included:

 

  • Investing in inclusive workforce development: To address labour shortages, investments to resolve skills mismatches are vital. These initiatives should be designed to close the gap between current workforce skills and the evolving demands of Ontario’s labour market.
  • Enhancing sustainable infrastructure: Strategic investments in smart and sustainable infrastructure, including transportation, clean energy, and digital connectivity, can boost immediate economic activity while supporting long-term growth. This includes expanding broadband access in rural and remote areas and upgrading public transit and road networks.
  • Fostering a business-friendly environment:  Implementing policies that reduce red tape and create a conducive environment for business growth is essential. This includes reviewing and streamlining regulatory processes, providing tax incentives for businesses looking to grow and targeted support for small businesses.
  • Cultivating resilient, healthy communities: Improving health data system integration, addressing capacity gaps in health human resources, and empowering municipalities with new revenue sources are crucial steps in ensuring the well-being of Ontarians and fostering community prosperity.

 

Although the Chamber network’s advocacy efforts are ongoing year-round, Andrea says Advocacy Day provides an ideal opportunity for face-to-face meetings and discussions with the decisionmakers.

 

“It’s all about ongoing engagement and follow up,” she says. “It can’t just be a single day of advocacy. We need to ensure Chambers are keeping connected with their local MPPs. A lot of this is relationship building since they see Chambers as a credible source for what is happening on the ground.”

 

Andrea says building those relationships sets the groundwork for support and the ability to drive change that can assist the business community.

 

“It’s a great opportunity to connect across party lines,” she says. “Politics is unpredictable, and you don’t know what is going to happen in 2026 so you want to ensure you are establishing relationships across the board. We are a non-partisan organization and of course the government of the day is important, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t be engaging with other parties.”

 

Andrea notes it’s also a two-way street for the decisionmakers who participate in Advocacy Day, as well.

 

“It’s such a great opportunity for them to hear about such a broad stroke of local perspectives across the province,” she says.

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Creating an economic environment to ensure businesses can succeed was the key part of the agenda at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Annual General Meeting and Convention in Niagara Falls.

 

In attendance at the recent event, hosted by the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce and Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, were 160 delegates representing nearly 80 Chambers provincewide, including Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher, and Board Chair Kristen Danson.

 

“The OCC’s AGM is an important avenue to share new ideas and connect with other Chamber leaders to find ways to ensure businesses have the legislative support they need to succeed,” he said. “The policies the Chamber network approves create a roadmap when it comes to making important legislative changes.”

 

In total, 43 policies were approved by the delegates covering a wide variety of issues that can directly affect businesses including labour, energy, education, healthcare, transportation and transit. 

 

The theme for this year’s AGM was Growing Together, which exemplifies the Chamber network’s focus on driving economic growth in the province. 

 

This year's event featured a range of keynote speakers, panel discussions, and breakout sessions on topics that are critical to the success of Ontario's businesses.

 

Attendees had the opportunity to hear from experts in areas such as innovation, trade, workforce development, and government relations.

 

Fireside chats were held featuring a variety of provincial political leaders, including Ontario’s Minister of Red Tape Reduction Parm Gill, who talked about the importance of creating a path for businesses to succeed. 

 

“I think we can all agree that for the province to be competitive we’ve got to make sure we are creating a business environment for businesses to come and make investments, and create well-paying jobs,” he told the delegates. “That’s what we (PC Party of Ontario) have been doing for the last five years. We’ve made tremendous progress.”

 

However, there is more room for improvement according to Ontario NDP Finance & Treasury Board Critic Catherine Fife. The Waterloo MPP, along with Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, were among those who discussed a variety of issues that needed to be addressed such as housing and healthcare.

 

“When you have a strong healthcare system that can actually draw people into the province, that social infrastructure investment is seen as a plus by companies that are thinking of coming into Ontario,” she said. “And it also serves employees well and is certainly worth fighting for.”

 

Her concerns about Ontario’s healthcare system were reiterated by Ontario Liberal Party Interim Leader John Fraser, who talked about the importance of creating a stronger workforce.

 

“We do not have enough people to care for the people who need it,” he said. “We need a skilled workforce, but enough training is not always that accessible to all people.”

 

The Hon. Perrin Beatty, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President, also identified the need to boost our innovation capacity for Canada to compete internationally.

 

“We’ve been calling on the government to focus on the fundamentals of growth. We need to build a 21st Century workforce,” he said. “It’s time for governments at all levels to treat business as partners not a problem.”

 

 

Cambridge Chamber policies approved by Ontario delegates

 

The AGM is a pivotal event for Ontario’s business community, providing an opportunity for industry leaders to come together to discuss and debate key policies that shape the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) advocacy agenda for the coming year.

The Cambridge Chamber presented three policies, all of which received overwhelming support from delegates:

 

  • The first policy is aimed at opening Ontario’s job market for employers and employees and urged the Government of Ontario to develop all potential partnerships within local municipalities and community organizations to ensure that language training is made available to new immigrants to help expediate entrance into the workforce. Also, the policy called on the Province to provide an opportunity for those on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) who want to work to do so without risk of losing their provincially funded benefits if their employer does not provide those services. And finally, the policy recommended providing employers with a form of renumeration (i.e., tax credit) when it comes to providing provincially regulated training, such as WHMIS and their associate costs.
  • The second policy was ‘reaffirmed’ by the Chamber network after first being introduced in 2019 calling for more to be done by the Province to encourage more women and girls to consider a career in the skilled trades. 
  • The Chamber also presented and co-sponsored a policy with the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce to attract and retain highly skilled talent by urging the Province to double the size of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program and to work with post-secondary institutions to reduce regulatory barriers hindering the construction of new on and off-campus housing. As well, it urged the Province to match investments in post-secondary infrastructure and increase funding for Facilities Renewal Program-elgible projects. 
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Terms like ‘The Great Resignation’, ‘quiet quitting, ‘ghosting’ and ‘grey wave’, have become commonplace to describe trends creating upheaval for employers in their quest to attract and retain workers.

 

But finding a solution to Ontario’s job shortages will require a multi-pronged approach consisting of unique ideas that take into consideration the diversity of labour needs among various sectors.

 

In effort to find these potential ideas, the Cambridge Chamber recently brought together a group of business and community leaders – all Members - to discuss their concerns via our MasterMind Series.

 

“Our MasterMind sessions are a great way to get feedback on particular issues that can assist us in developing policies that we can advocate for change at the provincial and federal levels of government which in turn will benefit businesses,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Changes to the immigration system was just one of several areas the group touched upon that would require legislative changes at both the provincial and federal levels. Others included a discussion about the need for potential curriculum changes and the costs surrounding WHMIS training.

 

This discussion inspired the Chamber to develop several recommendations in a draft policy it will present for approval at the Ontario of Chamber of Commerce’s AGM in April. Additional recommendations with a federal focus may be developed for another policy which the Chamber will present next fall at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce AGM.

 

If approved, these policies are then included in the advocacy ‘playbooks’ of both organizations as they lobby the government for changes that will benefit businesses.

 

 

Labour shortages remain a big concern

 

While the pandemic is often identified as the catalyst behind Canada’s continued employment issues, many experts believe our labour force growth rate has been trending downward since 2000 and has been exacerbated by the arrival of COVID-19.

 

In fact, according to Statistics Canada, in 2021 one in five Canadian workers were between the age of 55 to 64 – representing an all-time high of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). This translates into 1.4 million Canadians between 2016 to 2021 who are 55 or older and looking towards retirement.

 

Adding to this dilemma of a shrinking workforce, according to StatsCan, recruiting skilled workers was expected to be an obstacle for the first quarter of 2022 for 39.9% (approximately two-fifths) of all businesses.

 

The effects may be reflected in the results of an annual labour survey conducted in 2022 by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters’ (CME) of 563 manufacturers in 17 industries nationwide which outlined the impact labour shortages were having by indicating a nearly $13 billion loss in Canada’s economy over the course of a year.

 

While a job surge at the end of 2022 which saw the unemployment rate drop to 5% in December compared to 5.1% in November was welcomed news, StatsCan says a hike in illness-rated absences resulted in limited worker output. As well, while StatsCan says Canada’s employment rate increased to 61.8% in December, compared to 61.5% the month before, the projected trend shows a drop to 60.9% in 2024 – with the potential to rebound and hit 62.2% in 2025.

 

The effect these fluctuations will have as employers continue to seek employees to fill the nearly one million job vacancies in Canada has yet to be determined, considering the results of a recent poll conducted by the recruitment firm Robert Half indicating half of Canadian workers are planning to seek new jobs in 2023 – nearly double the amount from a year ago. That poll, conducted this past fall from among 1,100 workers from multiple sectors, showed that 50% of respondents would be seeking new employment in the next six months (up from 31% six months ago). The top reasons for this shift not only include higher salaries, better benefits, and perks, but greater flexibility to decide when and where they work.

 

 

Resources needed to improve immigration system

 

As current and potential employees weigh their options and re-valuate their priorities and goals when it pertains to employment, Canada continues its concentrated effort to reach its immigration target of 1.4 million in three years to fill these widening labour gaps.

 

While an influx of immigrants is welcomed news in hopes of easing labour shortages, the need to ensure resources are available to serve this growing population is imperative. Besides an adequate supply of housing, language training is just as important to provide them with a basic tool they need to enter the workforce even faster.

 

Providing necessary resources to assist newcomers was an issue raised during our MasterMind session, as well as extending the current hourly work limit permanently for international students. As well, it was suggested policy changes are needed when it comes ensuring foreign workers who do not hold management positions could bring their families to Canada more easily.

 

 

Recommendations going to OCC

 

The policy - entitled Opening Job Markets for Employers and Employees and co-sponsored by our colleagues at the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce – touches on several areas.

 

The Chamber has recommended the OCC urge the Ontario Government to:

  1. Develop all potential partnerships within local municipalities and community organizations to ensure that language training is made available for new immigrants.
  2. Allow those on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) who can work full time to do so without risking loss of their provincially funded benefits (i.e., prescribed medications) if their employer does not provide those services.
  3. Investigate a form of remuneration (i.e., tax credit) for employers when it comes to providing provincially regulated training, such as WHMIS, and their associated costs.

 

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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) welcomes the return of the Legislature and looks forward to working with Premier Ford, his new cabinet, and all parties to champion the province’s competitiveness, productivity, and growth.

 

To put its members’ concerns’ front and centre as the Legislature returns, the OCC today released its Blueprint to Bolster Ontario’s Prosperity, which provides a letter to each provincial cabinet minister outlining key policy priorities.

 

“Businesses across Waterloo Region are looking to the government to develop policies that will spur local and regional economic growth and job creation,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.  “The government must create the right conditions to support business stability, predictability, and confidence. There must be a balance between short-and long-term solutions to address our current and future challenges.”

 

Some key highlights in the Chamber network's Blueprint to Bolster Ontario’s Prosperity include:

  • Addressing Ontario’s labour market challenges by boosting immigration, removing barriers to labour mobility, and introducing workforce development strategies for key sectors such as construction, health care, tourism, and hospitality, and transportation.
  • Bolstering our health care system by developing a health human resources strategy, delivering on digital health, and addressing backlogs in routine vaccines, diagnostics, and cancer screenings.
  • Continuing to prioritize lowering the administrative burden on business and ensuring that regulation is streamlined and effective.
  • Planning for Ontario’s long-term energy needs to ensure businesses and residents continue to have access to reliable, clean, and affordable energy for generations to come.
  • Propelling housing affordability through increased supply and regulatory reforms to fuel the industry and help organizations attract and retain talent.
  • Advancing regional transportation connectivity and fare integration as well as broadband infrastructure projects in collaboration with the private sector.
  • Modernizing public procurement to support small businesses and equity seeking entrepreneurs to diversify the supply chain.
  • Seizing Ontario’s opportunity to lead in the global green economy by minimizing uncertainty, supporting cleantech, mobilizing clean energy solutions, and strengthening climate adaptation.

 

“The past few years have been characterized by tremendous uncertainty: a prolonged pandemic, record-high inflation, supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, and geopolitical turmoil. If we want our economy and people to emerge stronger amid so much uncertainty, Ontario must focus on creating the right conditions to support competitiveness, productivity, and growth,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “We are providing all Ministers with a blueprint for steps that can be taken to ensure we are bolstering Ontario’s prosperity – we look forward to continued collaboration with the Government of Ontario and all parties over the next four years.”

 

The OCC’s blueprint letters includes both policy asks where immediate action is required to support business and foundational recommendations for long-term prosperity and were informed by OCC’s diverse membership.

 

READ THE LETTERS.

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A stroll down the red carpet provided a glamorous welcome to local business and community leaders entering the grand foyer at Tapestry Hall for our recent Business Excellence Awards.

 

The in-person awards event, held virtually the past two years due to the pandemic, brought out approximately 300 people the evening of May 26 to celebrate the achievements and resiliency of the Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries business community.

 

“After the last two years, having the chance to gather together and acknowledge the hard work of our businesses meant a great deal to many people,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “And hosting our awards event at such an impressive venue as Tapestry Hall just added to the night.”

 

Below the spectacular glory of Meander – Tapestry Hall’s ‘living’ sculpture – guests were provided with time to mingle prior to a delicious meal and the awards ceremony, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

 

Local radio personality Mike Farwell, host of The Mike Farwell Show on CityNewsKitchener, was the perfect emcee for the evening which kicked off with a $2,000 donation from the Chamber to his Farwell4Hire campaign that raises money for cystic fibrosis research.

 

This was followed by a special presentation from Ontario Chamber of Commerce CEO Rocco Rossi, who handed that organization’s prestigious Chair’s Award for Innovation Program and Service to Greg and Ian McLean, President and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, for creating the rapid screening kit program. The pilot program began here in April of 2021 and was quickly adopted by Chambers provincewide. To date, more than one million kits have been provided free of charge to Waterloo Region businesses and more than 60,000 given to businesses across Ontario through the Chamber network.

 

“The continued success of the program is just another example of how the Chamber network can make a difference when businesses need us the most,” says Greg.

 

Here’s a look at the award recipients:

 

Chair’s Award: Eclipse Automation

Eclipse Automation has become an international company with a global reach employing more than 750 people. But despite that success, it has never lost sight of its ties to Cambridge by remaining a true community supporter. This was very apparent when the pandemic hit and this company, which builds automation systems for some of the largest manufacturers in the world, turned its operation completely around to assist in the battle against the COVID-19 virus by creating face masks and N95-style respirators to address Canada’s critical PPE shortage. This important donation empowered hundreds of these small businesses after the lockdowns and helped prevent even further economic hardship.

 

Community Impact award: Scott Higgins (Hip Developments)

Born and raised in Cambridge, Scott has spent a career truly making our community the best it possibly can be through his passion for not only helping others but trying to make a positive difference that will affect the lives of generations to come. Fearlessly, he has stood by his vision and dream of adapting old buildings into viable realities full of attractive amenities. But he’s more than just a ‘condo’ builder - he’s a community builder who champions the creative entrepreneurial spirit that exists in Waterloo Region. He not only coined the catchphrase the ‘Creative Capital of Canada’ but recently expanded on it through the creation of the Youth Creativity Fund. Working with the Business & Education Partnership of Waterloo Region, this new initiative aims to nurture and share the creative ideas of Grades 5 to 12 students in Waterloo Region – setting the stage for the next generation of local entrepreneurs.

 

WoW Cambridge: Bankim Patel (Baba Bazar)

The kindness continuously shown by Bankim Patel has not gone unnoticed by the loyal customers of his well-known Asian grocery store. Customers to his store have known for a very long time they can count on the owner when needed – even if it that includes driving a customer home because she felt unwell and staying with her until she felt better.

 

Spirit of Cambridge: SM Marketing & Management

When it came to assisting other businesses during the pandemic, SM Marketing & Management didn’t hesitate to reach out and help businesses develop eye-catching social media content to promote themselves. As well, this company also managed to raise money for essential workers who did not receive any bonuses during these tough times through the creation of the ‘In This Together’ campaign. This campaign saw a variety of apparel, including hoodies and t-shirts, featuring logos of local businesses sold with 100% of the proceeds going to those essential workers in need.

 

New Venture of the Year: Drayton Entertainment – The Backstage Pass Program

While the expression ‘pivot’ quickly became commonplace for business leaders everywhere, Drayton Entertainment took this concept to a new level. Recognizing that a ‘return to normal’ would be a multi-year process, it began offering a specialized online subscription service to ensure its patrons would continue to be well taken care of and partnered with hospitality businesses to offer these loyal clients not only a more unique experience, but much-needed support to others in a time of great turmoil.

 

Business of the Year 1-10: Air Power Products Limited

This company always made a conscious effort to not only provide support to many charitable organizations but have strongly done all they can to promote energy conversation and environmental sustainability when organizing their manufacturing processes. For more than 40 years, they have constantly been upgrading to ensure they can offer their clients the best solutions possible. This continued in 2020 when they added Nitrogen and Oxygen generation systems to their portfolio, an innovation that has provided much-needed assistance during the pandemic. This work has kept their employees very busy throughout the pandemic as the company experienced double-digit growth.

 

Business of the Year 11-49: Unified Flex Packaging Technologies

This company has a very specific goal in mind as a good corporate citizen, and that is to produce higher standards of living and quality of life for the communities that surround it while still maintaining profitability. Not only do they hire locally, but they also buy locally through the procurement of components from area vendors contributing to the local business ecosystem. As well, Unified Flex Packaging has used technology through the creation of an easy-to-use customer service portal to ensure they are providing their clients with the best service possible.

 

Business of the Year (Over 50 employees): Collaborative Structures Limited

Besides supporting numerous charitable organizations, Collaborative Structures Limited also continuously strengthens its social responsibility by encouraging and supporting its employees to improve their own socially responsible endeavours and community awareness. They know how employee retention promotes the health and success of the company and are quick to celebrate the hard work and dedication of their staff. As well, since its inception this company has provided exceptional and innovative services to its clients and has been committed to exploring new avenues of business and better building practices that sets it apart in the industry.

 

Outstanding Workplace: BWXT Canada Ltd.

People and innovation form the foundation of the recruitment strategy for BWXT Canada Ltd. Working diligently to attract a diverse and skilled workforce that is reflective of the community that surrounds them has been key to its success. BWXT has created several committees to foster a more welcoming and respectful work environment when it comes to issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. The recruitment strategy at BWXT is both internally and externally focused and is accompanied by ongoing training and development to encourage employee growth and leadership potential. This company believes in its employees and has created a bonus program based on its financial and safety performance

 

Young Entrepreneur: Elisia Neves (Fabrik Architects Inc.)

Talent and devotion to the success of the community are two qualities that are synonymous when describing Elisia Neves. Establishing her business in 2017 through design collaboration and with more than 20 years of industry experience, she is the perfect example of how one young professional with an entrepreneurial spirit can make a difference. She has taken the lead on many successful projects throughout Waterloo Region and Ontario, while at the same time acting as a mentor to other young female professionals and giving back to the community. She has also become a leader in Pandemic Responsive Building Design through research and practice and is a shining example for young girls, new immigrants, students, and young business leaders of today and tomorrow to look up to.

 

Marketing Excellence: Red Bicycle Paper Co.

When the first lockdown hit, Red Bicycle Paper Co. implemented a ‘promise to re-print at no cost’ program for clients which stayed in place until the company’s last client was finally able to wed in February of this year. Using Instagram to its fullest potential as well as investing in a new and a very streamlined website using a local web designer, helped Red Bicycle Paper Co. remain in the minds of couples looking to tie the knot. The company also managed to move to a new studio space that reflected a warm and welcoming space for clients to be inspired and feel excited again, promoting it via an email marketing campaign.

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Canada is facing a competitiveness problem. Inflation, supply chain constraints, and labour shortages risk undermining a swift and robust economic recovery. Meanwhile, recent domestic and international events have renewed the spotlight on energy security and affordability.  

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has released the 2022 Federal Budget Submission focused on public policies that increase Canada’s economic resilience to ongoing and future threats. 

 

“Businesses across Waterloo Region are continuing to feel the effect of the pandemic,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.  “Budget 2022 must lay the groundwork for a strong, inclusive recovery with policies that support the sectors and demographics hardest hit by the pandemic, building the infrastructure and workforce of the future, and modernizing regulation to ensure Canada can attract investment and nurture entrepreneurship.” 

 

Some key highlights from the budget submission include recommendations for the Government of Canada to: 

  • Promote Canada’s energy sector on the global stage and recognize nuclear power as a clean and necessary energy resource in the fight against climate change. 
  • Expand immigration and express entry of skilled workers to address labour shortages.  
  • Increase the Canada Health Transfer Payment to meet the current and future pressures facing Ontario’s health-care system.
  • Modernize transportation infrastructure to address bottlenecks along supply chains and facilitate the decarbonization of the transportation sector.
  • Reform the federal tax system to attract foreign direct investment, drive domestic business growth and innovation. 
  • Develop a sustainable path to reduce the federal debt-to-GDP ratio and wind down other pandemic-related supports to ensure long-term fiscal balance and the capacity to address future economic shocks. 

The OCC’s 2022 Ontario Economic Report found that a staggering 62% of sectors face labour shortages in Ontario and expect to continue facing them over the next year. Together with supply chain disruptions, these shortages impact the cost of living, service delivery, and product availability. 

 

“As the indispensable partner of business, we call on the government to resolve long-standing structural issues, including barriers to interprovincial trade and skilled labour shortages, to drive entrepreneurship, investment and long-term economic growth,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC. 

 

The recommendations outlined in the budget submission were developed together with businesses, associations, post-secondary institutions, chambers of commerce, and boards of trade from across the province.  

 

See budget recommendations: http://bit.ly/3uRp9Bl

 

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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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The decision to retighten restrictions in Ontario in hopes of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and a rapid increase in hospitalizations has once again left businesses scrambling to make ends meet.

 

But with these latest restrictions, which includes cancelling in-door dining in restaurants and implementing capacity limits in the retail sector until Jan. 27, the lack of solid financial supports to assist businesses get through this latest wave is creating a great deal of frustration.

 

“If the government wants businesses to be compliant and agreeable with restrictions and be part of the solution to end this pandemic, then they are going to have compensate business,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The Province has done a very poor job of doing that from the onset of the pandemic.”

 

A similar sentiment is shared by his counterpart at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

“We are all doing our part. Now, the government needs to do their part,” said Ontario Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Rocco Rossi in a Jan. 3 media release. “What additional steps does the government plan to take over the next 21 days and beyond?”

 

Greg says he welcomes the introduction of an Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant announced Jan. 7 that will see eligible small businesses receive $10,000 throughout these current closures as well as electricity-rate relief but believes more supports are needed.

 

“It may be enough for three weeks they are proposing, no question about it,” he says. “But if the closures are going to be in place longer than three weeks, which I hate to even say, they’re going to have to up the ante substantially. Businesses are at their most vulnerable time right now and business owners are at their wit’s end and at the end of their bank accounts.”

 

An application portal for this program is expected to open in the coming weeks and eligible businesses include:

  • Restaurants and bars;
  • Facilities for indoor sports and recreational fitness activities (including fitness centres and gyms);
  • Performing arts and cinemas;
  • Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions;
  • Meeting or event spaces;
  • Tour and guide services;
  • Conference centres and convention centres;
  • Driving instruction for individuals; and
  • Before- and after- school programs.

Also, those eligible businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and are subject to closure under modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen will be pre-screened to verify eligibility and will not need to apply to the new program. 

 

“The government can’t hesitate and must ramp up supports as quickly as possible, and as robust as they possibly can,” says Greg.

 

Greg says the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program unveiled before Christmas, which aims to provide eligible businesses with rebate payments equivalent to 50% of the property tax and energy costs they incur due to current capacity limits, doesn’t work for many businesses.

 

“Right now, many businesses that don’t have a separate tax or hydro bill because it’s included in the rent they pay will be ineligible to get that recovery,” he says, adding the mid-January timeline announced by the Province before it activates the portal for businesses to even apply just adds to their growing financial burdens. “The portal was already available after the government initiated a property tax and hydro rebate program a year ago. They should have opened this up right away.”

 

In response to these restrictions, the Ontario Chamber Network sent a letter Jan. 6 to Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy calling for the following:

  • Extend the Small Business Support Grant for a third round targeted towards all businesses whose revenues are directly and/or indirectly impacted by current public health restrictions. Eligibility should include businesses previously eligible for the Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant and businesses losing revenue because of restrictions affecting their clients (e.g. food service suppliers); 
  • Work with the federal government to increase rental subsidies provided under the newly expanded Local Lockdown Program like the enhanced Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program for businesses directly or indirectly impacted by public health restrictions; 
  • Immediately open the recently announced portal which would allow businesses to access rebates for property taxes and utilities, accompanied by rapid disbursements for eligible business expenses; 
  • Expand access to rapid antigen tests and PCR testing, with priority given to Ontarians unable to work from home, both to limit unnecessary isolation time and allow workers to demonstrate eligibility for paid sick days and other supports; 
  • Work with financial institutions and the federal government to forgive loans for businesses most severely impacted by public health restrictions. 

While the urgency for immediate assistance is needed, Greg says he fears these supports won’t be released quick enough to assist businesses, noting many of whom were starting to realize significant growth in the latter part of the summer and early fall.


“There are so many small businesses that have mounted a great deal of debt and it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to survive,” he says, adding for many it will be like starting from square one. “And we all know the survival rate for small businesses in the first five years is low.”

 

As well, he says businesses that have been around for a decade or two and were in ‘growth mode’ prior to the pandemic are also facing tough times ahead.


“It’s all been taken away from them now and the government just doesn’t seem to be there for them,” says Greg.


While he says while stricter health measures may be needed with this more easily transmissible COVID-19 variant, the line between science and politics has become somewhat blurred.


“There is a divide between science and politics and the two can never come together simply because politicians are trying to please the masses and science is trying to avert the predictable and therein lies the difference,” says Greg. “For the most part, I think government has been trying to take the science data and apply it to political realities and that’s never going to create a good scenario for anybody.”


He says there were measures the Ontario Chamber Network called upon the Province to take prior to the start of the second wave, such as mask mandates requiring surgical-grade and N95 masks being a requirement in public.


“Again, we still don’t have that,” says Greg. “I think there were other measures they should have invoked many months ago that would have probably put us in a better position going into this latest wave. The reality of the situation is the government has become so reactionary they tend to take longer to make decisions.”

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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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