Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

As technology continues to rapidly evolve, businesses are increasingly turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and gain a competitive edge. 

 

There is no question surrounding the benefits of integrating AI into business processes, but there remain legitimate concerns that accompany this technological leap.

 

One primary concern is the ethical implications of AI implementation. As AI systems such as ChatGPT, ClickUp, Copy.ai, or Kickresume become more sophisticated, they often require access to vast amounts of data to function effectively. This raises questions about privacy and the responsible use of sensitive information, as well as legal concerns surrounding the use of intellectual property.

 

“The question is fair use or is it a violation of copyright,” says Maura Grossman, Research Professor, School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, whose expertise centres on AI policy and ethics. 

 

She notes that an AI user can reference a particular article, book, or poem, despite it being copyrighted.  “It shouldn’t be able to do that because that’s a copyright infraction, but it can. The law hasn’t caught up with that yet but there are a number of legal cases now pending.”

 

Algorithms a concern

 

As well, Professor Grossman says bias in AI algorithms is another major concern. AI systems learn from historical data, and if that data contains biases, the algorithms can sustain and amplify them resulting in discriminatory outcomes and reinforcing existing social disparities.

 

“You’re going to find that in the language as well as the images. Open AI has spent a lot of time trying to remove toxic language from the system, so you get a little bit less of that with ChatPT,” she says, referring to the problems Microsoft experienced when it released its Tay bot in March 2016. The bot, under the name TayTweets with the handle @TayandYou, resulted in Twitter (now known as ‘X’) users tweet politically incorrect phrases and inflammatory messages resulting in the bot releasing racist and sexually charged messages in response to other users. Initially, Microsoft suspended the account after 16 hours, erasing the inflammatory tweets and two days later took it offline.  

 

“Most systems, like ChatGPT, are trained on the internet and that has its pluses and minuses,” says Professor Grossman, adding ‘hallucinations’ pose another big problem for AI users. “ChatGPT for example is trained to generate new content and to sound very conversational, so it uses what it has learned on the internet to predict the next most likely word. But that doesn’t mean it’s telling you the truth.”

 

Official policy needed

 

She says there have been instances of people using AI to conduct legal research and submitting bogus case citations in court. “I think the first case happened recently in B.C., but it has also happened all over the U.S.,” says Professor Grossman.

 

For businesses utilizing AI, she recommends drafting an official policy to outline usage.

 

“First they need to have a policy and then need to train who in the business is going to use AI because people need to understand what it does well and doesn’t do well,” she says. “Your policy needs to say what permissible uses are and what impermissible uses are.”

 

Impermissible uses could include creating a deep fake video in the workplace.

 

“Even if it’s a joke, you don’t want employees creating deep fakes,” she says, noting the policy should also outline what workplace devices can be used for AI. “If you need to save something because you’re involved in a lawsuit, then you don’t want to it be on an employee’s personal device because you won’t have access to it.”

 

Employees require training

 

As well, Professor Grossman also recommends employees clearly know what AI tools are okay to use and which are not and ensure they are fully trained.

 

“You don’t want them violating intellectual property rules or other privacy rights. You also don’t want them putting into a public tool any confidential or propriety information,” she says. “Some companies have turned off the ability to use these AI tools because they are terrified employees will put propriety information out there while asking a question about a problem they are working on. If you’re using one of these open-source tools, it’s like Google or anything else; it’s free rein.”

 

Professor Grossman says rules and regulations around AI will be gradually strengthened, noting a new regulation coming into play in B.C. pertaining to issues surrounding intimate imagery is just one example.

 

“As soon as this starts making its way more into politics, we will start to see more effort into creating regulations,” she says, referring to a recent ‘deep fake’ image that surfaced of U.S. President Joe Biden.

 

Despite these issues, Professor Grossman says AI is something more businesses will become comfortable using and should embrace this new technology. 

 

“It will save on efficiency,” she says, noting AI can greatly assist in the creation of marketing material. “Companies need to explore it and learn about it but learn about it in safe ways and understand where it can be beneficial and not just let people experiment on their own because that’s going to lead to a lot of trouble.”

 

 

AI hurdles in business

 

  • Data Quality and Availability: AI models require vast amounts of data to learn and make accurate predictions. However, businesses often struggle with data quality issues, such as incomplete, inaccurate, or biased data. Additionally, accessing relevant data across various sources and systems can be challenging.
  • Data Privacy and Security: With the increasing emphasis on data privacy regulations businesses must ensure that AI systems comply. Protecting sensitive customer and business data from unauthorized access or breaches is crucial.
  • Lack of Skilled Talent: There's a significant shortage of professionals with expertise in AI and machine learning. Hiring and retaining skilled data scientists, machine learning engineers, and AI specialists can be difficult and expensive.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrating AI solutions with existing business processes, legacy systems, and IT infrastructure can be complex and time-consuming. Compatibility issues, scalability concerns, and resistance to change within the organization can hinder successful integration.
  • Interpretability and Explainability: AI algorithms often operate as "black boxes," making it challenging to understand how they arrive at specific decisions or predictions. Lack of interpretability and explainability can lead to distrust among stakeholders and regulatory compliance issues.
  • Ethical and Bias Concerns: AI systems may inadvertently perpetuate biases present in the data they were trained on, leading to unfair outcomes or discrimination. Ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in AI decision-making processes is essential.
  • Cost and ROI Uncertainty: Implementing AI solutions involves significant upfront investments in technology, infrastructure, talent, and ongoing maintenance. Businesses may struggle to justify these costs and accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) of AI initiatives.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Legal Risks: AI applications in business must comply with various industry-specific regulations and standards. Failure to meet regulatory requirements can result in legal liabilities, fines, and damage to the company's reputation.
  • Change Management and Cultural Resistance: Introducing AI into the workplace often requires significant cultural and organizational changes. Resistance from employees, fear of job displacement, and lack of understanding about AI's potential benefits can impede adoption efforts.
  • Performance and Reliability: AI models may not always perform as expected in real-world environments due to factors like changing data distributions, unexpected scenarios, or adversarial attacks. Ensuring the reliability and robustness of AI systems is crucial for business applications.

 

 

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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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Effective leadership communication is the cornerstone of any successful business or organization.

 

A leader's ability to convey their vision, build trust, and inspire others can determine the difference between an average outcome and an extraordinary one.

 

But to arrive at that point requires the ability to be a good listener.

 

“There’s a lot of people that listen but they don’t hear,” says career consultant and corporate soft skills trainer Murray Comber of Life Concepts. “You cannot be a good communicator unless you are a good listener. It’s all about understanding yourself and understanding others.”

 

Since 2001 he has trained more than 8,000 people, noting that many in the workplace don’t realize becoming a better communicator is a very learnable skill.

 

“It’s all about the pattern of human dynamics,” says Murray, adding that boards of education or even in families, do not teach people how they are hard wired. “I teach my clients that. I always say to them you need to know who you are, and you need to know who you are not.”

 

He says at least 71% of companies that fail do so because the leader didn’t understand who they were and who their employees were.


“Good communication is based on a relationship. You don’t communicate with people you don’t relate with,” says Murray, who regularly uses personality and temperament studies to determine a course of action for his clients. “Unless you know how to relate to a person, it’s going nowhere.”

 

He admits this type of soft skills training is often considered ‘fluff’ and is usually one of the first things cut from the budget or put on the backburner when economic times get tough.

 

“The truth is when things are going south, that’s when they should be put on the front-burner,” says Murray. “Training shouldn’t be seen as an expense but as an investment.”

 

In terms of advice for business leaders looking to take their first step at becoming better communicators, he says there must be a willingness to learn and connect with employees not just as a manager with subordinates. 

 

“What I’ve learned is that there is more emphasis put on product knowledge than there is people’s knowledge,” says Murray. “When you respond to what you’ve heard and have listened, you build trust with your employees and good communication is built on trust.”

 

 

To lead effectively, one must be a skilled communicator who can inspire, guide, and unite a team. A few things to consider:

 

  • Active Listening: Leaders must pay close attention to what others are saying, not just with their ears, but also with their eyes and heart. By showing genuine interest and empathy, leaders can better understand their team's needs and concerns, creating a foundation of trust and respect.
  • Clarity and Conciseness: Leaders must articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely. Avoiding jargon and complex language ensures that the message is easily understood by all team members. A clear message prevents confusion and promotes alignment with the leader's vision.
  • Empathy: Leaders who demonstrate empathy can connect on a deeper level with their team members, making them feel valued and understood. This skill helps resolve conflicts, build trust, and foster a positive work environment.
  • Adaptability: Effective leaders are versatile in their communication style. Whether it's a one-on-one conversation, a team meeting, or a public presentation, adaptability ensures that the message resonates with its intended audience.
  • Body Language: Leaders should be aware of their own body language and the signals they convey. Maintaining open and approachable body language encourages a sense of comfort and trust within the team.
  • Feedback and Constructive Criticism: Leaders need to provide feedback and constructive criticism in a manner that is supportive and motivating. Constructive feedback should focus on specific behaviors, offer solutions, and be delivered in a private and respectful setting.
  • Conflict Resolution: Leaders must be skilled in addressing and resolving conflicts, promoting a healthy and productive work environment. Effective communication is essential in facilitating conversations that lead to resolution and growth.
  • Storytelling: Leaders who can weave a narrative around their vision and goals are more likely to capture the hearts and minds of their team members. Storytelling is a powerful tool for making the message memorable and relatable.
  • Consistency: Leaders must align their words with their actions and decisions. When team members can rely on a leader's consistency, they feel secure and are more likely to follow their guidance.
  • Openness to Feedback: Leaders should be open to receiving feedback from their team members and actively seek it out. Constructive criticism can help leaders improve their communication and leadership skills.

 

By honing these skills, leaders can create a positive and productive work environment, foster strong relationships with their teams, and achieve success in their leadership roles.

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Our Chamber of Commerce over the years has not only learned how to pivot, but how to address the concerns, issues and needs of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community.

 

The events of the last few years have only strengthened our reason for being. We not only champion small and medium-sized businesses but are a source of information, guidance, and the most powerful connector there is.

 

We have now taken that connection to a new level thanks to ‘The Link’, a place where YOU, an SME business owner/manager can source solutions in a one-stop shop atmosphere. And since this is Small Business Week (Oct. 15-21), it's very important to always remember and celebrate the contributions SMEs make to our economy.

 

For the last seven months, our Chamber has undertaken this huge project (for us). To say we’re excited is a dramatic understatement because for you, we’ve invested and created an exciting, inspirational space that will not only knock your socks off but provide a place where you can share your troubles and find connections to help you navigate those issues that sometimes surface for every business.

 

At The Link you can source HR solutions, legal forms and information, access grant writing, and discover business services of all types that help you streamline, or even eliminate operational costs, and yes, of course, we also have direct access to financial resources only for business.

 

Another aspect to this renovation project is the creation of additional meeting spaces. We can now offer two boardrooms, one that can seat more than 20 and the other between eight and 10, plus a more informal meeting space for five and a private soundproof meeting “pod” also for up to five people. As well, have casual conversation areas and provide a wonderful coffee service.

 

The Link is modern, accessible, and a great place to have a coffee and share conversation all contained in little over 2,220-square-feet of prime real estate at Highway 401 and Hespeler Road.

 

Along with this incredibly cool and unique space comes some unbeatable programming to help you and your team get onside, get ramped up, and get excited for what comes next.

 

Programming at The Link has already been released and space is very limited, so you need to get in early and make sure there is a seat for you. Our Program Manager, (Amrita Gill), is already developing new and different ways for us to connect with meaning, with passion, and as always, with inspiring ideas.

 

The doors opened Oct. 1 and we already have some committed entities ready to set up shop at The Link, but there may still be room for you and your organization. Do you serve only small and medium-sized business? If so, send me a note and maybe, if all the checkmarks are in place, we may just have a spot for you at The Link, but you need to hurry. Yes, there is a cost because we are not a “funded” organization and our support comes from our membership.

 

Speaking of membership, did you know the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has NOT increased its membership fees in more than 25 years? Talk about an inflation stopper, wow! That is what serving business means to us. We will always find ways to support you and now we are looking for your support to continue the work we do.

 

So please share your expertise with us and book a pod at The Link, or come in and get help from organizations and businesses that are here for you. Even better, drop in and enjoy a coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso, or my personal favourite, a mochaccino. Hey, I might even buy you one. See you soon at The Link, 750 Hespeler Rd., the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

 

It’s been more than 50 years since the ingenuity and drive of two Cambridge men helped revolutionize filmmaking, setting the stage for millions of moviegoers worldwide to enjoy an enhanced experience every time they set foot inside a theatre.

 

It was the innovative vision of filmmaker Graeme Ferguson and businessman Robert Kerr, along with filmmaker Roman Kroitor and engineer William Shaw, which resulted in the creation of the IMAX film format and the success that followed.

 

Friends since childhood, Ferguson, and Kerr’s first ‘big’ collaboration was on a school newspaper at Galt Collegiate Institute. However, they took very different career paths with Kerr establishing a specialty printing company with his father called John Kerr and Son, and Ferguson, who developed a love for photography after his parents gave him a Baby Brownie camera at age 7, becoming a New York-based independent filmmaker.

 

Later, their creative drives would draw the pair together again when Ferguson reached out to his old friend, who at this time was serving as the youngest mayor of Galt (serving four one-year terms from 1964-67) and managing the printing company after he had sold it, to collaborate on a film for Montreal’s Expo 67.

 

The film, to be shown at the “Man the Explorer” pavilion, was entitled Polar Life and examined the lives of northern peoples in Canada, Lapland, and Siberia. It was to be featured on eleven 35mm screens and a continuously rotating audience platform. Kerr, who was known to enjoy making things with hands and discovering ‘elegant’ solutions to problems, welcomed the challenge.

 

“We had just enough experience to give us some confidence, and if didn’t go well, we still could recover,” Kerr once told a reporter. “We were very naïve, which probably saved us.”

 

The film was a success, along with another multi-screen film at Expo 67 called Labyrinth, co-created by Ferguson’s brother-in-law Roman Kroitor, who was also experimenting with screen technology.

 

When Kroitor received backing from film manufacturer Fuji to create another film for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan, Ferguson, and Kerr joined the project and the trio each invested $700 to form their own company called Multiscreen Corp. – the forerunner to what would later become IMAX Corp.

 

“We had two filmmakers, which was one too many, one businessman, which was right, and were short in the engineering department,” Ferguson was quoted as saying. “We said to each other, ‘Who’s the best engineer we could hire?’ And it took us about one tenth of a second to say, ‘Bill Shaw’.”

 

William Shaw, who was an engineer at bicycle-maker CCM, came onboard and began working out the technical aspects to fine tune this new technology.

 

Together, over the course of the next two-and-half years, the group invented the 15/70 film format, commissioned the first 15/70 camera, built the first 15/70 rolling loop projector, and produced a giant-screen film called Tiger Child which opened at what was considered the world’s first IMAX theatre at Expo 70.

 

Ontario Place first permanent IMAX theatre

 

However, it wouldn’t be until the foursome brought their technology to the 800-seat Cinesphere at Toronto’s Ontario Place which became the first permanent IMAX theatre, that the full potential of their creative dream thus far would be realized. The landmark theatre opened May 22, 1971, showing Ferguson’s now classic film North of Superior.

 

The sky really was the limit after that when Ferguson struck up a collaboration with NASA to bring moviegoers into space by having astronauts trained to use IMAX cameras. Several very successful documentaries would follow that established the IMAX brand.

 

But even as the company continued to flourish, the pair remained close, even working on their boats together after he, Kerr and Shaw retired to homes on Lake of Bays after IMAX was sold to two American businessmen in 1994.

 

Kerr, who had served as the company’s Chairman, President and CEO from 1967 to 1994, continued to dabble in large format film, and after retiring from IMAX formed a partnership with Jonathan Barker to form SK Films. But prior to this, he also managed to serve a two-year term (1974-1976) as mayor of the newly-amalgamated Cambridge before joining IMAX full time but proudly wore his mayoral ring for the remainder of his life.

 

Among his many municipal accomplishments was the development of Mill Race Park, following the Grand River flood in 1974.  At the time, his mayoral predecessor Claudette Millar – Cambridge’s first mayor following the amalgamation – was quoted as saying: “If it weren’t for him, it could have been a blank wall.”

 

Later during his retirement, Kerr fostered his interest in the arts and education by supporting local artists, as well as in 1997 by endowing the University of Waterloo’s Stanley Knowles Visiting Professorship in Canadian Studies. He also bestowed bursaries at Cambridge secondary schools.

 

“I believe it is important for Canadians to increase our understanding of ourselves, our history, our special institutions and those qualities that contribute to a more thoughtful and compassionate nation,” he once said.

 

Kerr passed away in April 2010 at the age of 80. Ferguson, the last of the four IMAX founders, died in May 2021 at the age of 91.

 

According to a news report published in the New York Times upon Ferguson’s death, despite reading bleak reports throughout the pandemic regarding a shift in viewing habits and the growing allure of streaming services enticing moviegoers away from theatres, the Cambridge native wasn’t worried about what the future held for IMAX.

 

“He was completely convinced it would flourish even if the rest of the exhibition industry was going to do much worse,” his son, Munro, was quoted as saying in the Times, “because he believed that if you’re going to leave your house, you might as well go see something amazing.”

 

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As of this week, the mayors in 26 fast-growing municipalities – including Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo – are now empowered with new legislative controls after signing a provincial housing pledge as part of the Province’s target to build 1.5 million homes by 2031.

 

They join the mayors of the Toronto and Ottawa who were granted with these strong-mayor powers last fall giving them more executive power to – among other things - veto and pass bylaws pertaining to ‘provincial issues’, such as housing, with the support from only one-third of city council.

 

As well, under Bill 3 (Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022), the mayors can also propose budgets, appoint senior civil servants, create, and dissolve committees of council, plus bring forward matters for consideration to council if they feel they potentially advance a provincial priority.

 

“Municipalities are critical partners for our government as we help communities get shovels in the ground faster and work to build more homes,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, in a press release. “By adopting ambitious and absolutely necessary housing pledges, these 26 municipalities have demonstrated they understand the importance of that target, and we are ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.”

 

But just how these additional powers will impact Ontario’s housing crisis remains to be seen, according to many political analysts.

 

“Municipalities in a lot of ways have the least controls over the dynamics of the housing market,” says Wilfrid Laurier University Associate Professor Dr. Laura Pin, who specializes in policy, housing, and municipal politics. “The idea you can solve the housing crisis by interfering with local democracy should feel like a little bit of a red herring.”

 

She says municipalities are the ones ‘living’ the housing crisis as they look for ways to deal with homelessness and encampments, and believes this new legislation appears to put more of the responsibility on them.

 

“I really think municipal councils are trying to do everything they can to solve these issues, so the idea that municipalities are not effective decision makers or are not doing enough and that this is going to resolve the housing crisis just don’t make sense to me,” says Dr. Pin.

 

'Not in my backyard'

 

However, she does believe strong-mayor powers, as opposed to the ‘weak mayor’ system currently used in most Ontario municipalities which puts the decision-making power on local councils, could have an upside.

 

“It does force us to have a conversation around those ‘not in my backyard’ concerns that do get raised when we talk about new housing developments, so I think in so far as it might make us more critical of those types of concerns, I think that could be a pro.”

 

Some also believe giving these mayors the power to reverse council decisions to block housing projects that they believe should have been approved under provincial policy could help avoid lengthy appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal, the majority of which end up siding with the developer. As well, it’s been noted providing budgetary control to the mayors may help them ensure there’s ample funding and staffing to support housing goals in their cities.

 

But for Dr. Pin, she wonders about the democratic implications of what these additional powers could mean.

 

“You’re actually giving the provincial government more of a say in local decisions,” she says, adding Ontarians feel closer to their local government representatives compared to other levels of government. “People are more likely to know their local councillors and likely feel they have a voice. I think they do care about this and are concerned and based on the public talks I’ve given I’ve had a lot of questions about these powers.”

 

However, the mayors of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo have already publicly stated that having these additional powers will not deter them from governing in their current collective way, relying on the consensus of their council members to make the best decisions for their communities.

 

“I think people are concerned about taking the decision-making power away from local councils,” says Dr. Pin. “Historically, municipal decision making has always operated with a high degree of consensus.”

 

 

Strong mayor powers and duties include:

  • Choosing to appoint the municipality’s chief administrative officer
  • Hiring certain municipal department heads, and establishing and re-organizing departments
  • Creating and dissolving committees of council, assigning their functions, and appointing the chairs and vice-chairs of committees of council
  • Proposing the municipal budget, which would be subject to council amendments and a separate head of council veto and council override process
  • Vetoing certain bylaws if the head of council is of the opinion that all or part of the bylaw could potentially interfere with a provincial priority
  • Bringing forward matters for council consideration if the head of council is of the opinion that considering the matter could potentially advance a provincial priority
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Creating an economic environment to ensure businesses can succeed was the key part of the agenda at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Annual General Meeting and Convention in Niagara Falls.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Cambridge Chamber policies approved by Ontario delegates

 

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

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

 

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

 

Inspired by an email he received promoting the creation of the Youth Creativity Fund, the St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School student set work on creating a micro-controlled automated watering system to assist the elderly couple.

 

“It’s been a lot of fun and this is definitely a work in progress,” he said of his creative idea, while attending the official launch of the fund last Wednesday at the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum.

 

Syed was among nearly 30 local students who were in attendance to share their vision with a variety of community leaders and supporters after receiving funding to bring their innovative ideas to life.

 

The fund, created in partnership between the Cambridge and KW Chambers of Commerce, BEP Waterloo Region and the Region of Waterloo, promotes creative confidence by connecting student-driven and designed ideas, with donations from people who are passionate about seeing the creativity of local youth flourish.

 

Through the program, students in grades 5 to 12 can apply for microgrants up to $1,000 to pursue a creative learning project that could lead to new ideas.

 

“This project is about creating opportunities, faster, more often and to be a foundation for our own prosperity as a community,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, noting the two Chambers have committed nearly $20,000 to this initiative. “This is not an operational project for the Chambers, this is a ‘give back’ project for us, one we hope will inspire others to do the same.”

 

To date, 12 projects involving 48 students have received just over $10,000 in funding.

 

“We’ve had some great success thus far in this program,” said BEP Waterloo Region’s April Albano, YCF (Youth Creativity Fund) Manager. “What has been clear through this first wave of projects is the support these students have around them.”

 

For Hannah Waterfall, a Grade 10 student at Glenview Park Secondary School, the support she has received from her mom who works for Shelter Movers has been key in the ongoing formation of idea she had on preventing domestic violence which began as a civics class project. Shelter Movers is a non-profit organization that assists survivors of gender-based violence transition to a safer life.

 

“My mom has been a huge role model for me. Just the stories I hear from her have really inspired me to do some good for the community,” said Hannah, who is the process of creating a resource kit that can educate younger students on how to regulate their emotions. “My goal with this project is to stop the violence before it becomes an issue. I understand that as a 15-year-old girl it’s hard to end violence against women because you can’t go to the abusers and stop them. But I hope this can stop it in the younger generations, so it doesn’t become a problem in the future.”

 

Currently, Hannah continues to research the causes surrounding domestic violence and says providing tools, including breathing exercises to deal with stress and anxiety, are key as the kit develops.

 

“My family has fostered kids for about six years, so we’ve learned a lot of different strategies on how to teach kids to cope with their stress when they are angry.”

 

Syed is also in research mode perfecting his watering system, which uses soil sensors connected to The Weather Network, to determine when and if a lawn needs water. He admits to having a few technical issues with the current system he created using a couple hundred dollars’ worth of parts from Amazon.

 

“My first step is finding more reliable parts,” he joked, adding his innovative idea has kindled an interest in engineering. “As my first look at the world of engineering, it’s made me realize how much is out there.”

 

Creating confidence for students to pursue their ideas, especially when it’s backed by regional support, is great for the community said HIP Developments President Scott Higgins, who is one of the driving forces behind the Youth Creativity Fund.

 

“Having the community to rally to create an endowment that allows us to give microgrants to these kids ongoing I think, one, is a testament to say you have great ideas and continue to pursue your ideas,” he said. “And two, I think it’s to say this community believes in you and if we put that hope, and opportunity and that optimism out within the community our kids are going to do some great things.”

 

Greg agreed.

 

“The power we have is right here at our own front door; our youth, who have the ideas but don’t have the means to get guidance and mostly capital to see if their idea can come alive,” he said. “We need to let businesses and individuals know they can help make dreams come true, and that should be the easiest because here, in the Region of Waterloo, is where dreams become reality, every single day.”

 

Find out more about the Youth Creativity Fund.

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A new year has begun and with it comes challenges ahead for businesses.

 

Even though there are signs economic conditions are improving, such as a relatively fast drop in inflation and labour market additions, many small businesses are likely to feel the pinch of rising interest rates, the threat of a looming recession, and persistent labour shortages in 2023.

 

We reached out to Noah Jensen, a partner at Racolta Jensen LLP in Cambridge, to get a sense of what businesses can expect in the coming year:

 

 

Q.  What priorities or potential pitfalls should businesses wishing to expand in 2023 keep in mind?

 

Noah: Keep acquisitions open as an option. There are quite a few business owners with established businesses who are looking to divest themselves into retirement. Lower-mid market acquisitions (say, less than $10 million in value) are starting to see more supply than there is capital for private equity/investment firms to invest, especially on smaller deals. Acquiring an established brand with a customer list and team of trained employees that have complementary customers, production process, and/or supply chain partners can help achieve more scale by eliminating redundancies in the combined business after the acquisition is complete.

 

Avoid over-committing on cash, or over-hiring of employees. In the start-up world they   call this “lengthening the runway” by containing overhead costs. Labour is a fixed cost in the short-term and a variable cost in the long-term, be selective on who is being hired for what as many customers in the business-to-business landscape are being more thoughtful about purchases and many things are being delayed.

 

 

Q. How should businesses prepare for potential economic slowdowns this coming year?

 

Noah: Evaluate pricing. Costs have risen substantially in the past two years and there are still some businesses that have not adjusted their prices to their customers. If you have not changed pricing because your competitors have not changed theirs, you may have an issue with productivity to look at. If the market price has gone up and you have not changed your price, look at a price increase as an option. If your customers are unable to accept a price increase, look at the profitability of the relationship and consider not serving the client any longer.

 

Be clear on terms of payment with customers and suppliers to think through forecasting your cash flow over the next several months. Look into how this can be done with your accountant and/or bankers to see about a back-stop financing facility if needed. It is generally better to ask for financing facilities when your company is showing good financial results. You will not regret doing so now before things get too grim.

 

Think through your cost structure for any commitments to experiment with new products or services for your business that you thought would improve the productivity of your business. Are they all working? Is there anything that could be cut?

 

If you are in the business-to-business market, talk to your customers. What trends are they seeing from your competitors that they like or don’t like? How could you provide a better solution for them?

 

Do you have any redundant assets on your balance sheet? This would be assets that have no value to the operations of your company that have monetary value.

 

 

Q. Will this be a good year for businesses to make productivity investments?

 

Noah: Productivity investments will need to continuously be considered in today’s economic climate. Whether you are in dairy production or robotics, your competitors are purchasing equipment and/or software that is allowing them to get work done with less labour (a necessity in today’s labour market).

 

 

Q. How important is it for businesses to ensure they have a solid succession plan in place?

 

Noah: It is important to always consider the contingency plan of your business. If you are young with the intention of running your business for the long-term, failing to plan for what happens if you are suddenly disabled or facing terminal illness will put you and your family in a precarious position if any of those events transpire and you are unable to run the company. Certain insurance products mitigate the financial impact of this, but you still need to consider what shape your company will be in if you are eventually able to return to work.

 

If you are older and considering retirement, you should be thinking about this five-10 years out. Some considerations:

  1. Customer concentration: try to avoid having a lot of revenue tied to one customer relationship
  2. Supplier concentration: try to avoid having a lot of your inputs concentrated with one supplier.
  3. Management aptitude: always be grooming someone else (or a couple of internal candidates) to do your job.
  4. Cash flow: the valuation of the company is often determined on a multiple of cash flow. If you are selling at five times multiple, a $1 increase in cash flow increases your value by $5. So, make sure you are dialed in on profitability.
  5. Structuring: the structure of corporations will make a difference in the taxation of the sale, and you should be thinking of this a couple of years prior to sale.

 

Q.  What should business owners consider if they are planning an acquisition in the coming year?

 

Noah: Be aware of market trends. With uncertainty in the system related to financing costs (interest rate driven) and risk tolerance of people investing in private companies, there will be ebbs and flows in the low-mid-market mergers and acquisitions environment.

 

According to a recent poll, 2022 Q4 had a pull-back in interest on the buy-side of acquisitions which could indicate that the bargaining power could tilt in the favour of buyers rather than sellers. We have seen a lot of interest in our existing clients wanting to sell. Mainly related to age/retirement.

 

Be aware of the quality of earnings that are presented. While many people had an amazing fiscal 2022, if you broke it down by quarters, they were increasing prices to their customers faster than they were adjusting their costs for labour. Additionally, certain industries would have been on fire during the low-financing cost era (residential/industrial construction, auto sector manufacturing), that will be facing downturns in the upcoming year or two.

 

Q. Will 2023 be a good year to start a new business?

 

Noah:  Every year is a good year to start a new business if you have a good idea or good contacts in a particular field. The difficult thing about right now is that people currently employed will probably be seeing the best of the best in terms of offers for their labour time and talents due to the shortage.

 

The upside to starting a business right now is that a lot of people throw in the towel when there is the amount of uncertainty as there is right now with the changing economic landscape. This creates new opportunities for people.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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