Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Summer is nearly here and the outlook for the local tourism sector is expected to be a hot one thanks to the continued interest of visitors seeking getaways that won’t break the bank.

 

“Our main market is leisure travel from the GTA and given current inflation, people are considering staying a little closer to home, perhaps to save a little money,” says Explore Waterloo Region CEO Michele Saran. “We feel we’re in a good position for those quick little getaways if you can’t afford a full-on trip somewhere overseas.”

 

In fact, while international travel numbers to Canada continue to slowly rebound according to Destination Canada, the domestic market has long since fully recovered following the pandemic.

 

“Research shows Canada is the top international destination for Americans and where they want to go in 2024,” says Michele, adding Waterloo Region is in a much better position than places that rely on international travel. “I’m hearing a lot of positivity from local operators, and everyone seems to be excited about the summer season; the only thing they’re wishing for is good weather.”

 

Tourism in Waterloo Region contributes approximately $557 million annually to the local economy, and it’s a sector that takes in more than just leisure travel.

 

“When we’re talking about tourism it’s not just about leisure visitation. It’s also about business events and conventions, as well as sporting events,” says Michele, pointing to the 2024 Special Olympics Ontario Spring Games (May 23-26) in Waterloo Region as a prime example and the fact more than 700 athletes and their families would be in the area.

 

Economic impact

 

On the business side, she says the region has secured $49.5 million in economic impact last year for business events in the coming years. 

 

“Tourism is big business,” says Michele, adding Explore Waterloo Region continues to build on that by creating attractions which combine urban and rural experiences. “We’re putting all kinds of packages together to give people a reason to want to come here.”

 

This includes providing visitors the chance to ‘walk with an alpaca’ courtesy of a local farm near Bright, or the opportunity to go ‘glamping’ in one of the luxury containers at Bingemans. As well, visitors can also canoe down the Grand River this summer topped off by experiencing an authentic Indigenous meal along the journey.

 

Michele says food remains a popular local attraction, noting the creation of a ‘FarmGate’ app that will guide visitors to local farms so they can learn more about where their food comes from, as well as the Farm To Fork television show, hosted by chef Nick Benninger on Bell Fibe TV-1, to promote local cuisine. 

 

Also, wellness-focused excursions have become a growing trend as more Canadians prioritize ways to rejuvenate their body and mind.

 

“We have some great spas in our area, and they all offer great experiences which can all be part of your wellness getaway,” says Michele, adding Waterloo Region’s hundreds of kilometres of hiking and cycling trails also play a role in that trend.

 

Last year, Explore Waterloo Region partnered with Ontario By Bike to create a cycling app that not only highlights various trails and their difficulty levels, but features ‘bike friendly’ businesses along the way, and businesses wishing to be included can apply for certification. 

 

“It’s all about promoting things that you can’t do in Toronto that captures your imagination,” says Michele, referring to local tourism.

 

 

According to the Destination Canada report, Tourism Outlook: Unlocking Opportunities for the Sector, total tourism revenue was poised to exceed 2019 levels. Key report highlights include:

 

  • Demand for travel is projected to grow by 30% by 2030 and will outpace the capacity to host in peak seasons, limiting Canada’s growth potential.
  • The report identifies a $160 billion revenue potential for the tourism industry by 2030, but only if a transformational path is taken that addresses constraints and shifts demand to change how growth occurs.
  • Destination Canada proposes a transformative path to secure an additional $20 billion in annual revenue by 2030, driving real prosperity for tourism businesses across the country and contributing a 14% increase in GDP generated by tourism, 84,000 more jobs and $5.3 billion more in tax revenue for all levels of Government.
  • Industry transformation will close the $20 billion opportunity gap, but it will require sector-wide collaboration on seven key levers: revenue and yield growth, brand leadership, investment, access, workforce and digital readiness, environmental sustainability, and support from Canadians.
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Debating policies to create evidence-based solutions that will benefit the business community and province’s economic growth played an important role at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent 2024 Annual General Meeting and Convention in Timmins.

 

Approximately 100 delegates representing Chambers provincewide made the trek north, including Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher and incoming Board Chair Murray Smith.

 

“Ensuring businesses have the legislative backing and supports they need to succeed and prosper is at the core of what Chambers and Boards of Trade do and the policies approved at this event assists our network in creating a roadmap to make that happen,” says Greg. “The conference also provides a great opportunity to connect with other Chamber leaders and share ideas and best practices.”

 

This year, 28 policies were approved by the delegates covering a wide variety of issues that can directly affect businesses including labour, education, healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, and housing.  These policies now become entrenched in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s policy ‘play book’ to guide its ongoing advocacy work at Queen’s Park.

 

The AGM, held April 25-27 and referred to as A Northern Experience, featured sessions related to the creation of a more prosperous business climate for success in Ontario’s north surrounding labour and supply chain issues touching on the needs of the growing EV market in the southern part of the province. Guest speakers included Minister of Mines the Hon. George Pirie, plus representatives from the mining and renewable energy sectors.

 

Another session focused on the OCC’s Economic Reconciliation Initiative, created in partnership with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, and provided delegates the opportunity to share challenges and opportunities with OCC representatives that they have regarding building relationships with Indigenous Peoples and businesses in their communities.

 

The OCC will now review their findings and report back to the Ontario Chamber Network with feedback and potential solutions.

 

Economic growth imperative

 

The need to create economic growth was at the heart of a video message shared with delegates from Canadian Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Perrin Beatty, who urged the government to modernize its regulatory framework.

 

“Requiring federal regulators to apply an economic and competitive lens would encourage manageable regulations and reduce the interprovincial trade barriers affecting over 1/3 of Canadian businesses,” he said, adding doing this would ‘fortify’ Canada’s economic foundation. “Modernizing our regulatory framework would cost the government little or nothing at a time when Canadians and businesses from coast to coast are struggling with affordability. The government should be looking to relieve financial burdens wherever possible.”

 

Beatty also stressed the need for strategic and long-term investment in infrastructure to create a “resilient network” of gateways and corridors. 

 

“As the world increasingly needs what Canada can provide, it’s critical that Canadian businesses are able to get their goods and services to market reliably,” he said. “If we have learned anything from 2023 is that supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link.”

 

As well, Beatty also called on the need for the government to provide financial supports, like the CEBA (Canada Emergency Business Account) program during the pandemic, that require more tailored, strategic, and innovative solutions.

 

“The issue isn’t about how to bail out small businesses but how to build them out,” he said, adding collaboration between the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce, as well as local Chambers, is needed to make change happen. “The work of the Canadian and Ontario Chambers, and the rest of the Chamber network has never been more important than it is today. Canada has never more greatly needed what we as a network of Chambers can offer.”

 

Click here to see the OCC Policy Compendium.

 

 

Cambridge Chamber policies approved by Ontario delegates

 

The AGM provides an opportunity for Chamber 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 which received overwhelming support from delegates:

 

  • The first policy calls for the Province, in consultation with municipalities, police boards, and businesses communities, to use economic analysis principles when it comes to current and potential crime diversion programs that could reduce crime and in turn make it safer for businesses to operate. As well, the policy recommends that underperforming programs that don’t adequately serve communities of all types be identified and that funding be prioritized accordingly, and that the efficacy of these programs be evaluated in the context of other wrap-around services available in each community. Also, the policy calls for the implementation of a system to measure the long-term impacts of these program investments and insists municipalities continue to use Special Constables in urban areas instead of fully sworn officers to reduce tax burdens.
  • The second policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored,calls for the establishment of timelines for the Province’s new Building Ontario Fund (formerly the Ontario Infrastructure Bank) to commence investments into projects. It also calls for a strategy put in place to ensure these investments in major projects are in municipalities and regions across Ontario.
  • The third policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored, recommends the Province initiate a major review of provincial-municipal fiscal arrangements to ensure cost-effective program delivery and maintenance/expansion of infrastructure.
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Business failure, while often seen as a setback, can contradictory be a catalyst for growth and success in the long run. Although it may bring disappointment and financial loss initially, failure has the potential to foster resilience, learning, and innovation, ultimately paving the way for future accomplishments.

 

“Failing is the first attempt at learning,” says Ken Zelazny, owner of Cambridge-based Z2K Business Solutions Inc., which provides executive coaching to assist small and medium-sized businesses. 

 

Now semi-retired, the long-time business consultant has been involved with his own entrepreneurial ventures over the years which he admits have not always worked out and readily shares those experiences with his clients.

 

“I have learned a lot and talk about those failures during my coaching sessions with people and say, ‘Here’s what happened to me when I did that’,” he says, adding that type of honest approach can assist them in their decision-making process. “At the end of the day it’s not where I want you to go, but where do you want to go.”

 

Failure offers entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to assess what went wrong, identify weaknesses in their business model, and learn from mistakes.

 

By analyzing the causes of failure, entrepreneurs can gain insights into areas such as market demand, customer preferences, operational inefficiencies, and financial management. These insights enable them to refine their strategies, adapt their approaches, and make more informed decisions in future ventures.

 

Ken agrees and says conducting a ‘post-mortem’ is a helpful course of action for business leaders to take when a venture doesn’t work out.

 

Failure can foster innovation

 

“Talk about what didn’t work, and what did work, or why did it work? People don’t stop to think about those things as well,” he says. “There are lots of key lessons when a business owner does fail but the point is not to get disturbed by it and find out what did you learn from it?”

 

Failure fosters innovation and creativity. When conventional approaches prove unsuccessful, entrepreneurs are compelled to think outside the box, explore new ideas, and experiment with alternative solutions. Failure encourages risk-taking and experimentation, pushing entrepreneurs out of their comfort zones and encouraging them to embrace change and innovation. 

 

This is something many successful business leaders have experienced, including James Dyson, creator of Dyson, Four Seasons Hotels founder Isadore ‘Issy’ Sharp, Boston Pizza co-owner Jim Trevling, FedEX founder Fred Smith and American industrialist and business magnate Henry Ford.

 

“Some of the most predominant businesspeople in the world have gone bankrupt at least three or four times,” says Ken. “They’ve lost businesses, but they bounce back.”

 

He recommends clients create a detailed contingency or ‘disaster’ plan to offset potential pitfalls down the road, should their business venture suddenly start to flounder but stresses it should not deter them from focusing on their goals.

 

“I’m not suggesting this plan will be something you take down from the shelf and read every day,” says Ken. “But you have to be pragmatic because you have a fiduciary responsibility to your organization, especially when you’re employing people.”

 

He says similar to preparing a business plan, the ‘disaster’ plan should be fluid to accommodate potential changes.

 

Disaster planning essential

 

“When you write a business plan, you may have to pivot because things are going to change, no question. Your vision changes and the economy changes,” says Ken. “It’s the same thing with your disaster plan.”

 

He also recommends that business owners communicate with their employees, especially when plans are changing.

 

“It’s kind of like a marriage. When you stop communicating things can go south very quickly,” says Ken. “We don’t communicate enough in any business.”

 

While business failure may be accompanied by disappointment and hardship, it also holds the potential for growth and resilience. By embracing failure as a natural part of the entrepreneurial process and leveraging the lessons learned, entrepreneurs can transform setbacks into opportunities, ultimately emerging stronger, wiser, and more determined to succeed.

 

“If you love what you do, again, it’s a whole different situation,” says Ken, noting a positive mindset is vital. “I work with clients all the time who have the mindset of ‘I get to go to work’, and not, ‘I have to go to work’.”

 

 

Here are some tips for business owners to navigate and cope with failure:

 

Acknowledge and Accept Failure: Recognize that failure is a natural part of the entrepreneurial journey. Avoid denial or blame-shifting, and instead, accept responsibility for what went wrong. Acknowledging failure is the first step towards learning from it.

 

Reflect and Learn: Analyze what went wrong, identify any mistakes or missteps, and extract valuable lessons from the experience. This introspection will provide insights that can inform future decision-making and business strategies.

 

Seek Support: Don't shoulder the burden of failure alone. Reach out to mentors, fellow entrepreneurs, or a trusted support network for guidance and encouragement. Sharing your experiences with others who have faced similar challenges can provide valuable perspective and emotional support.

 

Focus on Solutions: Instead of dwelling on past failures, channel your energy into finding solutions and moving forward. Develop a concrete plan of action to address the issues that led to failure and implement corrective measures. Stay proactive and focused on rebuilding and improving your business.

 

Maintain a Positive Mindset: Cultivate a positive attitude and resilience in the face of setbacks. View failure as an opportunity for growth and learning rather than a reflection of your worth or abilities as an entrepreneur. Stay optimistic and determined to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

 

Adapt and Pivot: Be willing to adapt your business model, strategies, or goals based on the lessons learned from failure. Embrace flexibility and innovation, and don't be afraid to pivot in response to changing market conditions or feedback from customers.

 

Take Care of Yourself: Prioritize self-care and well-being by maintaining a healthy work-life balance, exercising regularly, and seeking activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Taking care of yourself mentally and physically will help you bounce back stronger from failure.

 

Stay Persistent: Perseverance is key to overcoming failure and achieving long-term success. Stay committed to your goals and vision, even in the face of adversity. Remember that setbacks are temporary, and every failure brings you one step closer to eventual success.

 

 

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The federal Liberals 2024 budget landed last week to mixed reviews, especially among Chamber of Commerce leaders.

 

While Deputy Prime Minister Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland kept her promise to keep the deficit from growing without raising income taxes on the middle class by tabling Budget 2024: Fairness for Every Generation with a projected deficit of $39.8 billion, slightly below the $40 billion projected last fall, the document contained few surprises.

 

“Most of the major new spending was announced by the government over the last few weeks, and the government’s projections for the deficit are largely in line with previous predictions. Instead of using a revenue windfall to reduce the deficit more quickly, the government chose to use it along with changes to the capital gains tax, to fund this new spending,” said Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in a release. “What’s still missing is a clear plan to promote productivity and restore economic growth in Canada. Canada continues to slip further behind our competitors in both of these categories.”

 

This sentiment is shared by Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher, who says business operators regularly share their frustrations with him regarding the difficulties they continue to face trying to conduct business.

 

“Their concerns do not seem to reach the ears of the those who make the decisions,” he says. “The reality of it is the framework around how this current federal government wants to address the issues of the day are not conducive to solving the problem but probably more conducive to deepening the problem.”

 

Housing affordability crisis

 

Among these issues is the housing affordability crisis, which the budget addresses by putting special emphasis on generational fairness and helping younger people – Millennials and Generation Zs — with programs to help renters and first-time home buyers. While this may bring some relief, Greg says there are other ways to address the issue in a less costly manner.

 

“There is no secret to building more homes. You must create a market for home builders to access and ensure interest rates are acceptable for homeowners to borrow money and you must simply reduce the costs to developers in building the product we desperately need. None of these issues have ever been addressed by any level of government to this point,” he says, adding despite any incentive programs local political bureaucracies often create barriers for development. “You can throw all kinds of mud up against the wall, but none of it is going to stick when it’s already dry.”

 

Besides housing, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says the budget should have addressed the need to build better resiliency surrounding supply chains by providing targeted financial support for small and medium-sized businesses. It has recommended the federal government work with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure and explore contingency plans for key trading partners and assess potential vulnerabilities.

 

“I think those are just sensible things our federal government should always be doing to ensure the flow of goods and services can happen because every issue that all levels of government deal with requires a strong, vibrant economy in order to find solutions to those problems,” says Greg. “Building a more resilient supply chain shouldn’t even part of a budget, it should be a core element of the government’s role.”

 

Despite these concerns, both he and Beatty both welcomed the budget’s move to support interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, something the Chamber network has been seeking for several years.

 

“Strengthening our internal trade could elevate GDP growth by up to 8% and fortify Canada’s economic foundation,” said Beatty in a release. “It shouldn’t be easier to trade with Europe than it is within our own country.”

 

Economic survival imperative

 

Besides interprovincial trade, the budget’s promised investment of $2.4 billion towards building AI infrastructure and adoption advancement also came as welcomed news.

 

“The investment in AI infrastructure and support of start-ups in the AI field is good for business,” says Greg, adding he was disappointed the budget didn’t contain more regarding the co-ordination of broadband investments with the private sector. “The government has done nothing to extend broadband coverage to remote and rural communities and the fact of the matter is if you don’t have internet, you can’t do business. You can’t function without the most advanced technology.”

 

Overall, he says the 2024 federal budget sends a clear signal the current government is forgoing economic survival in favour of more social programming, a move that doesn’t bode well for conducting business in Canada.

 

“While I support taking care of those who can’t care for themselves, and every business I know supports initiatives to help others, we also have to recognize the No. 1 objective of any level of government is to ensure a strong and vibrant economy,” he says. “There are very little initiatives in this budget signalling that Canada wants to develop a robust economy.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

Several measures announced in the federal budget to assist Ontario’s business community. These include:

 

  • Addressing the housing affordability crisis by investing in building more homes, making it easier to own or rent, and creating new programs to supply low-income affordable housing for those who need it most. The government is proposing a combination of tax measures, low-cost financing and loans, utilization of public lands, streamlined approvals, and programs to assist homebuyers and renters directly.
  • Building AI infrastructure and advancing adoption through a $2.4 billion investment. A significant portion of this investment is dedicated to building and providing access to computing infrastructure. An additional $200 million is allocated to support AI start-ups to bring new technologies to the market and accelerate adoption in critical economic sectors.
  • Advancing economic reconciliation through a national Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program and funding for Indigenous Financial Institutions that will accelerate capital for Indigenous-owned businesses and projects, support project development, reduce the cost of borrowing, and enable Indigenous communities to benefit from natural resource projects.
  • Supporting interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, intended to enable all levels of government to work together to eliminate barriers to trade and labour mobility.

 

The Ontario Chamber network is calling for further action in the following areas:

 

  • Co-ordinating broadband investments with the private sector to avoid duplication and maximize the impact of public programs to enhance redundancy resiliency within broadband networks, collaborating with provinces and territories to establish future federal goals for broadband connectivity, assess opportunities for promoting competition and private sector investments in the sector, and expedite funding commitments while improving coordination with stakeholders to address gaps in private sector expansion plans.
  • Bolstering Canada’s life sciences ecosystem by creating new funding streams to encourage innovation and high-risk ventures, working with stakeholders to review approval processes, and enhancing regional collaboration.
  • Building more resilient supply chains through targeted financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises, working with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure, expanding capacity across all modes and channels of distribution, exploring contingency plans for key trading partners, and conducting an assessment to identify bottlenecks and vulnerabilities.
  • Implementing broader Employment Insurance reform to reflect the needs of today’s workforce by ensuring the governance, programs, policies, and operations are viable and sustainable, responsive, and adaptable, non-partisan, inclusive, and relevant for current and future generations of Canadian employers and employees.

 

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Customer reviews can serve as a powerful tool in the contemporary marketplace, offering invaluable insights for both consumers and businesses alike.

 

However, while reviews can elevate a product or service, they can also become a source of challenge for businesses as negative comments find their way onto Google Review, TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Yelp as customers enveloped by social media vent their frustrations.

 

But just how businesses can utilize the information from this positive or negative feedback can prove difficult when it comes to gauging the impact.

 

“It’s one of those things where you can’t ignore it. Emotionally, you can’t ignore it, nor should you,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “If you’re seeing reoccurring patterns in your reviews, to me that’s free research so you will want to investigate the validity of that.”

 

He says customer feedback is clearly a good marketing tool and warns that companies attempting to ‘stack’ their reviews with positive ones can quickly pay a price, noting research shows consumers between the ages of 18 to 34 are very savvy when it comes to analyzing reviews.

 

“They can easily filter out the reviews where people are being too whiny or the ones that are too glowing and clearly smack of being written by a PR person,” says Brad. “They’ve developed this innate filter that can diminish the impact of much of it.”

 

Authenticity of reviews leads to skepticism

 

The authenticity of online reviews has become a growing concern, blurring the line between genuine recommendations and promotional tactics, leading to a loss of trust in reviews overall. In this way, the very tool designed to provide transparency can become a breeding ground for deception, causing skepticism among consumers.

 

In Canada, those promoting fake reviews could be liable under the Competition Act. Enforcing the Act is a key responsibility of the Competition Bureau and any business making materially false or misleading claims to promote a product, service or business interest could find themselves in legal hot water. 

 

Brad says there is already a certain amount of skepticism among consumers regarding online reviews noting research data shows that 88% to 95% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 say they rely on reviews. However, among them research also shows that 93% say they are suspicious of Facebook reviews, while 89% says they are suspicious of Yelp reviews, with 88% admitting to being skeptical about reviews on Amazon.

 

“On one hand, they’re saying reviews are very influential but on the other hand, they’re saying they are very suspicious of the content. I think there is a real shallowness about a lot of this research. There’s a lot of assumptions,” says Brad, adding consumer behaviour is driven more by subconscious emotional drivers where people rationalize their decisions after having already made them. “Consumers aren’t going to the reviews with a blank slate in most cases.  A review would really have to be very extreme in order to make you reconsider your decision.”

 

He says consumers often turn to reviews as a final ‘check’ to confirm they have made the ‘right’ choice and that striking a balance between leveraging the benefits of customer feedback and mitigating their potential drawbacks is crucial for businesses aiming to thrive in the digital era.

 

Companies must focus on genuine customer engagement, ethical practices, and continuous improvement to ensure that customer reviews remain a constructive force rather than a destructive one.

 

“I think consumers sometimes often just want to vent a little a bit and know they are being heard,” says Brad. “Reviews are worth monitoring but I would be concerned if businesses think they are a definitive thing and will make or break us.”

 

Tips on how to handle reviews:

 

Monitor Reviews Regularly: Stay updated with what customers are saying about your business by regularly monitoring various review platforms such as Google My Business, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and social media channels.

 

Respond Promptly: Address both positive and negative reviews promptly. Responding promptly shows that you value customer feedback and are proactive in resolving issues.

 

Personalize Responses: Personalize your responses to each review whenever possible. Use the reviewer's name, acknowledge their specific feedback, and express appreciation for their input.

 

Stay Professional: Maintain a polite and professional tone in your responses, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. Avoid getting defensive or confrontational, even if the review is critical.

 

Acknowledge Positive Reviews: Thank customers for positive feedback and let them know that you appreciate their business. This encourages repeat business and loyalty.

 

Address Negative Reviews Constructively: When responding to negative reviews, apologize for any negative experience the customer may have had and offer a solution or compensation if appropriate. Avoid making excuses or blaming the customer.

 

Take the Conversation Offline: For complex issues or disputes, encourage the reviewer to contact you directly to resolve the issue privately. Provide a contact email or phone number for further assistance.

 

Seek Clarification: If the feedback is unclear or vague, seek additional information to fully understand the customer's perspective. This helps in providing more targeted and effective solutions.

 

Stay Consistent Across Platforms: Ensure consistency in your responses across different review platforms to maintain your brand's credibility and professionalism.

 

Use Feedback to Improve: Use feedback from reviews to identify areas for improvement in your products, services, or customer experience. This demonstrates your commitment to continuous improvement.

 

Encourage Positive Reviews: Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews by including links to review platforms in follow-up emails, on receipts, or on your website. However, avoid incentivizing reviews in a way that violates platform guidelines.

 

Address Fake or Malicious Reviews: If you suspect a review is fake or malicious, report it to the platform for investigation. Provide evidence to support your claim and request its removal if it violates the platform's policies.

 

Seek Professional Help if Necessary: If managing online reviews becomes overwhelming or if you need assistance in developing a strategy, consider seeking help from reputation management professionals or digital marketing agencies.

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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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Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a double-edged sword in the realm of cybersecurity, offering immense potential to bolster defenses and creating daunting challenges that can exacerbate vulnerabilities. As businesses and organizations increasingly rely on digital infrastructure and data-driven processes, the role of AI in cybersecurity becomes crucial.

 

Historically, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was first coined in the mid-1950s during a workshop held in Dartmouth by John McCarthy, a U.S. computer scientist, but the concept had already surfaced in 1921 when a Czech playwright introduced the notion of “artificial people” in a production entitled Rossum’s Universal Robots.

 

“AI has been around for a long time and has just scaled to what it is today, and is definitely something businesses are catching on to,” says Nick Lewis, CEO and Director of ShockproofIT, referring to AI and the issues surrounding its use. 

 

On the positive side, AI is now a daunting ally in the fight against cyber threats due to its ability to process vast amounts of data at lightning speed which enables AI-powered systems to accurately detect anomalies and patterns indicative of malicious activities. Machine learning algorithms can analyze historical data to identify evolving attack courses, allowing for proactive defense measures. 

 

“AI can really speed up the process and can look at the path of an infection from the root file all the way up to the end user,” says Nick. “AI can help investigate that path and how it’s happening, locating where the broken or infected link is so you can troubleshoot further.”

 

Insights offered for emerging threats

 

As well, AI-driven threat intelligence platforms can provide real-time insights into emerging threats, empowering organizations to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. And for those who’ve already experienced an attack, it can also provide a detailed report of the incident for auditing purposes.

 

“AI can help you provide some verbose notes and data for creating reports about any attacks,” he says. “It can help you build that out.”

 

On the negative side, the proliferation of AI also introduces new challenges and risks to cybersecurity as cybercriminals continue to increasingly harness AI-powered tools and techniques to launch sophisticated attacks that can evade traditional security defenses. 

 

“Cybercriminals can analyze and collect data much quicker now and identify other avenues and trajectories of attack,” says Nick. “Criminals can also create new and sophisticated, and original targeted phishing attacks that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without the help or aid of AI.”

 

As well, AI can also assist cybercriminals in creating malware that contains new vulnerabilities and then bypasses detections, he says.

 

Barrier lowered for novice hackers

 

Couple this with the fact the democratization of AI technologies has lowered the barrier to entry for cybercriminals, enabling even novice hackers to leverage AI-driven attack tools with devastating consequences, means even more threats for businesses. 

 

To combat potential threats, Nick recommends businesses conduct thorough research when it comes to boosting their cybersecurity systems.

 

“You have to do your research so you can make an informed decision before you implement anything, especially something like AI,” says Nick, who also recommends talking with someone who is knowledgeable when it comes to AI-powered systems. “Talk to a professional, or someone who has been using it for a long time in many different markets and knows it from a core fundamental aspect.”

 

But more importantly, he recommends having a security professional audit the needs of your business to ensure you implement any AI property, safely, and effectively.

 

“How does your organization and your day-to-day operations work? What do you do and don’t do? What kind of logistics are going on?” says Nick. “From there, you can build a solid plan based on those things.”

 

 

Tips for leveraging AI in business cybersecurity:

 

Understand your cybersecurity needs: Before adopting AI solutions, assess your organization's cybersecurity posture, identify key vulnerabilities, and determine specific areas where AI can make the most impact, such as threat detection, incident response, or user authentication.

 

Choose the right AI technologies: Select AI technologies that align with your cybersecurity objectives and capabilities. This may include machine learning for anomaly detection, natural language processing for threat intelligence analysis, or robotic process automation for automating routine security tasks.

 

Invest in quality data: Ensure that your cybersecurity data is accurate, relevant, and representative of potential threats and attack scenarios. Invest in data quality assurance processes and data governance frameworks to maintain the integrity and reliability of your data.

 

Employ AI-driven threat intelligence: Leverage AI-powered threat intelligence platforms can analyze vast amounts of data from diverse sources, including open-source intelligence, dark web forums, and security feeds, to provide actionable intelligence for proactive defense.

 

Implement AI-driven anomaly detection: Deploy machine learning algorithms to monitor network traffic, user behaviour, and system activities for anomalies indicative of malicious activities. 

 

Enable AI-driven incident response: Automate incident response processes using AI-powered orchestration and automation tools which can analyze security alerts, prioritize incidents based on severity and impact, and execute predefined response actions to contain and mitigate security breaches more efficiently.

 

Ensure transparency and accountability: Maintain transparency and accountability in AI-driven cybersecurity initiatives by documenting processes, methodologies, and decision-making criteria. 

 

Stay informed about AI advancements and best practices: Keep abreast of the latest developments in AI technologies, cybersecurity trends, and best practices through continuous learning and engagement with industry forums, conferences, and professional networks. 

 

Balance AI automation with human oversight: While AI can automate routine security tasks and augment human capabilities, it is essential to maintain human oversight and intervention where necessary. 

 

Regularly evaluate and adapt your AI cybersecurity strategy: Continuously monitor the performance and efficacy of your AI-driven cybersecurity initiatives and make adjustments as needed based on evolving threats, technological advancements, and organizational requirements. 

 

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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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In the changing landscape of business, where uncertainty and rapid change are constants, effective leaders must adeptly manage chaos to ensure organizational resilience and success.

 

Navigating through tumultuous times requires a strategic and agile approach, says Linda Braga, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years.

 

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” she says, referring to issues that now exist in workplaces surrounding remote working, labour shortages and retention. “I think leaders are still adapting to managing the workplace and the whole side of leading and actually developing their people because we are successful through our people.”

 

Unfortunately, Linda says developing employees now often takes a ‘backseat’ as company leaders navigate these issues, some of which have been magnified by major shifts in the workplace.

 

“There are four generations in the workplace right now and each come with different attitudes and different viewpoints,” she says, noting older employees prefer having that ‘physical’ presence in the office while younger ones are looking for more of a ‘social’ connection. “It’s about leaders being flexible and adaptable, and having more of an open mind to solicit feedback from their people. Empathy is huge right now.”

 

However, this could prove to be difficult considering statistics show that at least 60% of small and medium-sized businesses owners are aged 50 or older and many will soon be leaving their companies, making it harder for some to adapt to these dramatic workplace shifts before they retire.

 

Self-care important

 

To manage the chaos effectively, Linda leaders should first look at how they manage and lead themselves.

 

“I think it’s important they are able to put on their own oxygen masks first because they’re very busy dealing with the day to day trying to keep their companies running and keeping their employees happy,” she says, adding ‘self-care’ is something they should take seriously.

 

Linda says often leaders have difficulty asking for assistance, especially from their employees.

 

“Just because you’re a leader or manager, or a company owner, doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers and know everything,” she says. “That’s what I feel separates really good leaders from managers is that they empower their people.”

As well, when it comes navigating uncertainty and rapid change, setting goals is key for leaders.

 

“It’s important for our leaders and managers to have crystal clear goals, which they need to communicate,” says Linda, noting there is a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. “They can be really good at being effective and doing things the right way. But are they doing the right things? Even as a leader, are you hitting your own goals? All leaders should be able to look at themselves in a mirror and be self-aware.”

 

 

Some key methods for business leaders to manage chaos:

 

 

Develop a Resilient Mindset:

Successful leaders should acknowledge that change is inevitable, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Embracing uncertainty allows leaders to respond with flexibility and creativity.

 

Establish Clear Communication Channels:

Leaders must provide regular updates, share relevant information, and foster a culture of open dialogue. Clear communication helps employees understand the situation, reduces anxiety, and builds trust in leadership.

 

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively:

Leaders must prioritize activities based on their impact on the organization's core objectives. Delegating responsibilities to capable team members ensures that tasks are handled efficiently, preventing overwhelm at the leadership level.

 

Encourage Adaptability:

Business leaders should encourage employees to embrace change, learn new skills, and remain agile in the face of uncertainty. An adaptable workforce is better equipped to navigate chaos and contribute to innovative solutions.

 

Invest in Technology and Automation:

Leveraging technology and automation can streamline processes and enhance organizational efficiency. Implementing digital solutions allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and minimizes the disruptions caused by chaotic events.

 

Build a Diverse and Inclusive Team:

A diverse team brings varied perspectives and skills to the table, enhancing the organization's ability to address challenges creatively. Inclusion fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel valued, increasing their commitment to overcoming chaos together.

 

Conduct Scenario Planning:

Business leaders should engage in proactive scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and devise strategies to address them. This foresight enables quicker and more effective responses when chaos unfolds, reducing the negative impact on the business.

 

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate uncertainty with empathy, providing support to their team members and maintaining a positive organizational culture.

 

Learn from Mistakes:

Successful leaders acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and apply those lessons to improve future decision-making. This adaptive learning approach contributes to organizational resilience.

 

Strategic Resource Allocation:

Business leaders must strategically allocate financial, human, and technological resources to areas that will have the most significant impact on maintaining stability and achieving long-term objectives.

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High inflation, interest rates and housing costs continue to drive pessimism in Ontario’s economic outlook, according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) eighth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER)

 

Despite this, many businesses surveyed remain confident in their own outlooks, with 53% expecting to grow in 2024.

 

“In spite of the fact there seems to be a mood of pessimism in the air, the reality of it is there seems to be more bright lights than there are dim lights,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’ve had years where business confidence and prospects of being confident are going to be over 60% but given where we are today, I think having around 50% of businesses confident they are going to have a good year and grow is a positive sign.”

 

However, he says that figure doesn’t minimize the economic issues facing businesses, including affordability and also notes the struggle to achieve necessary tax reform measures continues.

 

“We must also ensure there is a balance or equity in tax distribution from not only a cost perspective but also on deployment so when money is being handed out it’s being handed out appropriately,” says Greg.

 

The OER contains regional and sector-specific data on business confidence and growth, public policy priorities, regional forecasts, and timely business issues such as supply chains, employee well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, economic reconciliation, and climate change.

 

The report, compiled from a survey of businesses provincewide conducted between Oct. 12 and Nov. 21 and received just under 1,900 responses, states that 13% of businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook. That represents a 3% drop from last year and a 29% drop from the year before with the cost of living and inputs, inflation, and housing affordability as the key factors for the confidence decline.

 

The sector showing the most confidence was mining, with the least confidence being shown in the agriculture, non-profit and healthcare social assistance sectors. The most confident regions were Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario, both at 23%, and the least were Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor-Sarnia, and Stratford-Bruce County. (The survey indicated these latter two regions had a high share of respondents in the non-profit and agriculture sectors compared to other regions).

 

“As the report suggests, businesses still need to grapple with economic headwinds and many of those headwinds are limiting their ability to invest in important issues within the workplace and that may well be part of the reason they are having difficulty hiring people,” says Greg. “That said, entrepreneurs are interesting individuals, and they always will find a way to wiggle themselves through the difficulties of the economy.”

 

He questions whether the pessimism around growth and confidence outlined in the survey is related to the economy or stems more from the fact many businesses are unable to hire the people they require so they can grow their business.

 

“There are lots of companies out there that need people and that’s always a good thing when you’re at a very low unemployment rate now which is hovering around the 5% rate,” says Greg, noting he receives calls and emails daily from local companies seeking workers. “As inflation starts to drop and as the Bank of Canada rates start to drop, I think we’ll see that pessimism go away.”

 

Read the report.

 

Outlook highlights: 

 

  • Small businesses are less confident (12%) than larger businesses (22%) due to challenges with repaying debt, fluctuations in consumer spending, inflationary pressures, and workforce-related challenges such as mental health.
  • Simplifying business taxes is identified as a major policy priority of 50% of surveyed businesses. 
  • Confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook varies considerably across industries and is lowest within the agriculture sector (3%), non-profit (8%), health care and social assistance (8%), and retail (10%) sectors. 
  • Confidence is highest in the province’s mining (46%) and utilities (27%) industries, both of which benefited from strong growth and investments in the province’s electrification infrastructure and electric vehicle supply chains. 
  • Businesses in Northeast and Northwest Ontario exhibit the highest confidence at 23%, where the mining industry is a major employer.
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