Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Following a barrage of pandemic lockdowns and closures, restaurants in Canada are still not out of the woods, despite the fact mask mandates have long since been lifted and life has seemingly returned to ‘normal’.

 

According to a recent report from Restaurants Canada, over the past year restaurant closures have outpaced openings by 43% and inflation-adjusted food service sales will be around 11% below 2019 levels by the end of this year. The report also indicates traffic in full-service outlets is down nine per cent, and approximately down five per cent for quick service ones. However, according to the report sales could still surpass the $100 billion mark, which is encouraging.

 

But getting to that level could be difficult say restaurant owners, taking into consideration ongoing labour shortages and supply chain issues.

 

“If I were to sum up state of the industry in one word, it would be ‘tired’, especially for independently owned and operated restaurants like my location,” says David Kroeker, owner of Zoup! on Hespeler Road in Cambridge. “It’s been a struggle and it’s kind of come in waves as well.”

 

Matt Rolleman, co-owner of Thirteen at the corner of Water and Main streets in Galt, agrees and wonders what the impact COVID-19 will have in the next few months, especially for the Christmas bookings he already has in place.

 

“In the back of my mind and for a lot of business owners in general is we’re hoping there won’t be another wave like before,” says Matt, noting he’s optimistic vaccines and boosters will lessen the severity of any potential impact. “But it might be a wave of staffing issues with staff getting sick with COVID. I think we’re still in this really precarious situation and are worried about COVID-19, even though people are treating things like it’s all back to normal.”

 

Staffing levels an issue

 

When it comes to current staffing levels, restaurants nationwide are finding that retaining staff continues to be a major hurdle. Restaurants Canada estimates the sector has had between 150,000 and 170,000 vacant positions for some time and currently employs 271,000 fewer people prior to when the pandemic hit in 2019. This has resulted in many restaurants to alter the way they operate, perhaps opening fewer days a week or closing earlier.

 

“Staffing retention is a huge thing right now that all businesses, and especially restaurants, have to look at,” says Matt. “But restaurants are pretty much drawing from a very similar pool of people and there’s all these restaurants vying for the limited staff that’s available.”

 

David agrees and says even the recent minimum wage hike to $15.50 won’t really help the situation.

 

“At the end of the day we’re not helping our employees because everyone is jacking up their prices and everything is costing more,” he says. “It’s a vicious circle.”

 

Supply chain problems

 

Like most restaurant operators, David says supply chain issues also remain a big concern. As prices on the menu increase with inflation, the number of food choices has decreased in some restaurants resulting in them offering only a few dishes on any given day to provide more predictability for the back-of-house staff.

 

“The supply chain has essentially fallen apart in my opinion,” says David. “I spend at least five to 10 hours a week just looking for alternative products so we can keep a full menu.”

 

He says customers service has remained his No. 1 priority and says it can be difficult having to explain to patrons about the challenges he faces if something they order is not available.

 

“I’m so grateful for our client base because 99% of our customers are absolutely fantastic and they get it,” says David, adding the solution needs to come from all levels of government, especially when it comes to custom issues at the border.

 

“At our distribution centre there is so much backlog right now they have to make reservations for trucks to show up to receive goods,” he says, noting the Bank of Canada’s decision to increase the prime lending rate to combat rising inflation and the Province of Ontario’s minimum wage increase are working against businesses.

“It’s different levels of government not working together, and they are actually impacting the long-term situation in Ontario,” says David.

 

Impacted by loans

 

Like many restaurant operators, both he and Matt utilized the Canada Emergency Business Account during COVID-19 and while that may have assisted during the cycle of lockdowns and re-openings, they worry about the overall financial impact.

 

“We took on some stuff that we never would have done before,” says Matt, adding business was ‘rolling’ before the pandemic. “I had never planned on taking those extra loans. There’s a lot of businesses that have taken on loans so hopefully when winter hits we don’t see a big recession because it’s going to be hard on a lot of businesses.”

 

He says having Main Street closed to traffic during the summer was great for his outdoor patio and is optimistic that come next year people will continue to look at staying closer home due to higher costs.

 

However, Matt expects that people’s dining habits will change.

 

“Restaurants are a luxury. I’m anticipating that people who dine out once a week may switch to once a month, and those who come once a month might switch to once every two or three months,” he says, adding there is little that restaurant operators can do when it comes to combatting supply chain issues and rising interest rates. “It’s a little daunting for sure.”

 

  •  With files from Troy Media
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The sign outside the Hamilton Family Theatre in downtown Cambridge which usually is ablaze with light announcing current and upcoming productions for Drayton Entertainment has remained blank for some time.

 

But with vaccination rates rising and COVID-19 infection numbers continuing to slide downward, there is a growing sense of optimism in many business sectors, including tourism and sports and recreation, both which generate a hefty spinoff in our local economy and have been hit extremely hard by this crisis.

 

“It (optimism) permeates our industry because the pandemic has reinforced to many arts organizations about how important the arts are to so many Ontarians and recognizing the role they play contributing to a healthy and prosperous society,” says Steven Karcher, Executive Director of Drayton Entertainment. “I don’t think people realized how much they enjoy and appreciate the arts until they ceased to exist.”

 

He recalls how overnight the world changed for Drayton Entertainment in mid-March of 2020 when it was forced to cancel the run of its first show of the season Kinky Boots, which quickly led to pulling the plug on the entire theatre season at its seven stages.

 

“It was a difficult but necessary decision,” says Steven, noting how the company, which is also a registered charity, lost 100% of its revenue and had already incurred the pre-production costs of preparing 832 performances for its 2020 season. In fact, he says an increase of 20,000 tickets over the 2019 season had already been sold.

 

He says recovery will be a ‘multi-year’ effort and that for an arts organization like Drayton Entertainment, it is not something that can rebound in six months.

 

“We’re not able to just take our product and simply put it on a shelf and pivot to reopening with a notice of 48 hours,” says Steven. “We’re talking about an artistic process that takes anywhere from six to eight months in order to realize the end result that people will be seeing on stage.”

 

For sports organizations, detailed planning is also required to prepare of an upcoming season.

 

Indoor Soccer Park Sign“I think we were always optimistic there was going to be a season for our recreational league kids,” says Derrick Bridgman, General Manager of Cambridge Youth Soccer, referring to the 2020 season.

 

He says planning had started in March of last year to prepare for the upcoming season and that 1,000 children had registered to play outdoors when the scope of the pandemic became clear.

“At first we didn’t know how long it was going to last or was it only going to be that ‘magical’ two weeks, or would it be done in a couple of months so we could get our season in,” says Derrick.

 

He says thanks to a comprehensive return to play plan created by the Ontario Soccer Association, his group was able to see a limited amount of action on the field and by the end of last summer had managed to see a few games played.

 

However, that changed in the fall when new restrictions came into play and affected Cambridge Youth Soccer’s Fountain Street North indoor facility, which the group also rents to external users.

 

“We thought it (pandemic) would be behind us when it came to our indoor season but unfortunately there was such a significant impact on indoor sports,” says Derrick, referring to the indoor capacity levels which at one point only allowed up to 50 people – players included - at a game. “We had to get resourceful and creative, just like a lot of other sports organizations and try and maintain a positivity not only for our staff, but for our users. I think a lot of parents just want to get back to normal.”

 

He says there is a sense of optimism for the upcoming season, noting seeing those between 12-17 getting vaccinated has been a positive step. However, he says his group, like many sports organizations, remain at the ‘mercy’ of the province, health officials and the City of Cambridge whom they rent fields from in terms of possible restrictions.

 

“Also, there are parents that aren’t comfortable yet putting their kids back into sports until they’re confident the pandemic is over,” says Derrick, adding his organization is now looking to start its 2021 season the weekend of July 11 in accordance with the province’s three-step reopening plan.

 

“The government has been intentionally vague, in my opinion, in how it has crafted some of the wording when it comes to sports and recreation,” he says. “I think they did that on purpose so provincial sports organizations can amend their return to play documentation.”

 

Minto Schneider, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region, says the sports and recreation sector is returning a little faster than others.

 

“We’re also seeing conferences rebook as well. It’s happening, but happening slowly,” she says, noting experts are not predicting a full economic recovery until 2024. “Part of the challenge is that leisure travel will likely rebound more quickly, but business travel is not rebounding as quickly since conferences generally have a further booking window.”

 

Minto says also having the U.S./Canada border closed and seeing conferences cancelled in the GTA has also affected local tourism due to the substantial spinoff visitors bring to the hospitality industry in terms of hotel stays and restaurant visits.

“One of the things that really drives the tourism business in Waterloo Region is group business, whether it’s a sports tournament or a conference. Those are the things that really drive our visitor traffic,” she says, adding there have been limited ‘windows’ between lockdowns for potential visitors. “We’ve had to be very cautious of how we promote our region. We don’t want to be seen as trying to attract visitors from other areas, particularly at a time when Toronto and Peel were in the ‘Red Zone’. It’s been challenging.”

 

But in turn, Minto says Explore Waterloo Region has been promoting the region to its own residents, encouraging them to get out and see what exists in their own backyards.

 

“That’s been the silver lining to this whole thing. We’ve been able to, hopefully, create ‘ambassadors’ for Waterloo Region within the region itself.”

 

In the future, Minto also says more conferences will operate using a hybrid method, allowing participants the opportunity to attend in person or virtually.

 

“This will be great because never before will so many people have the have opportunity to learn more,” she says.

 

Several virtual initiatives launched in the past year by Drayton Entertainment have also helped his organization, says Steven. Among these was a virtual variety show engaging more than 40 artists using the video platform Vimeo.

 

“We were completely overwhelmed by the uptake on that,” he says, adding the show was viewed by more than 80,000 people worldwide and came away with 125,000 impressions.

 

This was followed by a cabaret series via Facebook, plus Drayton Entertainment has continued its ‘world famous’ 50/50 draw online.

 

“We’ve been able to give away significant jackpots in the three months we’ve been running that,” he says, adding having the 50/50 draw has also ensured Drayton Entertainment fans and supporters remain feeling connected to the organization.

 

And although a virtual component may still play a role for Drayton Entertainment once audiences are allowed to return to its theatres, Steven says it will never replace the feel of having a live audience.

 

“One of the things people don’t realize is how imperative a live audience is to not just a live theatre experience, but any live cultural experience,” he says, adding people crave the ‘connectivity’ of being together, even when it comes to family gatherings.

 

Minto agrees and says vaccinations and initiatives, such as the rapid screening kit program launched by the Cambridge and Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce, and Communitech, have been beneficial to the community.

 

“I think it has given people confidence that they can go to work. In our industry, we’ve had staff who’ve been afraid to go back to work because they hadn’t been working for a while and want to make sure they don’t bring something home with them to their families,” she says, adding Explore Waterloo Region and the Chambers continue to work with other partners to ensure the most up-to-date and reliable information is conveyed to all their stakeholders.

 

“I think everyone is really looking forward to a time when they can actually open their businesses and welcome people back,” she says.

 

For more on Explore Waterloo Region, visit http://www.explorewaterlooregion.com. For information about Drayton Festival, visit https://bit.ly/3z2aqop. And for more on Cambridge Youth Soccer, visit www.cambridgesoccer.ca

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The arrival of a third provincial shutdown could spell even more trouble to the food services sector, which has already been dealt a harsh blow since the pandemic began more than a year ago. 

 

According to a Statistic Canada survey (full survey: https://bit.ly/3t2CvbK) conducted from January to February of this year and released in March, nearly three-fifths (56.6%) of food services and drinking places were already anticipating their profits to drop between January and May of 2021 - even before this latest shutdown - compared to just over two-fifths (41.8%) of all businesses.

Tack these numbers on to the four-fifths (86.5%) of these businesses which already experienced a drop in revenue in 2020 compared to three-fifths (60.5%) of all businesses and it’s easy to see why those in this sector are feeling very frustrated.  

 

For Matt Rolleman, co-owner of Thirteen at the corner of Water and Main streets in Galt, learning to adapt to the roller-coaster of rules contained within the provincial COVID-19 Response Framework has been an ongoing challenge for him and others in the food services sector. 

 

“You don’t really plan for that,” he said, referring to the ‘up and down’ restrictions. “That’s been our biggest disappointment.” 

 

During the first lockdown last year, Matt said like many restaurants he was left with an abundant of product and nowhere to sell it. This included 22 kegs of beer which had been tapped and could no longer be sold.  

 

Like many other restaurant operators, he donated food to those in need in the community and had no choice but to dump the beer. 

 

“Since then, we’ve been more cautious when we bring in products,” he said, noting the introduction of a scaled-down menu which had been slowly increasing after the second lockdown ended in mid-February and Waterloo Region went into the ‘Red Zone’ allowing a maximum of 10 diners inside. 

 

In an interview just prior to this latest shutdown, Matt said he had brought back some additional staff and that a few above-seasonal days resulted in patrons enjoying the outdoors on Thirteen’s patio Main Street. In fact, he’s made an application to increase the restaurant’s patio along the Water Street side of the building.  

 

“Even being open in the modified Red Zone and business was good on the weekend,” he said, noting that patio season really won’t ramp up until the end of June.  

 

Add in takeout sales, something Matt said Thirteen did very little of before COVID-19, and he was seeing sales of up to 40% to 45% on a ‘good day’ of what he would have made prior to the pandemic. 

 

“But from that perspective, our business model wasn’t generated on the idea that we were going to do 50% to 55% less sales,” he said, adding utilizing the various support programs, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, are imperative to small business operators. 

 

“If there were no wage subsidies, we’d probably wouldn’t have re-opened, or we would have just been doing takeout at a very basic level because it just wouldn’t be worth it.” 

 

The survey shows that at their current level of revenue and expenditures, more than half (51.2%) of food services and drinking places are unsure how long they can continue operating. 

 

Fortunately, Matt said owning the building that houses the restaurant has helped but that many others are not in the same boat. 

 

“If I was a restaurant owner that had this much space that I was paying rent for I may have may have packed up my bags and went home for a while,” he said, adding that having cashflow on a busy day is helpful when it comes to paying the bills. 

 

“But the grant program (Small Business Support Grant) is crucial for us when we decide to increase our inventory and want to bring back more staff,” said Matt. 

 

He recommends SMEs like himself utilize as much government support as possible. 

“Just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks,” he said. “If you truly need it to help your business survive, then get at it. We’re all going to be paying it back anyways.” 

 

Matt, who describes himself as a realist, said he remains confident in his business but admits it’s difficult for him and his staff to stay optimistic, especially when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 safety protocols in addition to their regular work duties.  

 

“I think they’re just getting worn down,” he said, adding even seeing the framework return to the ‘Orange’ or ‘Yellow’ zones would boost morale. 

 

“I would love to see the Drayton theatre (Hamilton Family Theatre) open again but am not sure how that’s going to happen. It’s such a vital part of the downtown core just to bring people in.” 

 

But in the meantime, Matt said he finds hope in seeing more people being vaccinated and remains passionate about running his own business, which includes pitching in to help his staff as much as he can. 

 

“You need to go back to your grassroots of what you can do,” he said. “If that means I’m sweeping the floor and washing dishes, that’s life. It’s not necessarily where I saw myself being, but that’s what you do to keep your business alive if you truly believe in your business.” 

 

StatsCan survey at a glance: 

 

  • In 2020 nearly one-fifth (19.4%) of food services and drinking places made 30% or more of their total sales online, more than double the proportion that did in 2019 (9.1%).
  • Over four-fifths (86.5%) of food services and drinking places experienced a decrease in revenue in 2020 compared to three-fifths (60.5%) of all businesses.  
  • A decline in revenue of 40% or more in 2020 was a reality for over two-fifths (42.9%) of food services and drinking places, with those in Quebec (50.9%), Manitoba (47.9%) and Ontario (44.9%) most likely to see this level of loss. 
  • At their current level of revenue and expenditures, over half (51.2%) of food services and drinking places do not know how long they can continue to operate before considering closure or bankruptcy. 
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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber Welcome Focus on Tourism, Small Business, Women, Training, and Local Communities

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce released the following response to the Government of Ontario’s 2021 Budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy.

 

“Ontario’s 2021 Budget means supports for the hardest-hit sectors and communities including right here in Waterloo Region, much needed aid for women who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, and initiatives that will create a strong economic rebound related to tourism, training, and vital infrastructure such as broadband,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Leading up to Budget 2021, the Ontario Chamber Network was calling for policies that mitigate the immediate impacts of the crisis and lay the groundwork for a robust and inclusive economic recovery. Resources need to be focused on those hit hardest by the pandemic, where they will have the greatest impact.

 

“Ontario’s business community welcomes the 2021 Budget, which gives businesses much-needed supports to confront the current health crisis while laying the foundation for a strong and inclusive economic recovery,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC.

 

Some of the things called for in the Ontario Chamber Network pre-Budget Submission included:

  • Targeted support for the hardest-hit sectors and communities;
  • Demand-driven skills programming;
  • Enhanced access to capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs;
  • Bold action on interprovincial trade;
  • Strengthening of municipalities’ fiscal capacity; and
  • A sensible path to getting Ontario’s finances on track post-pandemic.

 

“Women’s fulsome participation in the labour market is a precondition to our economic recovery and future prosperity. We greatly appreciate the new supports for women, as they have been among those disproportionately impacted by the crisis,” said the report’s author Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Analyst of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “A taskforce for inclusive economic growth, further supports for child care, a job training tax credit, relief for the tourism industry, and support for survivors of domestic violence are all welcome initiatives that will help turn the tides on the impacts that were so severe and immediate for women in Ontario. Budget 2021 addresses many of the supports we called for in our recent report, The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.”

 

Some of the measures welcomed by the Ontario Chamber Network in the 2021 Budget are:

 

Support for inclusive growth:

 

  • A taskforce for inclusive economic growth. The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected women, racialized individuals, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and other communities in the province. The new taskforce will examine how to increase women’s participation in the workforce, which will support economic recovery.
  • Temporary Job Training Tax Credit. Studies suggest about half a million jobs are not expected to return in Canada after the pandemic, the majority of which are occupied by women. Financial support for underemployed individuals to access training and reskilling will be particularly important for lower-income workers, new immigrants, and Ontarians living in Indigenous, rural, remote, and northern communities.
  • Child care support. Access to affordable child care is a long-standing issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Enhancing the CARE tax credit for 2021, extending financial support for virtual learning costs, and investing in new child care spots will help ease the burden for Ontario families and allow more women to re-enter the workforce.
  • Supports for women fleeing domestic violence. The increase in domestic violence incidences during the pandemic has forced many women to leave their homes and communities, jeopardizing their safety and livelihood. Support for women in transitional housing and underserved areas will help provide safety for women in vulnerable situations.

 

Supports for business:

 

  • Doubling of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. The grant has helped many organizations survive the crisis thus far and making this an automatic top-up instead of asking businesses to re-apply will reduce the administrative burden on both businesses and government.
  • Additional resources for the Digital Main Street Grant. Many small businesses, particularly in rural and remote regions, have benefited from the supports of this grant to get their business online. Expanding the program will help more businesses digitize and prepare for the economy of tomorrow.
  • Invest Ontario Fund. Additional funding in Invest Ontario over the next four years will be important to create jobs and investment across the province.

 

Support for tourism:

 

  • Tourism and Hospitality Small Business Support Grant. The OCC recently wrote to the Ontario government about how the tourism industry is not eligible for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. This new grant is welcome news for hotels, travel agencies, hunting and fishing camps, and other organizations that did not qualify for the original grant.
  • Local Tourism Tax Credit and Tourism Recovery Program. Many of the chambers of commerce and boards of trade are active in the tourism industries within their local communities. These additional supports will be critical to support a revival of tourism after the pandemic.
  • Support for alcohol producers & local distilleries. Ontario’s vineyards, cideries, and small distillers have been greatly impacted by the pandemic as tourism stalled this year.

 

Support for communities and municipalities:

 

  • Broadband investments. The pandemic has put the spotlight on the digital divide for people and businesses, particularly in remote and rural communities. Additional funding to connect all Ontarians, including businesses, to reliable broadband by 2025 is welcome news. 
  • Regional Opportunities Tax Credit. Additional resources towards this program will allow rural and remote communities to invest in projects that create local jobs and economic growth.
  • Property reassessment for municipalities. Pausing the property tax reassessment gives municipalities and businesses more capacity and time to adjust to the economic uncertainty and challenges caused by the pandemic.
  • Expansion of the Ontario Together Fund. The Ontario Together Fund has successfully leveraged Ontario’s business community to address pandemic-related challenges and support relief efforts.
  • Access to vaccination appointments. The Ontario Chamber Network welcomes support to help seniors and people with disabilities get to their vaccination appointments. The faster the population is inoculated, the sooner we can focus on recovery.
  • Strategic Priorities and Infrastructure Fund. Renovations to local buildings and sports facilities will also be integral to local economic growth and recovery initiatives.

Read the Ontario Chamber of Commerce full pre-Budget submission here.

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The amount of information surfacing almost daily surrounding COVID-19 can be daunting, especially for those running a business.

 

Trying to keep customers and employees safe while trying to conduct business has become a real change for many. But there is help available thanks to our ‘Chamber Check’ program.

This free and innovative program powered by Axonify and created in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce offers valuable certification training to business owners and their employees when it comes to operating in a COVID-19 environment.

 

Through our Chamber Business Ready platform, Chamber Check participants are provided with a series of valuable resources, including videos and quizzes designed around various safety issues and potential scenarios that can arise while working in the midst of this pandemic.

 

For Patti Harris-Lindstrom, Office Manager of Towcon Holdings in Cambridge, receiving her Chamber Check certification proved to be a great way to collect additional knowledge.

 

“We’re trying to gather as much information as we possibly can because no one seems to know what this virus is all about,” she says. “We’re trying to take in as much information as we can to make informed decisions.”

 

As they work their way through the interactive and educational tools contained in the training, the knowledge the participants gain is designed to benefit them in the day-to-day operation of their businesses.

 

“We’ve been trying to keep on top of this as much as we possibly can and when this (Chamber Check) came out I decided to take it and see if there is anything we don’t already know,” says Patti, adding there was new information which proved beneficial and would gladly recommend others participate. “It’s very informative.”

 

Sara Chamberlin, Human Resources Manager at the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre, discovered the same and is pleased by the training provided.

“I was impressed that dealing with difficult customer service interactions was also part of the training, not just technical processes of wearing PPE,” she says. “This was very useful for our company.”

 

Stephanie Melo, Office Administrator/Health and Safety Co-ordinator at Sousa Concrete, also says the training she and members of her management office team received has been extremely helpful.

 

“One of the major things I learned was there is a difference between sanitation and disinfection,” she says, adding it only took her about an hour to complete the required modules.

 

The program can also be completed in short increments depending on work schedules, which is exactly what Sara did.

 

“It took me approximately two weeks as I did one to three modules a day,” she says.

But regardless of how participants approach it, the training they receive will strengthen the business community by helping create more consumer confidence.

“I knew it would be beneficial for the company to have since we take COVID-19 very serious,” says Stephanie, noting building consumer confidence is vital right now for all businesses. “It is very important since this is a very strange time we are living in.”

Sara agrees and has recommended that all her managers now complete the program.

 

“Any training program we can participate in, we will look into,” she says.

Providing as much support as possible to small businesses, especially now during COVID-19, was the key reason the Chambers developed Chamber Check.

“Being small businesses, it’s in our hands to do what we can to keep people safe, both those who work for us and those who enter our places of business,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “That’s the best defence we have towards keeping our businesses open.”

 

Upon completion of the training participants receive a ‘Chamber Check’ certificate indicating they have received extensive safety education to conduct business in our COVID-19 world, plus the business receives a decal to be placed in a location to let customers know that workplace offers a safe environment.

 

The program, developed in consultation with Region of Waterloo Public Health, is available to not just business owners but any number of their employees who receive an email confirming they have completed the training.

 

“We’re proud to partner with The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce on the Chamber Check program. As a Waterloo‐based business we’re dedicated to doing our part to keep our local residents safe,” said Carol Leaman, Founder and CEO of Axonify.

To get your Chamber Check training, visit www.chambercheck.ca

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  • 68% saw revenue decrease by 10% or more
  • 22% unable to stay fully or partially open during the pandemic
  • 25% can’t stay open more than three months
  • 1.2 million SMEs in Canada (426,490 in Ontario) as of December 2017
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Canadians, and their local restaurants and pubs, already pay some of the highest alcohol taxes anywhere in the world.

 

Next April 1, the government is going to want even more money from cash-strapped Canadians and desperate small business owners.

 

The timing could not be any worse as the global pandemic continues to crater the Canadian economy. Just as households are struggling to make ends meet and local restaurants are disappearing, the federal government continues to apply an automatic tax increase on beer, wine and spirits.

 

But the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and its network, which includes the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, is hoping to help ease some of that burden after launching the Freeze the Alcohol Tax campaign. It calls on the federal government to put an end to the unfair alcohol escalator tax in the next federal budget and give Canadians a much-deserved break.

 

This automatic yearly increase was introduced by the federal government in Budget 2017 without consultation or economic analysis of its impact on consumers, the food service industry, producers and their agricultural suppliers.

 

“To have something that’s automatically increasing is problematic for sure,” says Matthew Rolleman, co-owner of Thirteen Food & Beverage in downtown Cambridge, explaining how any increase will eventually filter down to the customer. “We have to be a viable business and it’s got to come from somewhere.”

 

Alin Dinu, owner of The Easy Pour Wine Bar in Blair agrees, noting the cost of wine he serves often must be adjusted.

 

“I don’t always keep the same prices for guests, unfortunately, but they understand,” he says, adding even a temporary tax freeze would help customers.

 

Helping small business owners and giving consumers even a small break is the goal of the campaign says Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty.

 

 “Surely, amid a global pandemic and a once-a-century economic downturn, there is cause to stop an automatic tax increase to ensure we help everyday Canadians to cope with the impacts of COVID-19,” he says.

 

And although he doesn’t have a problem with the tax in principle during times of prosperity, Matthew says putting a hold on the tax would be a welcomed goodwill gesture during this uncertain economic time.

 

“Anybody in the restaurant business will tell you we definitely need all the help we can get, there’s no question,” he says. “It would be a good time now because we need all hands-on deck.”

 

Matthew says although his patio was busy throughout the summer, he’s not sure what the coming months will bring. Alin concurs and says Easy Pour’s new patio, which seats about 20 under current COVID-19 restrictions, has been very busy. However, he is unsure how long it can remain open.

 

“People aren’t super excited about coming inside right now,” says Matthew. “There is such uncertainty.”

 

To help drive the Freeze the Alcohol Tax campaign, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has partnered with Beer Canada, Spirits Canada and various Canadian hospitality industry.

 

“Hotels, restaurants and bars having been hit the hardest by the pandemic, with over a million jobs lost and thousands of restaurants closed permanently. Keeping the escalator tax in place does nothing but cause harm to businesses and the thousands of Canadians they employ,” says Luke Chapman, Interim President of Beer Canada.

 

This sentiment is echoed by Jim Wescott, president of Spirits Canada.

 

“Canadians wouldn’t stand for automatic tax increases on their take home pay, and they shouldn’t stand for it on their favourite Canadian whisky or cocktail that they enjoy as they socialize or celebrate key life moments with family and friends,” he says. “Canadians elect parliamentarians to scrutinize how money is collected as well as spent, and taxes going up without such scrutiny is completely undemocratic.”

 

The campaign is supported by:

 

Arterra Wines Canada

Barley Council of Canada

Beer Canada

Big Rig

Boston Pizza

CWB Franchise Finance

Firkin Group of Pubs

Foodtastic

Grain Growers of Canada

Northland Restaurant Group

Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Restaurants Canada

Service Inspired Restaurants (SIR Corp)

Spirits Canada

St. Louis Bar and Grill Restaurants

The Beer Store

 

For more information on the Freeze the Alcohol Tax campaign, visit: www.freezethealcoholtax.ca

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