Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Since the late 2000s, Black Friday has become a retail staple in Canada surpassing the traditional Boxing Day sales as the most popular annual sale in this country.

 

Initially, the term ‘Black Friday’ can be traced back to 1869 when two Wall Street financiers attempted to purchase all of America’s gold to pump up its value. Their play for the gold failed, however, the term stuck and eventually more than 100 years later became associated with sales when retailers began noting they were ‘in the black’ as soon as Christmas shopping started.

 

“It has become another one of those consumer ritual occasions and from a buyer/retailer perspective it is now a key point on the calendar we all start to strategize for leading up to and following,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends.

 

However, despite the ‘ritual’ aspect of shopping on Black Friday (Nov. 25) and Cyber Monday (Nov. 28), experts expect sales this year won’t be as brisk as in years past.

 

“Most of the signs indicate kind of a suppression of general sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” says Brad, adding sales in 2021 were down by about 7% compared to the previous year. “I think last year we had this post pandemic burst of saved money and a desire by consumers to let loose. But it’s sort of settling back now into more normalcy because people have got it out of their systems.”

 

Factor in supply chain issues and the cost of inflation affecting consumers’ decisions, and Brad says the outcome could hold some surprises.

 

“There’s a lot of interesting question marks about consumers’ mood and are they going to be naturally a little more reticent to do impulse purchases because of inflation, rising prices and just general worry,” he says. “However, the flipside of that is anything that states: ‘regular retail on sale’ and consumers respond to it. They may be more susceptible to respond to that kind of pitch because they are worried about rising prices and think this is an opportunity to get stuff ‘at a deal’.”

 

Brick-and-mortar stores versus online shopping

 

“We saw online sales trending up before the pandemic and I’ve always said the pandemic and the response to it didn’t change anything, it just dramatically sped up existing trends,” says Brad, noting how much more ‘comfortable’ people are with ordering online for many items.

 

Not surprisingly in 2020 when things were locked down, Black Friday sales grew by 31% compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels. And even with stores being reopened in 2021, Black Friday and Cyber Monday ecommerce sales still rose by 11.9% the whole month of November.

 

“Cyber Monday was actually starting to encroach, if not beat, Black Friday anyway before the pandemic in terms of popularity,” says Brad, adding the concepts of ‘Black Friday Month’ or ‘Cyber Monday Week’ have become more of reality now that larger retailers like Amazon and Target have implemented earlier sales.

 

However, when it comes to in-person shopping he says the tactile experience of going into a store remains a social exercise many consumers will continue to crave.

“We are still, by nature, two million old hunters and gatherers. We just do it in malls now,” jokes Brad. “I think we’re always going to have the need for physical retail.”

 

 

Supply chain and demand

 

Fear of shipping delays last year prompted many consumers to start their holiday shopping earlier on, and experts believe that has continued this year fueled by soaring gas prices plus global shipping complications.

 

Anecdotally, Brad says he’s heard that some categories of electronics are now very difficult for retailers to have in their inventory in effort to pull off some of the major deals they once offered on Black Friday.

 

“If you can’t physically get the stuff, what is that going to do if you want provide longer hours at your store?”

 

At the same time, he says some retailers may have higher volumes of inventory they are trying to clear out.

 

“You may not be seeing deals across the board anymore but instead, seeing a weird patchwork effect of deals going on as a direct reflection of what we have been going through,” says Brad.

 

Advice for business owners

 

When it comes to navigating Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Brad urges business owners to not get caught up in the ‘hype’ surrounding these shopping events.

 

“Make sure you do your due diligence and make sure you are making smart decisions and not just for that day, but a period of time,” he says, explaining trying to clear out too much inventory may lead to cashflow trouble down the line as consumers stock up on items and wait several months before spending again. “Don’t get caught up in the hype. You need to sit down and rationally look at the numbers to see if you need to clear out that inventory.”

 

* With files from the National Post and Calashock Commerce

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Keeping workers safe and healthy is an important component of any well-run company.

 

However, managing the protocols and requirements that surround it is often an area that creates frustration for many businesses.

 

“A lot of companies put health and safety on the backburner prior to the pandemic,” says Ray Snow, President of Heartzap Safety Training & Equipment in Cambridge, noting the costs that often surround it. “But now they realize they can’t put it on the backburner and have to address it and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

 

He says companies that had once been shut down during the pandemic are seeing a larger Ministry of Labour (MOL) presence of in the community and are paying close attention.

 

“MOL is at construction sites and knocking on company’s doors seeing if they have their policies in place and are they following health and safety rules, and nobody today can afford to have their operations shutdown again.”

 

For that reason, he recommends businesses revisit their health and safety policies and protocols to make sure they are up to date.

 

“But not everyone has that ability,” says Ray, noting larger corporations have the staff to manage health and safety compared to SMEs. “An SME may have a health and safety committee, but they may not have a designated staff person that does health and safety management on a regular basis.”

 

He suggests an outside health and safety audit, which Heartzap provides, is a viable alternative to ensure a business is meeting the correct standards and practices, possibly saving them money in the end. According to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the average cost of a lost-time injury is $106,500 - $21,300 in direct costs (WSIB premiums) and $85,200 in costs to the company of the injured employee.

 

“We’re not there to point out all the faults. We’re there to help and grow with you,” says Ray. “Health and safety has always had that negative ‘cracking the whip’ connotation. It’s really more about education.”

 

Through a wide variety of virtual training courses, something Heartzap has offered for several years prior to the pandemic in a blended online and in-class format, he says companies can ensure staff working remotely can remain up to date on their training as part of any work-from-home policies.

 

“The shift is changing in the world and in Canada on how people learn. They don’t necessarily have to be in a classroom all day long,” says Ray, noting keeping current on rapidly changing health and safety guidelines has been a big concern for Heartzap clients. “As much as the government did a great job creating templates for everybody, they still required somebody to go look at them on a bi-weekly or weekly basis because it changed so much. The biggest concern now is getting people up to speed.”

 

He says the costs surrounding health and safety training have risen, just like they have for most businesses and that supply chain issues have affected the availability of products causing potential delays in delivery.

 

“I think everybody is kind of two and half years behind in health and safety in terms of training or policy work or reviewing their facilities, but everybody wants it done today,” says Ray, noting like many sectors, staffing shortages are causing delays. “We only have so many staff to get out there and get the job done.”

 

As a result, he recommends businesses don’t wait until the last minute when it comes to reviewing or updating their health and safety policies.

 

“If you want it done for the fall or winter, don’t wait for the fall and winter to come.”

 

To learn more, visit Heartzap Safety Training & Equipment.

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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) welcomes the return of the Legislature and looks forward to working with Premier Ford, his new cabinet, and all parties to champion the province’s competitiveness, productivity, and growth.

 

To put its members’ concerns’ front and centre as the Legislature returns, the OCC today released its Blueprint to Bolster Ontario’s Prosperity, which provides a letter to each provincial cabinet minister outlining key policy priorities.

 

“Businesses across Waterloo Region are looking to the government to develop policies that will spur local and regional economic growth and job creation,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.  “The government must create the right conditions to support business stability, predictability, and confidence. There must be a balance between short-and long-term solutions to address our current and future challenges.”

 

Some key highlights in the Chamber network's Blueprint to Bolster Ontario’s Prosperity include:

  • Addressing Ontario’s labour market challenges by boosting immigration, removing barriers to labour mobility, and introducing workforce development strategies for key sectors such as construction, health care, tourism, and hospitality, and transportation.
  • Bolstering our health care system by developing a health human resources strategy, delivering on digital health, and addressing backlogs in routine vaccines, diagnostics, and cancer screenings.
  • Continuing to prioritize lowering the administrative burden on business and ensuring that regulation is streamlined and effective.
  • Planning for Ontario’s long-term energy needs to ensure businesses and residents continue to have access to reliable, clean, and affordable energy for generations to come.
  • Propelling housing affordability through increased supply and regulatory reforms to fuel the industry and help organizations attract and retain talent.
  • Advancing regional transportation connectivity and fare integration as well as broadband infrastructure projects in collaboration with the private sector.
  • Modernizing public procurement to support small businesses and equity seeking entrepreneurs to diversify the supply chain.
  • Seizing Ontario’s opportunity to lead in the global green economy by minimizing uncertainty, supporting cleantech, mobilizing clean energy solutions, and strengthening climate adaptation.

 

“The past few years have been characterized by tremendous uncertainty: a prolonged pandemic, record-high inflation, supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, and geopolitical turmoil. If we want our economy and people to emerge stronger amid so much uncertainty, Ontario must focus on creating the right conditions to support competitiveness, productivity, and growth,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “We are providing all Ministers with a blueprint for steps that can be taken to ensure we are bolstering Ontario’s prosperity – we look forward to continued collaboration with the Government of Ontario and all parties over the next four years.”

 

The OCC’s blueprint letters includes both policy asks where immediate action is required to support business and foundational recommendations for long-term prosperity and were informed by OCC’s diverse membership.

 

READ THE LETTERS.

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The fallout from the Rogers outage continues to be tallied even as Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne prepares to appear before a parliamentary committee sometime this month to answer questions regarding this nationwide disruption that cost businesses thousands of dollars.

It’s been estimated, according to a recent article published by BNN Bloomberg, the Canadian economy took a $142 million hit when a major service outage July 8 affected more than 12 million Rogers’ customers.

 

The system-wide cable internet and cellular network failure, which included subsidiary brands of Rogers Wireless, Fido, Cityfone and Chatr, was blamed on a maintenance update in its core network and in some cases, repairs took several days before all services were fully restored. Rogers has agreed to compensate customers affected by the outage, but many have now been left wondering what the next outage could bring?

 

We asked two local IT experts – Five Nines IT Solutions President & CEO Douglas Grosfield and MicroAge Kitchener owner Robert Jolliffe – to share their thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are better prepared for the next big outage.

 

Q. What can business owners do to prepare for potential interruptions?

 

Robert: First, they should determine if they can run their business off their cell phone by hot spotting. During the Rogers outage, some people had their business internet and cell phone both with Rogers, and that left them without a back-up option.  

 

The second thing a business can do, is have two internet connections on your business premises from two different providers. If your business is at a certain size and an extra $100 (or less) a month for a backup internet connection is a negligible cost, the second connection is worthwhile investment. Even if you are not using it, you have the insurance of a back-up connection.  

 

The backup could even be the lowest, cheapest connection available, which will get you through a day or two until your main connection is back up. It’s also worth considering whether one of your connections should be wireless; Starlink is an example of wireless internet connection.  

 

Douglas: Assuming a business is using proper perimeter security devices, most industry standard firewalls will easily support having two ISP connections and will use them in many ways.  You can have them active / passive, meaning if your primary connection fails, all traffic fails over to the secondary connection with nearly zero disruption, and fails back to the primary once it again becomes available. You can also do load balancing or ‘bond’ them such that traffic with different priorities (i.e., data vs voice) uses the appropriate connection and thus has no adverse effect on the other.  Check if your cellphones support dual SIMs; many do nowadays.  You can then have a SIM from more than one cellular provider and ensure reliable communications. An alternative would be to pay for minimal ‘lines’ for key or critical users, at a secondary provider, so that a manual swap of SIMs can get them back in business quickly.  Note that these things mean a different number, but in the short term can provide connectivity and communications.

 

Q. What would be the simplest piece of advice you could offer businesses when it comes to navigating these interruptions?

 

Robert: Have a backup plan. If there's a fire in the building, you have an evacuation plan. If the if power goes out, you know what you're going to do for your business. Treat internet failure the same way.

 

Douglas: Do not allow yourself to believe you are exempt from disruptions like this. Talk to a trusted technical partner about your options and like anything else, take the first step to achieve a goal.  If as a business owner your primary goal is not to protect that business, its clients and staff, its data, and systems, and to ensure the business continues to thrive and grow, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

Q. Do you see further interruptions like these becoming more commonplace and can they be prevented?

 

Robert: They won't become more commonplace, but they will be more severe because more of our society is connected to the internet now.  

The big telecom companies are going to put in more fail-safes, so the likelihood of it happening again is low. But as time goes on and society becomes more connected to the internet the likelihood of it causing disruptions is higher. 

For example, during the Rogers outage many people couldn't pay for things. 

Another example would be grocery stores that have digital price tags on the shelves. They're using this so that they can push price changes out from their head office, electronically across all the stores. So just imagine if you needed an internet connection for that, and all the prices get set to zero and then the internet went out?

 

Douglas: Yes, these companies are in business to generate profit, no surprises there.  Their investment (in the absence of legislation or other government-mandated investments) in the backbone networks and infrastructure, and the security of same, are going to be tightly budgeted and controlled.  Add to this the fact there is little competition and low likelihood of that changing anytime soon, and the communications landscape in Canada is ripe for this sort of disruption.  Toss in external issues such as cyber-attacks, and we can see that our current highly vulnerable national communications infrastructure needs overhauling and investment.

 

Don’t get me wrong, you can protect yourself by doing the right things regardless.  Endpoint protection, firewalls, redundant Internet connections, mobile device security, VPNs, encryption, etc.  All readily available technologies, inexpensive and simple to implement and manage with expert help and advice.

 

Q. Are businesses too reliant on one telecommunications company to deliver their service?

 

Robert: I would say that, yes. If a business only has one internet connection which is connected to an almost consumer grade firewall, then they are too reliant on one company. At first, if that internet connection goes down, that business is okay to go a day without internet. Then they grow to a size where it’s not okay to go a day without internet, but they don't change anything.  There are higher end firewalls that will allow them to mesh two connections, from two providers. So, if the main internet connection goes down, the other one from the other provider kicks in seamlessly. Employees and users on the network won’t even notice a disruption.  

 

Douglas: The communications market in Canada is radically different than in the U.S., for example, where there are far more options. However, having more providers requires subscriber density, meaning how many paying customers per square mile for example, to support the infrastructure.  For example, cellular service across a large geographic area requires mostly the same infrastructure (i.e., towers, networks etc) for 10 clients as it would for thousands or tens of thousands.  Without enough subscribers, it is cost prohibitive. Relying on one provider is very risky and given the simplicity and low cost for redundancy in this space, is both a mistake and a missed opportunity for businesses.  Business as usual when your competitors are not, is a huge advantage and costs very little.  Spread out your risk, eliminate by using proven technology to do so.

 

 

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The forecast is looking good for the summer tourism season in Waterloo Region.

 

After two years of uncertainties, restrictions and pivoting due to the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism sector is poised for a significant comeback.

 

“Everything is coming back this summer,” says Michele Saran, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region. “There is so much pent-up demand, and it seems like the concerns about COVID-19 are receding and people are feeling a lot more confident to get out and about.”

 

Compared to last year at this time, she says tourism operators in Waterloo Region, including hotels and attractions, have already seen a higher demand in the first quarter of this year.

 

“It’s going incredibly well so far, but there are still labour shortages and supply chain issues,” says Michele. “I know some of our hotels can’t run at full capacity just yet because of these shortages which is a shame because we’ve been hit so hard the last couple of years.”

 

To offset some costs surrounding the implementation of health and safety protocols to keep patrons and employees safe, Explore Waterloo Region and RTO 4 (Regional Tourism Organization 4 Inc.) distributed nearly $600,000 to support 125 attractions, hotels, and other operators in 2020 and 2021 through the Tourism Adaption and Recovery Program (TARP).

 

“Our industry was the first hit, hardest hit and the last to recover is what we say, and we still have those impediments in a way with these labour concerns,” says Michele.

 

She says this summer Explore Waterloo Region is taking a ‘divide and conquer’ approach when it comes its marketing tactics.

 

“As we are easing out of COVID-19 we’re looking to our local operators and BIAs to market our region to local residents,” says Michele. “We as Explore Waterloo Region are expanding a little further out with our marketing focus and trying to encourage people from the GTA to get out of the city and come to a place where it might be a little less urban, but with all the amenities of the big city; close to nature where they can get out and enjoy walking and bike trails and still have incredible culinary and cultural experiences, just with a little less of the crowds.”

 

Michele says the many festivals and attractions Waterloo Region has to offer this summer will be a big draw, such as the Cambridge Scottish Festival and the Canada Day celebrations which features a parade and returns to Riverside Park with fireworks.

 

“People are feeling a bit safer in being groups but still outside,” she says, noting this should be a good summer for domestic tourism due to long lineups at major airports which has been blamed on staff shortages and COVID-19 screening.  “There is still a little bit of concern about travelling internationally so I think this is the summer we really have to take advantage of the opportunity to get people in and around Waterloo Region to come and experience everything we have to offer.”

 

For a detailed look at what’s available, visit Explore Waterloo Region.

 

A few summer highlights in Cambridge:

  • Kin Carnival (May 26)
  • Cambridge Tour De Grand (June 12)
  • Cambridge Celebration of the Arts (June 17 – Civic Square)
  • Host Springs Music Festival (June 25 – Central Park)
  • Cambridge Celebrates Canada Day (July 1 - Riverside Park)
  • Thursday Night Live Performances (July 7, 14, 21 and 28 - Mill Race Park Amphitheatre)
  • Hespeler Village Music Festival (July 9 – Forbes Park)
  • Cambridge Scottish Festival (July 15-16 – Churchill Park)
  • Forbes Park Movie Night (Aug. 18 – Forbes Park)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Ontario’s economic outlook remains uncertain for businesses and households as labour shortages, high energy costs, supply chain disruptions, and inflation continue to hit home. Ontario's business community needs a clear and predictable path forward to support economic recovery and growth. 

 

In preparation of the budget’s release, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released the 2022 Ontario budget submission with recommendations to the Government of Ontario to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery. 

 

“In the upcoming budget, we would like to see the government direct sufficient resources towards the hardest-hit sectors, while laying the groundwork for a sustainable and inclusive economy,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The submission notes that the crisis has created new problems and exacerbated pre-existing ones. Government must work to resolve these longstanding issues to ensure Ontario remains an attractive destination to start and grow businesses.”

 

OCC’s 2022 provincial budget submission provides recommendations to the Government of Ontario under the following categories: Economic Recovery; Resilient Communities; and Modernizing Regulation and Fiscal Policy.

 

Some key highlights include proposals to:  

  • Support entrepreneurship and small business growth with targeted business supports and access to public sector procurement.
  • Strengthen Ontario’s workforce by boosting immigration and training programs.
  • Make housing more affordable through increased supply and regulatory reforms.
  • Advance regional transportation and broadband infrastructure projects.
  • Bolster our health care system and address major backlogs in diagnostics and cancer screenings. 
  • Seize Ontario’s opportunity to lead in the global green economy. 
  • Remove barriers to interprovincial trade and labour mobility.

 

“The pandemic has made it clear that we cannot have a strong business community without a resilient health care system. Budget 2022 needs to focus on immediate measures that support business predictability and competitiveness while building health care capacity to withstand current and future challenges,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

The recommendations outlined in the OCC’s budget submission were developed together with businesses, associations, post-secondary institutions, and the Ontario Chamber Network.   

 

Read the submission: https://bit.ly/3usBZa9

 

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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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Pain points throughout Ontario’s economy are impairing business operations, and now consumers are feeling the pinch too. 

 

The frustration is palpable. From the grocery store and trucking industry to their pocketbooks, Ontarians are experiencing the very real consequences of labour shortages, global supply chain disruptions, and inflation. 

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) recently released the sixth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER) providing regional and sector-specific data on business confidence, policy priorities, and economic indicators, which together provide a unique view on the hurdles ahead. 

 

“Ontario began to see some positive momentum in 2021 thanks to progress on vaccines and reopening. Business confidence, GDP, and employment growth are trending upwards after record lows in 2020. However, the road ahead remains uncertain for businesses and households as labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and inflation are hitting home,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “A staggering 62 percent of sectors are facing labour shortages in Ontario and expect to continue facing them over the next year. This is having real-life consequences on the cost of living, service delivery, and product availability.” 

 

“Our small business Members here in Waterloo Region have proven their strength and resilience over the past two years. Business confidence is rising across the province but for many the additional strain on operations as a result of new variants and additional restrictions continues to dampen their recovery,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.

 

This year’s OER reveals the impacts of the pandemic continue to disproportionately impact small businesses, organizations led by women and people with disabilities, with the hardest-hit sectors being businesses in the arts, entertainment, and agricultural sectors. 

 

“We are seeing a domino effect of structural issues. Jobs are going unfilled, demand is outpacing capacity, and these issues are driving up prices for consumers and uncertainty for businesses,” said the report’s co-author, Claudia Dessanti, Senior Manager, Policy, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Two years into the pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need a long-term plan that will provide stability and lay the groundwork for economic growth.”

 

Key highlights of the report include: 

  •  1. In terms of regional economic outlook, Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie is looking at jobless rate of 4.5 percent in 2022, compared to 7.3 percent in 2021. Also, it shows an employment change of 5.4% this year compared to 3.7 percent in 2021. The population change of 1.5 percent in 2021 is expected to remain the same in 2022. Confidence in Ontario’s outlook by Region indicates 38 percent of respondents in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie are not confident, compared to 23 percent (39 percent remained neutral). Also, 52 percent of those asked said they agreed there was a labour shortage in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie, while 29 percent said they disagreed. 
  • 2. Overall, 29 percent of Ontario businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook in 2021 (compared to 21 percent the year prior), and 57 percent are confident in the outlook of their own organizations (up from 48 percent). 
  • 3. Most sectors (62 percent) are facing labour shortages and expect to continue facing them over the next year. 
  • 4. Inflation of raw material and transportation costs at the producer level is affecting consumer prices, which rose 3.5 percent and is expected to rise another 3.5 percent in 2022. Ontario’s year-over-year housing price growth was above 30 percent in December 2021.
  • 5. Small businesses are more preoccupied with cost relief measures such as business taxes and electricity rates, while larger businesses are more focused on long-term infrastructure, regulatory, and workforce development issues.
  • 6. All regions except Northeastern Ontario saw positive employment growth in 2021, though several regions have yet to offset the major job losses seen during the first year of the pandemic.

 

Read the report: https://occ.ca/oer2022/

 

The sixth annual OER offers unique insights into business perspectives across Ontario. The report is driven by data from our annual Business Confidence Survey (BCS) and economic forecasts for the year ahead. The BCS was conducted online from October 6 to November 19, 2021, attracting responses from 1,513 organizations across Ontario. The OER was made possible by our Landmark Partner, Hydro One, and Research Partners, Golfdale Consulting and Bank of Montreal. 

 

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From food and clothing to automotive parts and medical supplies, the list of freight transported by truckers to keep our supply chain operating is practically endless.

 

But keeping those trucks rolling since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a major challenge to those who make their living in this sector.

 

“This has definitely created the greatest turmoil in the industry,” says Rena Hawkins, President of Cambridge-based H-Four Logistics Inc. “But there have certainly been other challenges.”

 

Part of the transportation sector since 1994, she has seen many changes in her industry, including a growing shortage of drivers which has continued to worsen for the last decade as many choose retirement. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Canada is currently facing a shortage of 20,000 drivers.

 

“Being a truck driver is not an easy job and it’s not an attractive job for someone with a young family,” admits Rena, noting good wages can be made but that restrictions regarding hours of service and flexibility makes it tough to earn a higher salary.

 

“They’re not working 40 hours a week; they’re working 60 to 70 hours a week to make that money which makes it hard for young people to want to get into this industry.”

 

Factor in the pandemic, and she says the situation has only grown more difficult, especially in the beginning when carriers she booked travelled to the United States only to discover shipping and receiving facilities closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

 

“The driver could wind up sitting there for 24 hours waiting to offload or upload. Who’s going to pay that driver? Is it me, my customer, or the shipper?” says Rena, noting a lot of negotiating and understanding was needed on all sides to find solutions. “Everybody really had to pitch in and help cover those costs for the drivers, so they weren’t out of pocket because obviously it wasn’t their fault.” 

 

She says that issue sorted itself out once the summer months arrived and transmission levels lowered.

 

“Now, the biggest challenge of course is the vaccination mandate, which means there are now 10% of drivers who are not in the market and can’t cross the Canada/U.S. border,” says Rena, adding even though that number doesn’t appear to be high it will impact the supply chain. “Imagine if you have a company with 100 employees and are relying on those people to make sure your operation is running smoothly. Even if you lose 10 of those people, you’re going to have glitches in that operation,” she says. “It’s a very fragile balance.”

 

Rena says a possible solution could surface in which non-vaccinated truckers deliver to the border where they upload or unload to vaccinated Canadian drivers in the U.S., noting a premium rate of pay could be offered as compensation to the drivers who must spend more time south of the border. 

 

“However, that is just going to inflate the transportation rates right across the board, not even factoring in the cost of fuel,” she says, noting the recent protest in Ottawa has clearly put a spotlight on the whole industry.

 

“I feel whatever side of the fence you sit on regarding the mandate issue, there seems to be a lot of appreciation now for the drivers and the work they do,” says Rena. “I think people are really seeing the impact they have on our daily lives.”

 

She hopes a ‘silver lining’ could emerge from this turmoil by inspiring a new generation of drivers to enter the industry. 

 

“They seem so excited about these truck drivers and I’m hoping new drivers will start looking to get into the market.”

 

In terms of the future, Rena remains optimistic of what’s down the road for her sector.

“We’re pretty creative people and will find solutions that will keep things moving,” she says, adding examples of ‘pivoting’ seen in the hospitality and restaurant sectors early in the pandemic is something her industry can take to heart. “They kind of laid the groundwork on how to get creative and make changes to have a sustainable business so our industry can look at what they’ve done and try to apply that kind of thinking to our business.”

 

Learn more about  H-Four Logistics.

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