Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

For example:

 

  • 30% revenue decline;

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

For further details, visit:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  • 68% saw revenue decrease by 10% or more
  • 22% unable to stay fully or partially open during the pandemic
  • 25% can’t stay open more than three months
  • 1.2 million SMEs in Canada (426,490 in Ontario) as of December 2017
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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce have released The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.

 

This policy brief lays out a path to Ontario’s economic recovery offering practical recommendations to confront both immediate and longer-term challenges faced by women.

 

“With women’s labour force participation at a record low, decades of progress towards gender equality are at stake,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “This is not only a watershed moment for women but for Ontario’s economy and society more broadly, as women’s participation in the labour market is a precondition to its fulsome economic recovery and future prosperity.”

 

“The economic impacts of the pandemic were direct and immediate for women in Ontario,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Temporary business shutdowns during the state of emergency most severely affected sectors that predominantly employ women. Restrictions on schools and paid child-care facilities have shifted additional hours of unpaid family care onto parents, and this work has largely been taken up by mothers.”

 

Major takeaways from the report include:

  • Leadership and accountability begin with a commitment from stakeholders to set collective targets, reward diversity, include women in decision-making bodies, and apply a gender and diversity lens to their strategies, policies, and programs for recovery.
  • Child care requires a short-term strategy to weather the pandemic and longer-term, system-wide reforms to improve accessibility and affordability.
  • Workforce development initiatives should focus on defining critical skills, accelerating women’s reskilling, and ensuring their skills are utilized – with a focus on increasing their participation in skilled trade, technology, and engineering roles in fast-growing sectors.
  • Entrepreneurship should be understood as a pathway to economic growth, and an inclusive ecosystem is critical to supporting women entrepreneurs.
  • Flexible work arrangements are one way to level the playing field for women and improve organizational outcomes.

 

For more, see the report at:  https://occ.ca/wp-content/uploads/OCC-shecovery-final.pdf

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Recovery Activation Program expands to Cambridge

 

COVID-19 has changed everything, requiring telecommuting, on-demand delivery and services, supply chain resiliency and virtual collaborations.

 

Even as the province begins to reopen, the pandemic has heightened the urgency for businesses to digitize to survive.

 

To address this change, Toronto Region Board of Trade and World Trade Centre Toronto created the Recovery Activation Program, or RAP. RAP offers businesses the know-how, blueprint and partners to address the conditions that COVID-19 has created by implementing digital solutions to their front, middle and back-offices. It will not only equip them to come through COVID-19 intact, but to thrive.

 

With the support of a $7.7 million investment from the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario, RAP is now expanding to businesses of all sizes throughout the province, including Waterloo Region. The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has been selected as an important partner to help ensure local businesses benefit from the customized services and mentorship that RAP offers.

 

“We’re recruiting for RAP because we believe this program will provide our Members with a great opportunity to move their businesses forward,” says Cambridge Chamber President & CEO Greg Durocher. 

 

By enabling this partnership between the Cambridge Chamber and the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the governments’ investment in RAP will also help make sure at least half of RAP’s participants are based outside of Toronto.

 

“The Recovery Activation Program is a direct response to what we’re hearing from our members and the business community at large: digital tools and services are crucial to success, but challenging to implement,” said Jan De Silva, President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade. “Cambridge’s involvement in this program will result in the digital transformation of businesses outside of Toronto who will now be in a position to shore up their current business offerings, create new businesses opportunities and explore new markets.”

 

Recruitment is now open and interested businesses can apply here.

 

For more information, please contact Cambridge Chamber President & CEO Greg Durocher at 519.622.2221, Ext. 2223, or by email at greg@cambridgechamber.com.

 

 

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Life must find a way to continue, even during a pandemic.

 

For those hoping to get married, or sadly for those faced with the loss of a loved one, having to navigate these important life-changing events in this COVID-19 world may appear exceptionally more difficult.

 

“I really feel like the rug has been pulled out from under all our couple’s feet because they’ve been planning this beautiful day for so long,” says Vanessa Davis, Executive Special Events Consultant for Pearle Hospitality, referring to those faced with altering wedding plans at the company’s many well-known properties which includes the Cambridge Mill and Whistle Bear Golf Club. “The part that I’ve been hearing that is the hardest for people has been the not knowing.”

 

She estimates COVID-19 has affected at least 500 weddings planned at Pearle Hospitality properties.

 

“In March and April, we were under mandated closures so there really were no options,” says Vanessa, adding that changed a few weeks ago.  

 

As of June 13, indoor wedding and funeral venues were allowed to operate at a maximum of 30% capacity, with outdoor ceremonies limited to 50 attendees. Receptions remain limited to the 10-person restriction. 

 

And for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies, those attending must follow proper health and safety advice, including practising physical distancing from people who are not from the same household or their established 10-person social circle. 

 

These changes mean couples looking to marry are now faced with making new decisions and left asking many questions.

 

“What will it be like? That’s a really challenging thing people for people to deal with right now,” says Vanessa. “It’s very emotional for them. They’re weighing a lot of positives and negatives because it’s not what they originally wanted.”

 

She says some have decided to postpone until they can stick with their original plans, while others for personal and even cultural reasons, are choosing to go ahead and hold a smaller gathering.

 

“They may decide to have a virtual ceremony they can share with guests near and far on the planned wedding day and have a reception at a later time,” says Vanessa. “I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. It’s whatever they’re going to feel the most comfortable and happy with.”

 

Virtual ceremonies have become a popular alternative for not only weddings, but also funerals as industry experts do what they can to ensure their clients’ needs are met.

“One of the jobs of a funeral director is not just helping people co-ordinate a funeral that’s unique and personalized, but to provide them with all the information so they can make an informed decision,” says Jon Rolleman, Managing Funeral Director of Coutts Funeral Home in south-end Cambridge.

 

When it comes to planning a funeral during COVID-19, he and others in his industry have also quickly learned to pivot in wake of strict health restrictions.

 

Through the course of the pandemic, Jon says many clients chose direct cremation or immediate burial for their loved ones due to the uncertainty of the situation, while others chose to have a limited number of immediate family members take part in a visitation.

 

“They still got to have the closure they wanted, and I think some people weren’t even expecting to have that opportunity,” he says.

 

Like those in the wedding industry, Jon says his business practices have also been modified to provide more virtual options including a webcast of the burial service.

“It’s nice to be able to provide that to the people who otherwise couldn’t come,” he says, noting Coutts Funeral Home also ensures through its online condolences system the bereaved know who attended the virtual service. “That way they can still reach out individually and still have the support they need.”

 

For additional support, Jon says his clients also can utilize a compassion ‘helpline’ on the Coutts Funeral Home website that provides 24-hour access to a variety of services, including certified grief professionals and psychologists. The service is offered through its parent company Dignity Memorial. 

 

“We have some really amazing benefits from being part of a such a large network of funeral homes,” he says, adding they have seen an increase in usage of the helpline during this time. “It’s nice to know it’s there and we get to offer that to our clients.”

As well, clients of Coutts Funeral Home can also make arrangements online, however, Jon says many still prefer the more ‘personal’ touch of a face-to-face meeting.

 

“We leave it up to them,” he says. “We prefer in person because there is so much more of an individual connection and that’s a big part of what we do.”

 

Despite creating new options and working within the ongoing restrictions, Jon says his key role and that of his team has remained the same throughout the pandemic.

“Obviously, our job is more empathy and compassion than anything else and making someone’s difficult time easier and the way we approach a family has never changed,” he says.

 

And with new safety protocols in place, which includes very specific physical distancing rules at visitations and following a series of guidelines, such as collecting information for potential contact tracing purposes, Jon and has team have learned to adapt very quickly.

 

“Personally, I’m very adaptive so it didn’t stress me out,” he says. “A big part of my role has been making sure I get all this information to my staff and help them manage the changes quickly and make sure their comfortable with the new systems.”

 

They keep the capacity of mourners at 50 invited guests if a service is requested to take place at a church, or in a cemetery, which Jon says is quite manageable. 

 

“We want to do our part for the community,” he says, referring to keeping people safe. “It’s a real balance to be able to give families what they need.”

 

Jon says the need for a funeral is imperative in the grieving process and feels sorry for those who decide to forgo that option. 

 

“People are justifying things in different ways for what they’re doing, but they’re really depriving themselves of what a funeral is and what it stands for and how it helps,” says Jon. 

“They’re depriving themselves of that opportunity, so I’m concerned about people’s mental health going forward.”

 

To rectify this issue, he hopes to be able to offer an ‘open’ memorial service, perhaps several, for those clients who have lost someone during the COVID-19 crisis and chose not to have a funeral.

 

“At least people who didn’t do anything can have a more formalized service,” says Jon, adding funerals are a celebration of life and are no longer ‘traditional’ as they once were. “Funerals are much more personalized and unique. Our job now is to give clients all the options so they can make informed decisions that are right for them.”

 

The same sentiment holds true when it comes to planning a wedding, especially during a crisis like COVID-19.

 

“My biggest piece of advice is that whatever they decide to do it’s going be great,” says Vanessa. “If the couple decides they want an intimate ceremony with 10 of their closest people, their other friends and family will understand. And if they decide to wait another year and do the party as planned, that’s a beautiful idea too.”

 

For more, visit pearlehospitality.ca or  dignitymemorial.com

 

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When COVID-19 struck and Ontario went into lockdown many beds at the two shelters the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region operates were left empty.

 

However, this was not something that CEO Jennifer Hutton admits she was glad to see.

 

“We really saw a significant decrease,” she says, referring to the number of women and children who seek refuge from domestic abuse at Haven House in Cambridge and Anselma House in Kitchener. “But what was keeping me up at night was worrying about what was actually going on in those homes. The abuse that was pre-existing was likely worsening, especially when you add in the additional stress and financial worries.”

 

Jennifer estimates the shelters, which provide 90 beds between them, saw their occupancy rates drop in the early weeks of the crisis to around 40% to 50% capacity compared to the usual 90% as well as a reduction in calls to access their resources. 

 

“There’s research to prove that violence against women does tend to increase during times of stress,” she says, adding there was a great deal of uncertainty when the pandemic struck which made it even more difficult. “There are already so many barriers in place for a woman to leave an abusive relationship. Then layer it with increased uncertainty, and often women have to think about their children, so it’s hard for them to plan for the future.”

 

Besides encouraging via social media for friends and family to check in with loved ones they fear might be at risk of abuse, the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region launched a chat feature on its website to provide women with a tool to safely connect with their services.

 

“There had been talk about it (chat feature) but now more than ever we needed to do it quickly,” says Jennifer, noting the system was up and running within a 48-hour period. “Now, a woman might be able to pull up our website discreetly on her phone and send us a quick message.”

 

Having the ability to reach out and connect during the pandemic is vital says Grace Brown, a psychotherapist and PAR (Partner Assault Response Program) Facilitator at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge & North Dumfries. 

 

“One of the key factors that allows the abuse to continue is the person feels isolated,” she says.

 

In terms of isolation, Grace says feelings of loneliness is something she has been seeing during her counselling sessions, which have been conducted virtually or by phone, as the COVID-19 situation continues. 

 

“A lot of clients I work with talk about intense feeling of loneliness and isolation because before the pandemic they could be out with friends and doing all these fun things to offset this solitude,” she says. “If you’re more on the extrovert side of the scale, you’re probably struggling a little more.”

 

Grace says for single people who have been isolating on their own, they face a variety of anxieties which could lead to depression. And for couples who were having challenges in their relationship prior to the pandemic, she says the crisis likely has made the situation even worse.

 

“There’s only so much walking away one can do when you’re supposed to be quarantined,” says Grace, adding couples need healthy communication during this time. “Choose your battles.”

 

She offers similar advice to families, who also may find nerves becoming frayed as physical distancing rules continue to slowly ease.

 

“For most, it’s the lack of access to external fun things that really are making so many people frustrated and anxious,” says Grace. “In the old days, it was called ‘Cabin Fever’.”

But she says there are many successful examples of things couples and families have been doing to cope, besides connecting virtually with family and friends. 

 

“People have really been recapturing some of those old school entertainments, like jigsaw puzzles and board games. It’s been really neat to hear from some of my clients on how they’re making it work with that they have at home,” says Grace, adding some ‘super busy’ families are appreciating the fact they can take a break together.

She says self-care is essential at this time, starting with the basics like eating healthy, exercising and getting the right amount of sleep.

 

“I often describe it to my clients as emotional shock absorbers. Stress is always going to be in our world in varying degrees, so the more you have self-care that’s your shock absorber,” says Grace, explaining self-care comes in many different forms. “It’s really about focusing on yourself for a moment and doing anything that brings you a sense of calm and a sense of renewed energy.”

 

She tells her clients, especially women, that’s it OK to put their needs first once and awhile. 


“I caution them this (pandemic) is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and we don’t know how long it’s going to last so you’ve got to preserve your energy.”

 

At Haven House and Anselma House, Jennifer says, as predicted, capacity levels have climbed sharply to near capacity in the last few weeks once the province began to reopen. She says strict protocols are in place to keep staff and clients healthy, including temperature checks twice daily and making masks mandatory for all staff members.

 

“The shelters themselves are very busy,” says Jennifer, explaining the women and children staying there aren’t venturing as much into the community to connect with family and friends due to the pandemic. “There’s a lot of activity and not many places for them to go, and we have some pretty stringent rules in place.”

 

Despite COVID-19 and the precautions, she encourages women who are experiencing domestic abuse to reach out, even those who may not be sure if they’re ready to leave.

“That’s OK. They may just want to meet with someone to ask questions, or get some information,” says Jennifer, adding the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region offers outreach programs. “I always suggest they get some guidance on how to make a safe exit plan.”

 

She says research shows the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is when they are planning their escape.

 

“It can become quite unsafe for a woman if her abusive partner thinks she is going to leave,” says Jennifer. “Things can really escalate at that time.”

 

Visit  wcswr.org  or fcccnd.com for more information. 

 

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A proven, but not widely used technology, is giving one Cambridge business the opportunity to pivot its operation during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Angus Audio, which provides a wide variety of technical services for theatre, music and corporate events, has shifted its focus in another direction. Under the banner of a new division called Angus Industrial, the company is focusing attention on the distribution of ultraviolet light disinfection systems suitable for a variety of workplaces, such as loading docks, production halls and offices.

 

Angus Industrial has joined forces with Luixbel, a Belgium-based company, to provide two disinfection systems designed for surface and air disinfection. 

 

“It’s a pretty high science, but at the same time, they’ve made it easy to understand,” says Marshall Angus, noting much of the same technology his company uses to calculate beam fields for lighting up events comes into play.  “You can pretty much kill off any surface virus or bacteria, based on a math equation.”

 

He says ultraviolet light technology has been around for a long time. 

 

In fact, the germicidal properties of sunlight were first discovered in 1877. But it wasn’t until 1903 did Niels Fensen win a Nobel Prize for his use of ultraviolet light to combat tuberculosis, did the technology first come into play. A few years later, the first drinking water disinfection system using ultraviolet light began operating in France. After that, the technology changed little until tubular lamps were developed in the 1930s, and by the 1960s, UV disinfection was becoming more widely used in commercial applications.

“It’s pretty cool stuff,” says Marshall, noting that educating people on the properties of UV disinfection is key.

 

He says the systems they distribute, which range in price from $1,000 to $1,300, are ideal for a variety of applications, especially in a production line situation where they can be operated safely between shift changes and on average take about 15 to 20 minutes to ‘cleanse’ an area. 

 

“They would just become part of the cleaning process you already have in place,” says Marshall.

 

One system, the B Direct II, uses light bulbs and must be operated without anyone in the room for safety reasons. The other system, B Air, can be operated safely with people in the room.

 

“The bulbs will only have to be changed once every couple of years,” says Marshall, adding each system comes with a variety of safety features, including motion sensors and alarms. “If someone comes into the room, the system will shut off.”

 

He says the systems could also help build consumer confidence in a company’s products.

 

“There’s stuff coming off trucks covered in plastic wrap and you don’t know where it’s been. You can put a couple of lights in your loading dock to clean the skeds before your employees even touch them,” says Marshall. “And if you buy something from a particular warehouse, you now know it’s guaranteed to be clean coming out because of the process they have in place.”

 

He says this is a product that should have already been place years ago, even before the pandemic.

 

“But there wasn’t a market call for it then,” says Marshall. “It’s a proven technology that has been used in the medical industry, however, the units in the medical field can cost at least $30,000 which makes them unattainable by small businesses.”

 

But learning to make changes in business can be necessary, which he says he has witnessed firsthand in his own industry since the arrival of COVID-19 has seen most of the events Angus Audio handles cancelled or postponed.

 

“There have been a few different things pop up,” says Marshall. “But we don’t think this industry is coming back probably before the summer of next year.”

 

To combat this, besides the UV disinfection systems, he says Angus Audio has also been providing studio space at its Turnbull Court headquarters for companies wishing to create more professional online productions and content.

 

“People are being really inundated with streaming content right now and a lot of it is not good quality because it’s off a web cam,” says Marshall, adding Angus Audio has the equipment and expertise to polish any project. “We can also interface the system with other platforms, like Hopin, and run it with multiple people.”

 

Visit angusindustrial.ca or angusaudio.com to find out more information.

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Like many other business leaders, Valet Car Wash’s Mike Black found himself forced to make some hard decisions when COVID-19 struck.

 

“As things started to close down and we started to navigate our way through this as a business, we had to layoff about 100 employees which is something we’ve never done in 30 years,” he says, referring to the business he began building on Eagle Street North back in 1990 which has now grown to include eight additional locations.

 

Luckily, he was able to continue to operate portions of his business with a reduced workforce. However, not all wanted to continue working due to personal reasons, which Mike says was a difficult choice for them to make.

 

 

“We respected and understood that,” he says, adding those who did continue to work would be instrumental in keeping the business going. 

 

Mike decided some action was needed to recognize these employees.

 

“I said to my managers, ‘I will make sure the employees that stuck through this and allowed us to keep our doors open and still have a business when the other employees come back will be compensated and I will figure out away to thank them’,” he says.

It was at this point he says came his ‘aha moment’ and devised a plan.

 

“We used the wage subsidy (CEWS) to pay every employee who worked from March 16 to May 3 and a special COVID compensation ‘bonus’ of $4 per hour on top of their regular hourly rate,” he says, adding he did not reduce their regular wages. “We calculated all their hours worked during that time period x4 and whatever that amount came to, we purchased gift cards of their choosing.”

 

Mike says the employees could select up to three different cards, with the only stipulation being they could not be VISA or MasterCard gift cards.

 

“I wanted to give them something that helped the economy at the same time,” he says. “It really wouldn’t do much good if it just sat in a bank account.”

 

Approximately 50 employees utilized the cards in a variety of ways. For example, Mike says one purchased new beds for her children, another a new couch for her living room, and another who is studying photography bought a new camera. As well, another purchased a variety of foods from Zehrs to create a special meal and treats, something that employee had not done in months since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“It’s been great to hear those stories,” says Mike, adding these purchases are a great way to stimulate the whole economy. “It works the whole supply chain.”

 

He describes it as a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

 

“The employees are happy, and it’s kept us in business,” says Mike. “When you have multiple locations, you really depend on your staff.”

 

Valet Car Wash Cambridge is located at 2396 Eagle St. N. (behind Greg Vann Nissan), or visit washmycar.ca for more information. 

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What do you expect to find when you return to work after being isolated for the past few months by COVID-19?

 

Chances are it will not be the same workplace you left behind, says Human Resources consultant Frank Newman.

 

“If you just assume it will be like walking back into the office it’s not going to be that way because everyone’s expectations have changed,” says Frank, who has more than 40 years of experience in human resources to draw from and has spent the last six running his own firm called Newman Human Resources Consulting.

 

He compares the COVID-19 crisis and what we have dealt with as being similar to what astronauts face returning from space while learning to readjust to the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

“We’ve all been in the safe ‘cocoon’ of our ‘spaceships’ and suddenly we’re exposed to another environment,” says Frank. “Companies will have to take this very seriously.”

In terms of working under new guidelines and policies to ensure physical distancing, he expects many workplaces will now operate within a ‘blended’ work culture with more people working from home than ever before.

 

“You’re going to be in the office one day and half the people will be there, and half the people won’t be there,” says Frank. “It’s going to be very challenging for companies on how to manage their culture because we’re so used to having everyone in the office.”

 

Building trust, he says, between not only the company and its employees but between the employees themselves, will be key in effort to make this shift work.

“We’re going to not only have to have the right physical safeguards, but better processes in place as to how we communicate with each other. What will be the expectations if I’m working from home and my colleague is in the office? Do they have to respond to my emails in 15 or 20 minutes?” says Frank, noting there will likely be physical changes in offices also when it comes to sharing resources. “Are people even going to be comfortable putting their chicken pot pie in the microwave to warm up knowing others use it?”

 

He says it is inevitable there will be employees who may be petrified at the thought of being back in the workplace and others who will be completely callous, perhaps not respecting physical distancing guidelines or refusing to wear a mask.

To prevent these situations from escalating, Frank says there are a few steps companies can take ahead of time.

 

“They should provide as much advanced communication as possible to let everyone know what the rules of the road are,” he says. “Then they really have to figure out what’s the rhythm of work they want as people come back and how it applies for those working at home and the people working at the office.”

 

Frank says managers should aim to meet with their team, whether in person or virtually, at least once a week once people start to return and even ahead of time.

“It’s important for managers and other people to check in with their colleagues,” he says, noting some employees will be dealing with mental health issues. “We’ve all been through so much turmoil with this and some may have suffered severe losses during this time.”

 

Franks says enhanced benefit plans will be a big help to not only current employees but as a great incentive to recruit new employees. Also, he said ensuring new recruits have a space at home to work could become part of the norm during the hiring process should another lockdown occur.

 

“We need to be prepared for this at any point in time,” he says, adding companies may also be expected to reimburse employees for equipment to work from home, such as laptops and enhanced internet.

 

Frank also recommends the creation of ‘time free zones’ for those working at home, allowing them a period to complete tougher tasks uninterrupted by emails or virtual meetings.

 

“We’ve been absolutely deluged with communication at this time,” he says, referring to the numerous emails and regular Zoom calls many people working at home have been dealing with. “It’s actually draining our productivity.”

 

For more information, contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352, or visit www.newmanhumanresources.com

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The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has been working behind the scenes with local Chambers since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis to ensure the needs of 

the province’s business community are met. Besides weekly ‘town hall’ meetings allowing Chambers to connect with various provincial and federal leaders to obtain firsthand information, the OCC has been advocating government on many issues to assist businesses during their time of need. And as Ontario begins to reopen its economy, there are many changes ahead regarding the way business will be conducted. 

 

We recently chatted with Ontario Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rocco Rossi about the effects of this crisis and what lies ahead for businesses:

 

 

 

Chamber: What role has the Ontario Chamber of Commerce played during the COVID-19 crisis?

RR: We serve as a conduit between businesses and various levels of government so we’re giving them the best advice as to where the real pain points are. As they (government) have been putting out policies, we’ve been actively advocating for changes, adjustments, and then communicating as clearly as we can, to our members, who, quite frankly, have been overwhelmed by this crisis. I think they’ve (Chamber network) been incredibly appreciative, particularly the smaller ones because the smaller the Chamber you are, the fewer resources you have. You literally are wearing every hat. We were very quick out of the gate with an online tool that all our Chambers could share and build on for their own members and customize to meet their needs.

 

Chamber: What do you see as the role of Chambers at the local level, especially as Ontario moves towards reopening?

RR: Chambers have multiple roles and we’re seeing examples of it everywhere. One, is sharing stories. The Cambridge Chamber has been fantastic about raising the issue of franchises and raising the issue that some owners are paying themselves through dividends versus income so they’ve been falling through the cracks, and we’ve been pushing on that. Cambridge was a big part of the push in saving main street and talking about rent subsidies. You also have Chambers like Newmarket that are working with their local governments to create programs helping to encourage shop local and building networks of retired businesspeople to help SMEs navigate their way through this. Chambers are playing an absolutely critical role. 

 

Chamber: Are you satisfied with the response to the crisis from the provincial and federal levels of government?

RR: Governments have been moving at a pace far faster than they ever have before. Oddly, for many, it still won’t be enough because this has gone on longer than anyone has anticipated and in a world with no vaccine, and a required and appropriate slow reopening, there will be more damage and loss. But we’re doing everything in our powers to ensure to keep as much as the economy afloat as possible. As a society, we need to have that recovery at the end of this. The only sustainable solution to all of this is economic recovery. Government cannot continue to print money indefinitely. They’ve done some remarkable and extraordinary things which we agree are important to do, but wow, the numbers are eye watering at this point and will only continue to grow. So, we need to start bringing those unemployment numbers down. We need to start opening businesses appropriately and safely so that we will be able to pay taxes as opposed to the need for more government support. That’s the ultimate way we get to the other side of this.

 

Chamber: Is the right course of action being utilized for Ontario’s reopening? 

RR: I will say, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, ‘It’s the worst possible reopening plan, except for all the other reopening plans’. The bottom line is we’ve all sacrificed, some sadly and tragically with their lives. We have to do this right the first time and so it has to be slow, we applaud the government for that. We don’t want to have spikes that will take us back to a total lockdown because that would be deadly for our psyche, for our confidence, and for our economy. So, we want to do this properly and to do that we need more testing capability, we need more tracking and tracing, and we need more access to PPE that goes beyond our healthcare workers that have, rightfully, been the focus up until now. If you’re going to open up businesses and build confidence, that PPE is going to be seen more in businesses and training for our employees so that again, both the employees and consumers have confidence that every step that can be taken is being taken. Until we have a vaccine, we will be co-existing with COVID-19. No one can promise, without a vaccine, that there will be zero future infections and zero future deaths because that is not attainable. What should and must be attainable is zero tolerance for incompetence and zero tolerance for doing things too quickly. If we have the training and the PPE, and the testing, tracking, and tracing, anytime it flares up we can quickly put that fire out. 

 

Chamber: What is an important takeaway for business owners from this crisis?

RR: One of the big things we’ve seen through all of this is to uncover and highlight even more so the digital divide in Ontario. Those who’ve been able to make the transition to be able to do more of their business online have actually been able to weather the storm stronger and those habits being created now – even my parents who are in their eighties are now shopping online – are not something that’s going away. However, it underscores the need for the infrastructure for broadband to be everywhere because right now, too many communities, individuals, and businesses don’t have access to broadband. If they are going to recover and participate in the economy of the 21stcentury, that infrastructure has to be there in the same way that in the post-war period a network of highways and other infrastructure was required to rebuild and grow the economy. 

 

Chamber: What advice can you offer SMEs?

RR: Make sure you’re thinking about how you can safely reopen. I know you’re worried about cash flow; I know you’re worried about debt and worried about meeting that next rent cheque, but the reopening is beginning. Those that plan everything out so that when they do reopen consumers and employees will want to go there, are the ones that are going to thrive in this next stage.

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