Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

A large majority of Canadian businesses are sluggish when it comes to the adoption of Generative Artificial Intelligence (Gen AI), according to the results of a recent report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab (BDL).

 

The 38-page report details how a multitude of barriers, along with a lack of trust in the new technology, could impede the adoption levels needed to improve Canada’s economic growth.

 

Locally, the report shows that 11% of businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge are "using", or "planning to use" Gen AI, compared to 18% in Toronto or 15% in Ottawa. 

 

The report, Prompting Productivity: Generative AI Adoption by Canadian Businesses, underscores how Gen AI (referring to Large Language Models bases and the practical applications built on top of them) can help tackle one of the most significant economic challenges facing Canadian prosperity and standard of life — low productivity — while also exploring what is holding Canadian businesses back from adopting AI technologies.

 

The results detailed in the report, compiled from a survey of 13,327 businesses in January and February of this year, shows that larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to adopt Gen AI compared to smaller businesses. Overall, the data shows that one in seven businesses (roughly 14%) – mostly larger businesses and industries with highly educated workers – are Gen AI adopters. 

 

Patrick Gill, BDL's Senior Director of Operations and Partnerships, and the report's lead author, says he's surprised more small businesses haven't been embracing this new technology. 

 

“I’ve never run into a small business owner who wasn’t run off their feet and wearing multiple hats or wish they could replicate themselves,” he says. “But that’s the nice thing about this tool. With little or at no cost a small business owner or team can leverage this to fill in some of their existing skills gaps.”

 

According to the report, the top three industries adopting AI includes information & culture (31%), professional services (28%), and finance and insurance (23%). The two lowest to adopt are agriculture, forestry, and fishing (8%) and construction (7%).

 

Building trust an issue

 

Patrick says historically, larger businesses usually face more barriers adopting new technologies due to the fact their operations are more complicated and often have technology ‘stacked’ on top of each other.

 

“Smaller businesses usually face less of a challenge,” he says. “Their biggest challenge has usually been ‘Do I have the money right now to invest in a new technology?.”

 

Besides potential costs, trust is also a key issue.

 

“Public trust and the perception of AI will definitely play a crucial role in the adoption of the technology going forward,” says Patrick, noting a survey released last year indicated that Canada was the third most pessimistic country in the world and that only 38% of Canadians view AI in a positive light, slightly ahead of those in the U.S. and France.

 

Patrick says the Business Data Lab report also indicates that people are nervous about what the adoption of Gen AI will mean for their jobs and notes most agree change will come in the way they conduct their jobs, versus losing them outright.

 

“Right now, the technology is predominantly being used to augment workers’ abilities and not to replace them entirely,” he says, adding many are looking at Gen AI as a tool that can accelerate production and improve quality and services in effort to reduce costs. “That’s incredibly important during this time of a high-cost operating environment.”

 

From a global perspective as interest in Gen AI continues to grow, the report indicates that Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. Low productivity and business investment puts Canadians’ prosperity and living standards at risk and its GDP per capita is now significantly below the U.S. and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average.

 

Businesses must ‘innovate or die’

 

“Gen AI is a generational opportunity to boost Canadian productivity at a time when our performance is steadily headed in the wrong direction. The time to prompt productivity and act is now. Canadian businesses must innovate or die, and that means embracing Gen AI,” says Patrick. “While adoption has begun in every industry, it’s likely not fast enough for Canada to be competitive on the global stage, especially since three in four Canadian businesses still haven’t tried Gen AI yet.”

 

Based on two adoption scenarios (“fast” and “slow”), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s BDL projects that Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses will reach a tipping point of 50% in the next three to six years.  This may seem fast but is probably not fast enough to keep pace with global leaders. Businesses in the U.S., China and several European countries are investing heavily in AI, likely outpacing Canadian investment.

 

“Those who move first basically set the standards and capture the largest market share,” says Patrick. “And everyone else is perennially playing catch up.”

 

He hopes the findings in the BDL report may gently ‘nudge’ businesses into more experimentation when it comes to adopting Gen AI. 

 

“There are so many low costs and no cost options available, so experiment and give it a try,” says Patrick, explaining how AI can assist with creating emails, marketing, and promotional content, and well as new visuals. “Use and test it and eventually you’ll find a way.”

 

Click here to the read the report.

 

 

Key findings from the report

 

  • Roughly 1 in 7 Canadian businesses (14%) are early Gen AI adopters. They are found within every Canadian industry and region, but are more likely to be exporters, larger businesses, industries with highly educated workers or emerging enterprises.
  • Larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to use Gen AI than small businesses.
  • 18% of Ontario businesses are ‘already using’ or ‘plan to use’ Gen AI (Toronto rate was 18%, while KW-Cambridge was 11%).
  • On its current trajectory, Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses could reach a tipping in the next 3 to 6 years — likely too slow to keep pace with global competitors.
  • Depending on the rate of adoption, Gen AI could grow Canada’s productivity between 1% and 6% over the next decade.
  • The factor of “trust” will be important for future adoption, with public interest and acceptance of AI likely being positively correlated with countries’ business adoption rates. Global IPSOS surveys reveal that Canadians are less knowledgeable and more nervous about AI than citizens of most other countries.
  • Most businesses using Gen AI are predominately looking to accelerate content creation (69%) and automate work without job cuts (46%).
  • Interestingly, replacing workers is not the primary driver of adoption, with only 1 in 8 businesses (13%) that use Gen AI cite its value for replacing employees. 
  • Roughly 3 in 10 businesses cite hiring skilled employees and access to finance as top challenges to adopting new technologies.
  • Almost 3 in 4 Canadian businesses (73%) have not even considered using Gen AI yet.
  • Public interest and perception of the technology are likely additional major barriers to adoption by businesses. 
  • It is recommended that Canadian businesses move fast to adopt Gen AI to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. This means starting with small-scale pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI before gradually expand to larger initiatives based on successful proofs of concept, all while training and preparing employees for its adoption.
  • For its part, government can support Gen AI adoption by upskilling workers, setting adoption targets, tapping the private sector, and among other actions, ensuring regulation is proportionate and risk based.

 

Recommendations for business

 

Innovate or die: Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. With Gen AI so accessible and applicable for every type of business, there is little excuse for Canadian businesses to sit on the sidelines. 

 

Pilot projects that measure uplift: Start with small pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI. Compare metrics (e.g., efficiency, costs savings and revenue generation) before and after its implementation.

 

Change management and employee training: Prepare employees for the adoption of Gen AI. Provide training sessions, workshops, and resources to help them understand the technology and develop new workflows. 

 

Strategic alignment: Align Gen AI adoption with overall strategic goals. Identify where Gen AI can enhance existing processes, improve customer experience, or drive innovation. 

 

Data infrastructure and governance: Invest in robust data infrastructure and governance practices. High-quality data is essential for training Gen AI models. Ensure data privacy, security, and compliance. 

 

Talent acquisition and retention: Attract and retain talent skilled in Gen AI. Recruit data scientists, machine learning engineers and domain experts who can develop and deploy Gen AI solutions. 

 

Investment in cloud infrastructure: Leverage cloud platforms for scalable computing power. Cloud services facilitate model training, deployment, and maintenance, allowing businesses to experiment and iterate efficiently. 

 

Leverage public resources: Move faster by basing policies on the federal government’s Guide on the use of Gen AI or tapping available funding, such as the NRC’s (National Research Council of Canada) IRAP AI Assist Program.

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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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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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Buying an existing business can be a strategic move that saves an entrepreneur a substantial amount of hard work and offers numerous advantages over starting or expanding a current venture from scratch.

 

Purchasing an existing business offers a head-start in terms of market presence and brand recognition, while building a brand from scratch requires extensive time, effort, and resources. However, buying a business with an established brand allows the new owner to capitalize on existing customer loyalty and market reputation, something Carson O’Neill, Managing Principal of Rincroft Inc., a local firm which facilitates the sale of medium-sized businesses, believes. 

 

“What I like about goodwill is that you have repeat customers and it’s not necessarily something you will see on the income statement,” he says. “Goodwill is sort of an elusive thing but it’s important that you have customers coming back. Even in this electronic and digital age, we are creatures of habit and if I go into a store and somebody goes that extra mile, at least with me, I will remember that.”

 

It is also one of many things to consider when it comes to purchasing an existing business, says Carson.

 

Another key consideration for those seeking to purchase an existing business is establishing clear parameters, in terms of the industry they wish to buy into and the size of the business. 

 

“Ideally, the buyer should have a background and relevant expertise in the industry which brings value to the business they are buying,” says Carson. “Buyers are often so enthusiastic they want to come out of the gate with their foot on the accelerator without understanding where the tracks are. I wouldn’t encourage people to buy a business in an industry they know nothing about.”

 

Emotions can cloud 'good judgment'

 

He says emotions can sometimes play a role in the decision-making process, which in turn can cloud “good judgment”, noting it can take at least six months from start to finish to complete a business sale.

 

“It can be very costly if you buy the wrong kind of business and it’s not like trying to get another job,” says Carson. “If you have your money sunk into a business that doesn’t work out, it’s a very different thing.”

 

Buying an existing business can save hard work by minimizing the risks associated with start-up ventures. Start-ups face a high failure rate, with many new businesses failing within the first few years of operation. By purchasing an existing business with a proven track record, entrepreneurs can mitigate some of the risks associated with starting a new venture. This can provide greater peace of mind and increase the likelihood of long-term success.

 

“What you hear about are the successful start-ups. The media loves to talk about somebody who started a business in their family room on a computer, or was making something in the garage,” says Carson. “What you don’t hear about is the number of business failures.”

 

That’s why he recommends to his clients looking to expand their business by integrating it with another or those getting into business for the first time, to find an owner who is nearing retirement but prepared to remain involved through the transition of ownership to ensure continuity is maintained. 

 

“If the owner feels welcomed in the transition, the buyer is less threatening,” he says. “It’s more of a seamless transition.”

 

While the acquisition process may be easier to navigate for an established medium-sized business that has the resources to undertake a new venture, Carson says many business purchases are often first-time experiences for both parties.

 

“You’re dealing with people on both sides of the street trying to come together,” he says. “That’s why the basics are important and they both bear that in mind because they are trying to get a friendly deal.”

 

Essential tips to consider when buying a business:

 

Define Your Goals: Whether it's to expand your existing operations, enter a new market, or pursue a passion, knowing your goals will help guide your search and evaluation process.

 

Industry Research: Understand market trends, competition, and potential growth opportunities. This knowledge will help you assess the viability and potential success of the business.

 

Financial Analysis: Review financial statements, cash flow projections, and historical performance. Consider hiring an accountant or financial advisor to help assess the business's financial health and value.

 

Due Diligence: Perform thorough due diligence to uncover any potential risks or liabilities associated with the business. This includes reviewing contracts, leases, licenses, and legal documents. Consider hiring legal experts to assist in the due diligence process.

 

Assess Assets and Liabilities: Evaluate the business's assets, including inventory, equipment, intellectual property, and customer contracts. Also, assess any existing liabilities, such as debts, pending lawsuits, or tax obligations.

 

Understand the Reason for Sale: Determine why the current owner is selling the business. It could be due to retirement, health issues, or declining profitability. Understanding the reason for sale can provide insights into the business's condition and potential challenges.

 

Evaluate Management and Employees: Assess the competency and experience of the existing management team and employees. Consider whether you'll retain key personnel post-acquisition and how their departure might impact the business's operations.

 

Customer Base and Reputation: Consider factors such as customer loyalty, satisfaction levels, and brand perception. A strong customer base and positive reputation can contribute to the business's long-term success.

 

Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Ensure the business complies with all relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards. Verify licenses, permits, and regulatory approvals are up to date. 

 

Negotiate Terms and Purchase Agreement: Seek legal advice to ensure the agreement protects your interests and addresses key aspects such as price, payment terms, warranties, and post-acquisition support.

 

Seek Professional Advice: Consider seeking guidance from experienced professionals, such as business brokers, lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors. Their expertise can help navigate the complexities of buying a business and increase the likelihood of a successful acquisition.

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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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While economic and technological shocks will always be a constant feature of our world, experts say small businesses must continue to adapt and innovate to stay competitive and satisfy consumer preferences.

 

“The adoption of technology should be the priority for small businesses and the adoption of AI where it can help bolster their business should also be a priority,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, noting 98% of Canadian businesses qualify as small businesses.

 

In its recent report entitled, A Portrait of Small Business in Canada: Adaption, Agility, All At Once, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce touches on this issue as it explores the integral role small businesses  in play in Canada’s economy and sheds light on how these businesses can thrive despite major economic forces working against them — including the rising cost of doing business, the highest borrowing costs in over two decades and increased pandemic debt loads.

 

The report, which defines ‘micro businesses’ as having 1-4 employees, ‘scale businesses’ as 5-19 employees, and ‘mature businesses’ as 19-99 employees, shows how small businesses of all sizes, ages and industries are already investing in technology to better access data and applications from their computers, tablets, or mobile phones — whether in the office or on the road — to connect better with their customers and employees. However, as the report indicates, a business’s size is important to its ability to not only adopt technology, but also take advantage of a variety of technology tools. The report finds that even more change is essential.

 

Greg agrees and says the need for smaller businesses to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) is especially imperative.

 

“In all probability, smaller businesses are less likely to adopt AI technology because they may be fearful of it,” he says. “But the fact of the matter is it may be the only tool that can bring them up and allow them to compete.”

 

AI and digital technologies

 

According to the report, across all industries, a higher proportion of small businesses planned to invest in AI and digital technologies. While 62% of micro firms (compared with an average of 55% for all small firms) expressed plans for the latter, 30% of mature firms were keen on investing in AI compared with the all-industry average of 24% for all small businesses. Scale and mature businesses were more likely to adopt multiple technology tools, especially those in finance and insurance, professional services, and wholesale trade.

 

“If they (small businesses) don’t get knee deep in AI from a business perspective, they may be missing the boat that was inevitably sent to save them,” says Greg.

 

The report also highlights trends to help small businesses adapt to how Canadian shoppers have evolved. While online shopping accelerated as a result of the pandemic, roughly 75% of Canadian shoppers still visit physical stores for key items like groceries, clothing, automotive, electronics, home and garden, and health products. To meet consumer preferences, businesses need to implement on and offline sales strategies to reach customers.

 

In the report, the critical importance of having an enticing online commercial presence is highlighted, with 83% of Canadian retail shoppers reporting they conduct online research before they visit a store. Having physical stores near customers also supports online sales, with nearly one in 10 Canadians making purchases online from retailers located nearby.

 

“There is still an opportunity for small businesses to capitalize on local business by advertising and marketing themselves locally,” says Greg. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a strong online presence and look for every opportunity in which AI can help advance your cause.”

 

Canadian Chamber President & CEO Perrin Beatty says the findings in this report provides yet another signal that more focus is needed to support growth, especially among small businesses.

 

“We can start by reducing red tape, investing in infrastructure, and enabling an innovation economy,” he said in a press release. “These fundamentals of growth will increase Canadian businesses’ ability to compete and attract investment that will benefit Canadians, their families, and our communities.”

 

Click here to read the report.

 

 

Highlights of the report:

 

  • In June 2023, there were 1.35 million businesses in Canada with paid employees. The over- whelming majority (98% of the total) were conventionally classified as “small” businesses, which collectively employed over 11 million people.
  • In the “small business” category, micro firms are by far the most common businesses type in Canada. In fact, if all businesses in Canada were sorted by employment size, the median firm would have fewer than five employees, which underscores the importance of improving our understanding of the business realities of all small firms, but especially micro firms.
  • Nearly half of all small businesses are in the following four industries: professional, scientific, and technical services; construction; retail trade; and health care and social assistance.
  • Immigrants to Canada own a disproportionate share of private sector businesses (263,850 businesses, or 25.5% of all private sector businesses) compared with their share of population (23%). One strong factor is immigrants’ high share of micro businesses (30%), in contrasts with their underrepresentation in both scale and mature enterprises.
  • The past few years have offered women more flexible work arrangements, encouraging them to find more in-demand and higher-paying jobs, while government efforts to increase the availability of affordable childcare have helped women’s labour force participation to rebound. With the transition back to the office, barriers that perpetuate gender-based differences in labour force participation threaten this progress.
  • An underrepresented group in terms of business ownership (2.2%) compared with their share of the population (22%) is persons with a disability. Given the prevalence of disability, this gap signals tremendous untapped potential for entrepreneurship, but also one with significant potential effects on socio-economic outcomes, including labour market participation.
  • The LGBTQ2+ population (4% of Canada’s total population according to the 2021 Census) is also somewhat underrepresented as business owners (3.3%), lagging most as owners of mature businesses (0.6%).
  • Although they are 5% of the country’s population, Indigenous people’s share of businesses owned remains less than half of that (2.2%), although they appear to be doing better on ownership of mature businesses, the largest type of small business.
  • The most recent data (June 2023) show that, compared with pre-pandemic conditions in December 2019, the number of businesses increased by 7.3% for large firms, 5.0% for medium firms and only 2.9% for small firms.
  • Retail sales data show that e-commerce enjoyed a massive spike early in the pandemic but have since moderated as Canadians go back to in-person shopping. The share of total retail sales from e-commerce increased rapidly from 3.7% in January 2020 to peak of 10.7% just four months later in April 2020. With the lifting of pandemic related restrictions and stores have reopened for in-person shoppers, this figure has since moderated to 5.7%.
  • In addition to age, variation by industry showed a strong trend in technology adoption. Overall, average adoption shares across all industries and all technology tools were lowest for micro firms (12%), followed by scale (16%) and then mature firms (22%). Small businesses — particularly scale and mature — in finance and insurance, information and culture, professional services and wholesale trade were consistently among those reporting the highest technology adoption rates.
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The evolving nature of work continues to shape the employee landscape due to unprecedented changes driven by technological advancements, shifting societal expectations, and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As a result, organizations must adapt to emerging employee trends to foster a resilient and engaged workforce.

 

One way to accomplish this suggests Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting, is to keep in touch with employees through engagement surveys.

 

“Listening to the pulse of your organization is going to be more important than ever,” he says. “Employers may also want to think about their work culture and in terms of what attracts people, and they want to make sure they are managing leadership effectively.”

 

Among the many trends employers must embrace is creating a more welcoming work environment, especially when it comes to Canada’s growing immigrant population.

 

More than 430,000 immigrants were brought to Canada in 2022 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with an additional target of 485,000 this year and a further 500,000 in 2025. IRCC data indicates in 2022, 184,725 of these new permanent residents came to Ontario.

 

“There is a large talent pool available, and employers have to be thoughtful in how they bring new talent into their organizations from our immigrant population,” says Frank. “The whole concept of diversity, inclusion, and equality is rising in terms of what’s important for companies and for individuals. If you’re not having that positive and diverse work culture, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

 

AI gaining importance

 

He says the introduction of AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Copy.ai and Kickresume, have not only benefitted Canada’s newcomer population by helping them become more proficient and fluid in the English language, but have become valuable assets for businesses as well.

 

“I think we are going to see more employers looking for people who have some AI experience,” says Frank. “Being able to say you can demonstrate use of those tools is a good thing for potential job candidates.”

 

However, there are potential downsides such as the creation of AI generated resumes and materials that can help a candidate embellish their qualifications.

 

“There are tools to test a document to see if it’s been AI written and you may now see many sophisticated employers doing just that,” he says. “They may also be thinking of asking a potential employee to provide writing samples.”

 

Managing performance key

 

Another trend is the emergence of ‘The Great Stay’ phenomenon, which experts say has been replacing the ‘Great Resignation’ experienced during the pandemic as employees re-evaluated their priorities and migrated to other opportunities.

 

“I’m not sensing The Great Stay too much in this region and am still sensing a fair bit of fluidity, but having people stay longer is always a good thing because it’s less costly,” says Frank, noting it can cost at least three times an employee’s salary to replace them considering the recruitment process, training, and upskilling. “Employers still have to focus on managing performance if people are going to stay longer and they have to invest in leadership and coaching if you want to maximize your investment.”

 

He notes employees may also be a little reluctant to move due to the ‘shakiness’ of the economy.

 

“I think employers may want to continue to monitor salaries which have stabilized quite a bit and want to make sure they are staying around that 3-4% annual change,” says Frank. “But I think in general, employers are cautiously optimistic about things going forward.”

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

Employees now seek a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the collaboration offered by in-person interactions. Organizations that embrace hybrid models will likely attract and retain top talent, offering employees the autonomy to choose where and when they work.

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

Organizations are placing a heightened focus on mental health, work-life balance, and holistic wellness programs. Employees value employers who prioritize their well-being, leading to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 

Continuous Learning and Development

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, the demand for upskilling and reskilling is on the rise. Employees expect continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant in their roles and advance their careers. Forward-thinking organizations invest in robust training programs and partnerships with educational institutions to foster a culture of continuous development.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Employees prioritize working for organizations that are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies that actively address and rectify disparities in hiring, promotions, and pay will not only attract diverse talent but also create a more innovative and collaborative work environment.

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

Employee experience encompasses the overall journey of an employee within an organization. Companies are investing in enhancing the employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. Personalized employee experiences, feedback mechanisms, and inclusive company cultures contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

 

Remote Employee Engagement

With remote work becoming a staple, maintaining employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Companies are leveraging technology to create virtual team-building activities, foster communication, and build a strong remote work culture. Employee engagement tools and platforms play a crucial role in keeping teams connected and motivated.

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

Employers are still looking for candidates who create undeniable value, not just put in clocked times, who have above-average communication skills, have a strong work ethic, will be reliable, possess the ability to think critically and above all, will fit their culture. Regardless of the uncertainty ahead, the key to creating job search luck will be the same as it has always been: preparation of hard work. 

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

The current global economic situation, the state of China and other major economies, as well as the ongoing geopolitical conflicts will see recession talk intensify, leading companies to focus on vital roles and hold off on hiring for roles that aren’t ‘must-haves’. Taking these factors into consideration, the next year it will be ‘The Great Stay’ as opposed to the ‘Great Resignation’ when many people switched jobs/careers during the pandemic.

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In this digital landscape, businesses are increasingly reliant on web-based platforms for their operations, communication, and customer interactions.

 

While this technological shift has brought convenience and efficiency, it has also opened the floodgates to a myriad of cyber threats – many no longer just centred on email-based breaches. 

 

As the digital realm expands, the need for robust web-based security becomes paramount for businesses of all sizes due to the escalating frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks.

 

Hackers are becoming more adept at exploiting vulnerabilities, often targeting sensitive data such as customer information, financial records, and intellectual property. The consequences of a successful cyberattack can be devastating, ranging from financial losses and reputational damage to legal repercussions.

 

These security breaches can erode customer trust and a single security incident can shatter the perception of a business as a reliable custodian of sensitive information, leading to a loss of clientele and tarnished brand image.

 

To address these challenges, businesses need to invest in cutting-edge web security solutions. These include regularly updating software and systems, implementing multi-factor authentication, encrypting sensitive data, and conducting regular security audits. Collaborating with cybersecurity experts and staying abreast of the latest threats intelligence is equally crucial in maintaining a proactive defence against emerging cyber hazards.

 

 

We asked John Svazic, Founder and Principal Consultant of EliteSec Information Security Consultants Inc. in Cambridge to share his thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are prepared for potential web-based security threats:

 

 

Q. When did more browser-based cyber threats begin to surface as opposed to spam emails?

 

A. This is a hard question to answer, but these types of attacks aren't new and have been around for a while, likely since the early 2000s at least, but not in any volume.  Most cyber-criminal attacks are based on opportunity and ease, so the rise can generally be attributed to companies adding more sophistication to their websites, especially as they try to go online.  

 

Q.  What brought on this apparent shift?

 

A. Opportunity is the biggest reason here.  With the rush to go online, which the pandemic only exacerbated, some companies may be taking shortcuts to get online by going with free/low- cost options to maintain margins.  While I can sympathize with this point, losing most of your margins to fraud may be reason to re-evaluate.

 

Q. Are there warning signs business owners should watch for indicating they might be susceptible to an attack?

 

AUnfortunately, not. The best way to prevent this is to go look for vulnerabilities yourself or get someone who is skilled to go looking for you.  Having said that there are a few things that can be done on your own to better protect yourself, including:

 

  • Making sure all your software is up to date. This is especially important if you are using a Wordpress site to host your online presence. Making sure any plug-ins or add-ons that you are using are up to date is important.
  • Protect your online social media with two-factor authentication (2FA). Yes, this can be annoying, but it is a proven way to protect your accounts. Nothing is more painful than trying to get your Facebook or Instagram account back from a hacker, and many companies either pay up or are forced to create new accounts.
  • Never re-use passwords!  Getting a password manager is incredibly useful to prevent this and provides a great way to help share accounts between employees if necessary. Most can help store your 2FA code as well, so you don't need to share a single phone between individuals.
  • Hire a security professional to do a vulnerability assessment or penetration test of your web presence. Be sure that they are qualified by asking for references and samples of their work.  This is the costliest option but one worth considering if you want to be sure.

 

Q. What is one of the first steps they should take in terms of boosting their security?

 

A. Make sure that whatever you're using is fully patched. If this is offloaded to a hosting company or some other third-party provider, ask them what their patch cycle is. How frequently do they update, and do they do any third-party testing of their own infrastructure?  If a company is doing online sales, using a trusted partner like Shopify, Squarespace, etc., is a great way to check these boxes as these are reputable firms that take security seriously, which helps to offload the risk to someone else, albeit at a cost. 

 

Q. Are smaller businesses more susceptible to potential attacks than larger ones?

 

A. Sadly yes. While news headlines often focus on bigger named companies getting hacked and having to pay ransoms, the reality is that hundreds of smaller companies are getting hacked each day and not making headlines because they're just not big enough to report on, or they're too scared to report the attacks themselves out of fear of losing customers/reputation. Smaller companies often lack the resources or money to seek out help, so it can be a real catch-22.

 

Q.  If an attack has occurred, what should be the first step a business owner should take?

 

A. First check your business insurance to see if you have cyber insurance. Often, these policies will dictate who to call and what to do. Many brokers will recommend this type of insurance if you have an online presence, so it never hurts to start there. As most of these attackers are coming from outside the country, law enforcement won't necessarily be able to help, but report a cybercrime.  Start with the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and report the incident. I would then recommend reaching out to a cybersecurity professional that specializes in incident response to help rectify the situation. Again, if you have a cyber insurance policy, this should be covered by insurance.

 

Q. Is it possible to become too paranoid regarding cyberattacks?

 

A. Absolutely. But it's best to always put things into perspective before things become too overwhelming. If you take some basic precautions, you can put most of these concerns aside.  It's always about perspective and the realization that raising the bar on cybersecurity isn't hard, and even small changes can deter potential attackers. Most cyber criminals are lazy, so they won't put in a lot of effort for minimal rewards. But if they can pull of a hack because it's easy, then they're willing to put in the effort for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars of potential payoff.

 

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The Canadian tourism sector has experienced a brisk recovery since the initial pandemic lockdowns, according to economic experts. But that recovery pace has been easing due to higher interest rates, a slowing job market, and broader cyclical slowdown in the U.S. and abroad. In Ontario, many tourism operators continue to face a great deal of debt caused by the pandemic, prompting many to worry about what the future holds. 

 

Locally, tourism in 2024 is expected to continue to do well, despite the ‘economic crunch’ that may prompt travelers to adjust their plans in the coming year. 

 

We reached out to Explore Waterloo CEO Michele Saran to get her take on what the local tourism sector can expect in the New Year:

 

 

How is local tourism shaping up for 2024, considering the economic realities many people are dealing with?

 

Tourism in Waterloo Region is expected to continue doing well into 2024.  We are beating 2019 pre-pandemic; hotel occupancy numbers and campaigns are driving keen interest in our offerings.  Yes, the economic crunch is impacting everyone and may result in visitors spending a bit less but not completely abandoning all vacation plans.  People consider travel a priority and have been shown to spend less in other discretionary areas to afford some kind of getaway with family and friends. Waterloo Region’s main market is the GTA, and we really lean into the concept of being the perfect road trip destination.  This type of travel can be as budget conscious as one wishes.  There are so many affordable options for fun.

 

 

Are local tourism operators feeling optimistic about what is in store for 2024?

 

The operators I speak with are all quite optimistic about a strong 2024, despite concerns around inflation and its impact on visitor spending.  In addition to leisure travel, we are also seeing incredible interest in the region for meetings, conventions, and sporting events.  The tourism industry is nothing if not resilient. Having come out on the other side of a worldwide pandemic that shut everything down completely, we now have the gift of perspective.  

 

 

What are some of the hurdles do local tourism operators face in the coming year?

 

One of the biggest challenges facing tourism operators everywhere (not just in Waterloo Region) is rebuilding the workforce.  Hospitality workers left the industry during the pandemic, and many did not return.  Industry advocacy organizations are working to address this issue from many angles, from working with government to ease immigration barriers to marketing the industry to students as a career choice. Finding affordable housing is a big hurdle for those in the service sector.  Many of the destinations that are the most popular with visitors are also very expensive places to live.  People want to live in the same area where they work, and this presents another labour-related challenge for the tourism industry as well as many others.

 

Despite optimism for next year’s visitation potential, a very significant issue is the amount of debt tourism businesses incurred during the pandemic just to stay afloat and survive.  According to the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, 55% of operators say they lack confidence they will be able to repay their debts in two years and 45% risk closure in three years without government intervention.  Thirty-three percent of tourism businesses indicate that they hold more than 250K in outstanding debt. This is a serious issue and one all tourism advocacy organizations continue to push with government for solutions.

 

 

Is talk of the pandemic a thing of the past?

 

I recently returned from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s Annual Tourism Congress.  The conversation was around the legacy effects of COVID cited above but I think the entire industry is ready to put the pandemic itself in the rearview mirror and focus on what we do best – welcoming visitors and showing them why our area is fantastic.   

 

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The holiday shopping season has begun, and retailers are hoping for the best despite the fact consumer indicators have been painting a less than perfect picture of the weeks to come. In fact, according to Deloitte Canada’s 2023 Holiday Retail Outlook, Canadians are expected to spend at least $1,300 over the holidays representing an 11% drop from last year. 

 

But how these dire predictions will affect them in 2024 remains to be seen.

 

“I think in 2024 retailers will be facing an awful lot of pressure on inventory management and cashflows just because of the interest rate problems,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “I think retailers are going to have a real deal seeking consumer base who are going to want deals, and that again cuts into their margins and can play havoc with inventory turnover.”

 

He says like the past couple of years, effective retail management will be required noting that consumers, in general, don’t really pay attention to consumer indicators.

 

“We’re not very good a judging what is a good deal or what is good value,” says Brad, noting that many consumers are very susceptible to perceived ‘sales’. “We have this whole apparatus that is designed to stimulate impulse purchasing.”

 

To encourage more in-store shopping, which has been facing turmoil as anti-theft measures and store closures detract from the customer experience, retail experts insist consumers must be provided exclusive products and deals or fun, and experiences they can’t find online. 

 

However, Brad says the true definition of what that special ‘customer experience’ is can be hard to pinpoint.

 

“Experts can never seem to quite define what this is,” he jokes, adding a positive in-store environment with expediated delivery and payments, and return policies should play a role. “We used to just call it good customer service. But for most consumers, when you talk to them about what they think is a good experience it’s ‘Can I find stuff easy?’, ‘I want to be able to check in and out fast’, ‘I don’t want salespeople bugging me unless I need help’. It’s sort of fairly basic.”

 

He says customer mapping is also something to consider, noting that online searching can lead consumers to physical stores. Industry experts often refer to the omnichannel approach where consumers may start their search in one place and make their purchase in another and encourage retailers in 2024 to learn where their audience is discovering products and where they are buying them.

 

“There is still a huge social component of shopping in a mall, particularly with younger generations,” says Brad, noting that humans still crave that ‘tactile’ physical encounter. “You have a generation of young people who is always going to gravitate to that sense of immediate gratification.”

 

He says the key for retailers going forward is to remain flexible in their approach to conducting business.

 

“Something that worked before and got you where you are now does not mean it’s going to get you where you need to go next,” says Brad. “Things are just happening so fast in multiple directions, and you have to be open to rethink and revisit what you thought was truth before.”

 

 

Released this past fall, the 6th annual RCC X Leger Holiday Shopping Survey from Retail Council of Canada (RCC) unveils the evolving shopping patterns of more than 2,500 Canadians: 

 

A few findings:

 

  • Savvy Shopping in Spotlight: Economic apprehensions, including inflation and rising living costs, weigh on many. Accordingly, 88% (vs 83% in 2022) of Canadians are turning to proactive holiday shopping tactics, most notably hunting for sales (52%), preparing in advance (41%), and adhering to a precise budget (40%).
  • Retailer Selection: To help shoppers decide which retailers to buy from this year, Canadians are prioritizing holiday sales/promotions (66%) and free shipping (55%). They are also looking for in-store exclusives (48%) and distinct online promotions (60%) to provide additional value.
  • Shopping Experiences Enhancers: In-store shopping will benefit from value bundles (26%) and product sampling (25%). Conversely, online shopping will be amplified by unique product offers and extended return policies, both at 33%.
  • Lead Spending Categories: Clothing emerges as 2023’s frontrunner, constituting 17% of the holiday budget, followed closely by home entertainment and essentials like food and alcohol grabbing 16% of the planned spend. 
  • More Gift Cards:  45% of shoppers are leaning towards purchasing gift cards for others this season, with a notable 37% of Canadians (up from 32% last year) expressing a preference for receiving gift cards over traditional presents. Dining gift cards top the charts (42%), while big-box retailers come in at 33% and food outlets register at 27%.
  • Local Shopping Upswing: Supporting local businesses this holiday has seen an increase in intent, with 82% of Canadians accentuating its importance, a leap from 74% last year.

 

Source: Canada News Wire

 

 

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