Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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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The collective power of the Chamber movement to assist businesses succeed was front and centre at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent AGM and Convention.

 

Approximately 150 delegates, the majority representing Chambers and Board of Trades from across the province, gathered at the Pearson Convention Centre April 28-May 1 in Brampton to network, hear from Ontario political leaders, and debate policy issues to assist them in their advocacy work with government on behalf of businesses.

 

“Ensuring businesses have the legislative backing and supports they need to succeed and prosper plays an important role for all Chambers and Boards of Trade,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, who led a strategy session on delivering Chamber services across a diverse membership base and was joined at the event by in-coming Chamber Board Chair Kristen Danson. “The conference is a great place to share new ideas and connect with other Chamber leaders from around the province.”

 

This was the first in-person AGM the OCC has held since the pandemic and featured appearances by the Ontario leaders of the Liberals (Steven Del Duca), NDP (Andrea Horwath) and Green (Mike Schreiner), as well as the Hon. Prabmeet Sarkaria, President of the Treasury Board of Ontario. All four spoke about the strength and importance of the business community and what their parties can do to help our economy.

 

Also, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty was on hand to offer an update on the Chamber network from a national perspective.

 

“It’s great for the Chamber network to hear from all sides of the political spectrum,” says Greg, noting potential policy resolutions are formulated from a wide range of issues and concerns.

 

This year, 34 resolutions were up for debate on a variety of topics ranging from improving supports to employers, to the creation of a construction strategy for tiny homes.

 

The Cambridge Chamber’s policy calling for the creation of a ‘backstop’ for the implementation of mandated workplace vaccination policies was among 32 that received approval from delegates. The approved policy calls for the Ministry of Labour to include elements within the articles of the Occupational Health & Safety Act to provide protection against discriminatory legal actions aimed at businesses that wish to implement such a policy.

 

“It’s important that businesses have the protections they need in order to operate in the manner which they feel works best for them,” says Greg.

 

The approved policies now become part of the OCC policy ‘playbook’ in its efforts to advocate for change with provincial and federal levels of government.

 

Besides adopting policies, the conference wrapped up with an awards ceremony to recognize the achievements of Chambers and Boards of Trades.

 

The Cambridge Chamber, in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, was presented with the Chair’s Award for Innovative Program or Service to recognize the success of their rapid screening kits program which has been adopted by Chambers provincewide. Since April of 2021, the program has resulted in the distribution of more than one million kits to more than 7,500 businesses throughout Waterloo Region.

 

“This program has made a huge difference to thousands of businesses in our region, and we couldn’t be more pleased,” says Greg.

 

For more information about the kits, visit https://chambercheck.ca.

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It has been a tumultuous time for businesses since COVID-19 surfaced nearly two years ago, which is why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is encouraging business leaders to celebrate themselves at our annual Business Excellence Awards.

 

“It’s not only time to celebrate the achievements of businesses, but also to celebrate all the people who have endured the last couple of years,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “It’s time to raise our glasses to the very people and businesses that have given us all the opportunities we have in our community.”

 

The Business Excellence Awards is the Chamber’s premier event and has honoured the contributions and achievements of business leaders in the City of Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries since 2000, and features 11 award categories, eight of whom require nominations.

 

“We all know somebody in business who has done something generally remarkable during COVID-19,” says Greg, adding this may go beyond the concept of ‘pivoting’. “Maybe they have created a whole new line of products related to PPE? Or maybe they became very innovative in the way they operate due to staff changes or shortages?”

 

Also, he says there may be businesses out there that have successfully enhanced their workplace culture at a time when employees have had to distance themselves via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

 

“Despite that, perhaps there are businesses that have found ways to bring their employees even closer together?”

 

As well, Greg says there are businesses that should be recognized because they have found ways to help the community, even during this tough time.

 

“There are many companies who have been successful through the pandemic but made a difference in the community by being generous with their profits and helping others who have been unable to help themselves whether this storm.”

 

He also encourages businesses to nominate themselves.

 

“It’s not a bad thing to nominate yourself because there may be others who don’t know or understand what you did, or the stress or strain you went through during this time,” says Greg. “These are stories that need to be told.”

 

He says the awards are a great way for the Cambridge business community to celebrate its hard work and efforts.


“We are an innovative and aggressive business community. We are a passionate business community, which makes us very busy every day,” says Greg. “But we can take a couple of minutes out of our day to look around at our peers and nominate them because we’ve all done something important and unique and special during the last two years.”

 

To make a nomination, visit: https://bit.ly/3rLwsdL

More details of our awards event will be announced soon.

 

Award categories open for nominations:  

  • Spirit of Cambridge Award 
  • Business of the Year (1 – 10 employees) 
  • Business of the Year (11 – 49 employees)
  • Business of the Year (More than 50 employees) 
  • New Venture of the Year Award 
  • Outstanding Workplace 
  • Marketing Excellence 
  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award

 

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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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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is easing its way back into hosting traditional events.

 

After more than 20 months since the pandemic began, the Chamber is set to host its first in-person Business After Hours event on Dec. 13 at Four Fathers Brewing Co. in Hespeler.

 

Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher says is an important step for the organization.

“It’s a priority for the Chamber to start getting back to in-person events,” he says. “But whether they will be ‘normal’ as we all remember them, that probably won’t happen for some time.”

 

In fact, Greg expects future Chamber events will be of the ‘hybrid’ variation to a certain degree, providing Members the chance to attend in-person or remain in a virtual setting.

 

“That’s going to be for the benefit of everybody,” he says. “But we will certainly provide Members with value in regard to our content the best that we can.”

He says having an in-person Business After Hours event is important to many Chamber Members.

 

“It’s important for people doing business in the community to have an opportunity to meet safely with others face-to-face,” says Greg, noting the importance of following strict safety protocols and restrictions set out in the Province’s Reopening Ontario Act.

 

As a result, participants will not only have to register in advance, but proof of vaccination is required as well as identification that matches that material.

Just like restaurants, the provincial QR code will also be utilized at the event.

 

“Most of our events take place in other venues, such as conference centres, restaurants or meeting rooms that are not ours,” says Greg, noting regulations set out in the Act apply to these locations.

 

As well, the Cambridge Chamber Board of Directors recently passed a mandatory vaccination policy for the Chamber office for staff and visitors arriving for meetings or programs. Those with a valid COVID-19 vaccination exemption, or having valid documentation to present, will be required to take a rapid antigen screening test before entering. These tests will be provided by the Chamber at no cost.  

 

“These are precautionary measures put in place on behalf of the staff because our staff want assurances they are working in a safe environment and we’re doing whatever we can do to make sure that happens,” says Greg, adding like many businesses, the Chamber office is also covered under the Reopening Ontario Act and is entitled to invoke a vaccination policy.

 

Creating a safe environment will also be key at the Business After Hours event which is why the Chamber will provide colour-coded lanyards to participants when they arrive.

 

“Each colour will indicate that person’s comfort level of contact,” says Greg, noting that physical distancing and masks remain important. “Some people are very anxious to get out and meet others in-person, and others are anxious to get out and meet but aren’t quite comfortable enough to do so.”

 

Business After Hours takes place from 5-6:30 p.m. For more, visit https://bit.ly/3pdiUVI

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Chamber network urges government to address pain points and lay the groundwork for a strong rebound as province grapples with economic fallout of the crisis

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has released its 2021 Ontario pre-Budget submission, which focuses on recovery, growth, and modernization.

 

The submission calls for policies that minimize the impacts of business closures, uplift the sectors and demographics hit hardest by the pandemic, invest in the infrastructure and workforce of the future, and modernize government services to improve outcomes for businesses and residents.

 

 

“With Ontario’s economy expected to enter a period of recovery this year as vaccines are distributed and businesses begin to reopen, resources need to be focused on where they will have the greatest impact,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “In the upcoming budget, we would like to see a focus on reskilling, broadband, and access to capital, which will be necessary for the revival of small business and entrepreneurship as well as an inclusive   economic recovery.”

 

In 2021, Ontario will continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The Cambridge Chamber and OCC’s submission notes the crisis has created new problems and exacerbated pre-existing ones. The impact on people and business has been catastrophic overall, and disproportionate for certain regions, sectors, and demographics.

 

“Resources should be targeted towards the sectors and communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, including industries requiring face-to-face contact, small businesses, municipal governments, as well as women, lower-income, racialized, elderly, new immigrant, and younger Ontarians,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

The recommendations outlined in the submission were developed together with businesses, post-secondary institutions, chambers of commerce, and boards of trade. The submission focuses on mitigating the immediate impacts of the crisis, while laying the groundwork for a robust and sustainable economic recovery.

 

Read our provincial pre-budget submission here: bit.ly/3qYxUqg

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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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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Small businesses are at the heart of our communities. They create good jobs, grow our economies and bring life to our main streets. But they have also been among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

As we continue to fight this virus, small businesses face further losses, increased costs to reopening and an uncertain economic future. The Government of Canada is committed to doing whatever it takes to support small businesses and their communities. Their success is critical as we recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

On Tuesday, during Small Business Week, the Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, announced an investment of $12 million in the Canada United Small Business Relief Fund.

 

“The support announced today is yet another lifeline for resilient small businesses across Canada. These grants will help them cover expenses involved in reopening and allow them to build a stronger digital presence,” said Ng.  “As we’ve said from the very beginning of this pandemic, we will always be there for small businesses and the millions of hard-working Canadians they employ.”

 

Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher welcomed the news. “There has never been a more important time to support local small business than right now. They are critically important to our own local economy.”

 

Canada United is a national fundraising campaign created by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in collaboration with private sector partners and provincial and territorial chambers of commerce, including the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC). The campaign has been rallying support from Canadians for local small businesses in every corner of the country.

 

The Canada United Small Business Relief Fund, which is managed by the OCC, is supporting Canadian businesses across different sectors and industries with grants of up to $5,000. These grants will help thousands of small business owners cover the costs of personal protective equipment, make physical modifications to their businesses to meet local health and safety requirements, and enhance their digital or e-commerce capabilities. This is especially important as we enter the second wave of the pandemic.

 

This investment builds on the federal government’s continued support for small and local businesses through a wide range of COVID-19 emergency programs, such as the expanded Canada Emergency Business Account, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy.

 

At A Glance:

 

  • Starting on October 26, small businesses can apply online through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce for the next wave of Canada United Small Business Relief Fund grants.
  • Applications are open to small businesses across sectors and industries in every part of the country that have between $150,000 and $3 million in annual sales; have up to 75 employees; are registered in Canada; and would use the grant to cover the costs of personal protective equipment, make physical modifications to their businesses to meet local health and safety requirements, and enhance their digital or e-commerce capabilities.
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