Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Building trust an issue

 

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

 

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

 

Besides potential costs, trust is also a key issue.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Businesses must ‘innovate or die’

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Click here to the read the report.

 

 

Key findings from the report

 

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

 

Recommendations for business

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Debating policies to create evidence-based solutions that will benefit the business community and province’s economic growth played an important role at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent 2024 Annual General Meeting and Convention in Timmins.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Economic growth imperative

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Click here to see the OCC Policy Compendium.

 

 

Cambridge Chamber policies approved by Ontario delegates

 

The AGM provides an opportunity for Chamber leaders to come together to discuss and debate key policies that shape the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) advocacy agenda for the coming year. The Cambridge Chamber presented three policies which received overwhelming support from delegates:

 

  • The first policy calls for the Province, in consultation with municipalities, police boards, and businesses communities, to use economic analysis principles when it comes to current and potential crime diversion programs that could reduce crime and in turn make it safer for businesses to operate. As well, the policy recommends that underperforming programs that don’t adequately serve communities of all types be identified and that funding be prioritized accordingly, and that the efficacy of these programs be evaluated in the context of other wrap-around services available in each community. Also, the policy calls for the implementation of a system to measure the long-term impacts of these program investments and insists municipalities continue to use Special Constables in urban areas instead of fully sworn officers to reduce tax burdens.
  • The second policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored,calls for the establishment of timelines for the Province’s new Building Ontario Fund (formerly the Ontario Infrastructure Bank) to commence investments into projects. It also calls for a strategy put in place to ensure these investments in major projects are in municipalities and regions across Ontario.
  • The third policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored, recommends the Province initiate a major review of provincial-municipal fiscal arrangements to ensure cost-effective program delivery and maintenance/expansion of infrastructure.
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The federal Liberals 2024 budget landed last week to mixed reviews, especially among Chamber of Commerce leaders.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Housing affordability crisis

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Economic survival imperative

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Emotions can cloud 'good judgment'

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Essential tips to consider when buying a business:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Portions of the provincial government’s 2024 budget and the economic impact they will have on businesses are being welcomed by the Ontario Chamber network, but a call remains for more to be done.

 

“This budget takes important steps in the right direction, and at a time when Ontario faces declining productivity, we hope it sets the stage for bigger leaps forward,” said Daniel Tisch, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) in a release. “The government has been bold in attracting investments and committing to build infrastructure to create jobs – and we need similarly bold investments in our people, public institutions, and communities.”

 

Building a Better Ontario, tabled by Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy on March 26, is the Province’s largest spending budget coming in at $214.5 billion.

 

While it featured no tax hikes or tax breaks, it did include substantial funding for infrastructure and highways, something Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher says is vital to the business community.

 

He notes Minister Bethlenfalvy’s mention of the long-awaited Highway 7 project between Kitchener and Guelph, as well as improvements along the Kitchener Line to facilitate future two-way all-day GO Train service, should bode well for local businesses.

 

"This shows these projects are still a priority for this government and that’s what we have been fighting for in this region for a very long time,” he says, adding a $1.6 billion investment also announced for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program to help Ontario build at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031 also comes as good news. “The cost of housing is very concerning to businesses because they can’t attract the brightest and best people to come and work here if housing costs are beyond the pay-scale they are willing to offer.”

 

Housing Crisis

 

However, Greg questions whether the financial commitment outlined in the budget will be enough towards creating a long-term solution to the housing crisis.

 

“The reason housing and rent costs are through the roof is because the supply isn’t even close to the demand. Everybody needs to understand the price of any commodity is based on supply and demand,” he says, adding the Province should amend the Planning Act to give municipalities the broader ability to accelerate the housing construction process. “I also think the Federal government needs to weigh in as well if they are truly concerned about it and reach out to municipalities to see what areas of responsibility the feds can have, perhaps on the subsidized housing side.”

 

Greg says costs surrounding new home construction, which rose during the pandemic, have also not decreased despite the fact supply chain issues have improved. “You can’t ask a builder to build a home for less than what it costs them.”

 

The budget also outlined an additional $100 million investment through the Skills Development Fund and an additional $49.5 million over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy in hopes to address the growing skills gap in Ontario, something both Greg and the Chamber network were pleased to see.

 

“We have the country’s No. 1 skilled trades school (Conestoga College Skilled Trades Campus) right here in Waterloo Region, so this announcement is very important,” he says. “What is even more important is that Cambridge has such a density of advanced manufacturing and each one of those facilities need skilled tradespeople to work. Investment in skilled trades is certainly paramount for us and it should be paramount for the province and the entire country.”

 

And while the Chamber network applauds the Province’s $546 million investment in healthcare access, Greg admits he’s disappointed the budget contains only an overall 1.3% hike for health care.

 

“I really believe this government is working hard behind the scenes to try and figure out where the money will be best spent because with a system like health care, which is the biggest piece of the puzzle here in Ontario, you can’t just keep dumping in money. You have to rationalize where we’re putting it,” he says. “Our healthcare system is a rationalized system where we get what we need, not what we want. So, let’s make sure we get the money directed in the right places to ensure our health needs are taken care of.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

 

Several positive measures in the budget to help the business community:

 

  • Housing through an investment of $1.6B for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program and an additional $625M towards the Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund to build roads, water and infrastructure needed to enable Ontario to reach its goal of building at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031.
  • Workforce development by continuing to address skills gaps in critical sectors of the economy through an additional $100M investment through the Skills Development Fund, and an additional $49.5M over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy, supporting programs that reduce stigma and attract younger Ontarians into skilled trades.
  • Healthcare access through a $546M investment expected to connect 600,000 underserved Ontarians with access to primary healthcare teams of doctors, nurses and professionals, and the opening of a new medical school at York University to improve the pipeline of family doctors.
  • Mental health, addictions, and homelessness through an additional $152M over three years towards supportive housing, $396M in mental health supports through mobile health units, and $60M to Indigenous mental health.

 

As the government enters the second half of its mandate, the OCC urges action to support:

 

  • Business competitiveness by improving access to private capital and credit for small businesses, developing an employee ownership policy framework, and supporting greater business adoption of co-operative conversion.
  • Interprovincial trade by signing mutual recognition agreements and/or unilaterally recognizing standards in other parts of the country, where appropriate, to promote trade and labour mobility.
  • Post-secondary institutions through aggressive investment to create a financially sustainable and globally competitive post-secondary education and research sector, aspiring to have the best-funded system in Canada.
  • Energy infrastructure by investing in generation, transmission, and distribution to support expanded charging infrastructure and address expected electricity shortfalls.
  • Climate resilience through a climate adaptation and mitigation plan, with strategies that value nature and ecosystem services, and support the federal Task Force on Flood Insurance and Relocation.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

A few findings:

 

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

 

Source: Canada News Wire

 

 

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The collective strength of the Chamber network took centre stage as Chamber representatives nationwide gathered in Calgary recently to debate and approve policies aimed at boosting Canada’s economy.

 

Several hundred delegates were in attendance Oct. 11-14 at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s CCEC Conference and AGM to not only discuss policies but hear from several high profile political and industry leaders, including Treasury Board President Anita Anand who spoke about the economic concerns facing businesses and taxpayers, and her plans to launch a spending review to find savings.

 

“The key has to be on efficiency, process and purpose,” she said, noting the need for the government to pivot on the economic front. “There are continued lessons to be learned in terms of how we can improve. I know we have to continue to build an economy that works for everyone.”

 

Her sentiments were echoed by Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty who stressed the need for filling infrastructure gaps to meet the needs of the nation’s growing population.

 

“We require infrastructure that’s both resilient and sufficient so when increasingly frequent climate change emergencies and labour disruptions occur, we can continue to supply ourselves and our allies,” he told delegates. “Canada has a great many economic, and green growth ambitions, but only ambition matched with action results in achievement.”

 

The Canadian Chamber leader also spoke about the power of the Chamber network when it comes to lobbying the government to do what is necessary for businesses to succeed.

 

“We only accomplish so much because of our partnership with you. You, the provincial, territorial and local Chambers, and Boards of Trade, are the engines that drive responsible growth in Canada.”

 

Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher says the AGM and conference play an important role in developing policies that will benefit businesses, and in turn, create an environment for communities to prosper.

 

“These policies are valuable advocacy tools when it comes to urging both the provincial and federal levels of government to make decisions that will benefit the economy, and in turn, the places we live and work,” he says. “Having the Chamber network work as a collective group to inspire change is a very valuable asset.”

 

Cambridge Chamber policy approved

 

This year, of the 66 policy resolutions presented by Chambers and Boards of Trade nationwide, 62 were approved by 293 voting delegates on hand. The policies – which now become part of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s ‘official playbook’ - touched on the following areas: natural resources, energy, and environment; transportation and infrastructure; finance and taxation; agriculture; digital economy; human resources; as well as international and indigenous affairs.

 

The Cambridge Chamber’s policy resolution, entitled Created Systems to Provide Adequate Child-care Spaces to Ensure Parents – Particularly Women – Have Equal Opportunities to Enter the Workforce, received overwhelming support and resulting in the approval of several recommendations calling for the Government of Canada to undertake the folllowing:

 

  1. Work with provincial/territorial governments to explore all prospective ways that could increase compensation for ECE workers in effort to attract more workers into the child-care sector with the goal of reducing waitlists at licensed child-care centre, setting the stage for more parents – particularly women - to enter or re-enter the workforce.
  2. Work with provincial/territorial governments to examine all potential solutions to ensure there are systems in place, possibly financial, to ensure adequate child-care spaces are available to provide parents – particularly women – the opportunity to enter or re-enter the workforce.
  3. Recognize the critical role of private sector in delivering childcare services and advocate for a continued role for entrepreneurs and businesses to provide childcare through public debate on the subject, and through the CCC’s advocacy with federal policymakers.

 

Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored policies approved

 

Collaboration among Chambers when crafting policies that can benefit the network is key. This year, the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored two policies submitted by the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce which also received support from delegates.

 

The first resolution, entitled Review of the Canadian Tax System and Business Taxes, was approved, and called for the Government of Canada to:

 

  1. Not implement any new business taxes or increases on existing business taxation levels until a review of the current system, particularly related to competitiveness and productivity, is completed.

 

A second policy resolution, entitled Closing the National Digital Divide, was also approved, and called upon the Government of Canada to:

 

  1. Continue with broadband infrastructure investments across rural/remote areas and First Nations;
  2. To build an inclusive economy for all Canadians, ensure all financial resources allocated to increasing broadband capacity are urgently distributed for addressing the digital divide;
  3. To evaluate the effectiveness of government broadband policy in delivering connectivity, particularly in rural and indigenous areas, there should be an evaluation of connectivity coverage, quality, and adoption.
  4. Commit to businesses and citizens in rural and remote areas that necessary infrastructure to allow them access to competitive broadband speeds will be constructed.

 

Click here to see the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s full compendium of policy resolutions.

 

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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 appearing 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.

 

A variety of components are required to build a successful community.

 

Among these is a strong link to higher education, something Cambridge has been fortunate to have since its amalgamation courtesy of Conestoga College.

 

Founded in 1967 as Conestoga College of Applied Arts and Technology, it was among 22 community colleges established by the Ontario government between 1966-69 to provide diplomas and certificates in career-related, skills-oriented programs.

 

In the beginning, Conestoga College offered only part-time classes out of Preston High School as construction began on its Doon campus site in the south end of Kitchener, and by 1969 had already expanded by setting up Adult Education Centres in Cambridge, Guelph, Stratford, and Waterloo. It also began offering 17 full-time programs set up in portables at its Doon site to accommodate 188 students, with 67 of them attending its very first convocation in 1969.

 

But the college faced growing demand which resulted in the opening of a permanent campus in Guelph in 1970. Within a few years, not only did construction began on its Early Childhood Education Centre at its main Doon campus but the college also established its nursing program when the responsibility of four regional schools of nursing was transferred to Conestoga.

 

Throughout the next few decades as Cambridge expanded, the college continually added additional programs to keep pace with growing demands, to the point where it currently serves approximately 26,000 students (12,500 full time) through its eight campuses and training centres in Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Stratford, Guelph, Ingersoll, and Brantford.

 

Being designated in 2003 as one three Institutes of Technology and Advance Learning by the province, along with Humber and Sheridan colleges, opened even more possibilities for the college now that it could award degrees to students in its Mechanical Systems Engineering program and Bachelor of Architecture Project & Facility Management program. Additional degree programs were added in the years that followed.

 

“I think the college has come a long way because we have a vision, we have a purpose and we’ve been trying to get a little better,” said Conestoga College President John Tibbits, who took on the job in 1987, in a previous interview with the Chamber.

 

In the fall of 2006, he shared some of that vision when plans were unveiled for a proposed Cambridge campus to be located on a 136-acre site near Blair. According to an article published in the Cambridge Times that September, the campus was to become home to four centres of excellence with the consolidation of many existing engineering technology and industry trade programs from the Doon and Guelph campuses.

 

The cost for this venture was pegged at $47 million and would include a 200,000-square-foot building to house 1,600 students by 2009.

 

In the end, the college’s Engineering & Technology Campus opened on Fountain Street South in Cambridge in 2011. The 260,000-square-foot building – awarded a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification - not only houses innovative technology labs and shops, but the Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) which features processing lines for beverages, baked goods, vegetables, and a food testing laboratory. This 8,000-square-foot plant is a one-of-a-kind learning facility in Canada.

 

A year later the college established its Centre for Smart Manufacturing, with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, to provide students from various IT and engineering programs with a hands-on chance to work with industry partners in the robotics, automation, and manufacturing sectors.

 

In 2018, the Conestoga Applied Research Facility opened at 96 Grand Ave. South in downtown Cambridge and now plays host to the rebranded SMART (Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Recycling Technologies) Centre which made the move from the Doon campus. It now occupies 10,000 square feet of space in the historic Grand Innovations building for applied research with another 7,000 to 8,000 used to house the centre’s fully operational recycling plant.

 

“SMART Centre is all about engagement with industry and the ability for us, as subject matter experts in advanced manufacturing, recycling and digital innovation, to engage with students and industry partners to help solve industry challenges,” said Ignac Kolenko, Executive Director of the SMART Centre, in a previous Chamber interview.

 

However, the college made an even bigger investment in Cambridge when it transformed the former Erwin Hymer Group North America manufacturing plant into its state-of-the-art Skilled Trades campus.

 

The 250,000 square foot building on Reuter Drive, the former home to the BlackBerry repair centre, was purchased by Conestoga College in 2019 at a cost of $33.5 million with the aim to bring all its trade schools together under a single roof.

 

“It’ll give us a chance to have one of the most comprehensive and high-quality trades facilities in the province,” Tibbits told the Waterloo Record at the time. “This is a game-changer.”

 

The campus opened in 2022 and features more than 150,000 square feet of shops and labs designed and equipped to meet the unique requirements of trades education and training. Additional phases for the 40+-acre property are currently underway.

 

But the college’s commitment to education has also been matched by its ongoing commitment to the local community and its $1.5 million partnership with the City of Cambridge towards the creation of the Fountain Street Soccer Complex is the perfect example. The site will feature seven fields – four with natural turf and three with synthetic turf – as well as a 6,500 square-foot-service building.


“Conestoga has a long and proven history of working with our municipal partners to address local economic, social and workforce needs,” said Tibbits. “The college greatly appreciates our partnership with the City of Cambridge and with leading Cambridge employers such as Toyota, ATS and Eclipse Automation as well as with our many applied research partners and collaborators as we all work together to build a stronger, more prosperous community.”

 

Just the facts 

  • Conestoga grads contribute more than $2.3 billion to the local economy annually
  • 5,231 Ontario businesses are owned by Conestoga College graduates
  • 4.8% of Conestoga College’s alumni are business owners (5,416 businesses owned by grades).
  • Since 2018, more than 170 employers have relied on Conestoga College’s Corporate Training services to support the upskilling of their employees
  • Nearly 55% of the local adult population has participated in Conestoga’s education and training opportunities
  • The college welcomes 2,500 international students from 80 countries – largest number of students from India, with South Korea, China, Brazil, Central America, and Nigeria
  • International students now represent 20% of full-time student population
  • Nearly 80% of international students remain in Canada when they graduate
  • More than 1,500 Conestoga students participate in applied research projects annually
  • 96.6% of Conestoga grads live in Ontario, with 64.8% living in the local community

 

* Courtesy of Conestoga College

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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.

 

As dignitaries gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony of Toyota Motor Corporation’s much anticipated Cambridge assembly plant on May 6, 1986, the Waterloo Record reported that four windsocks painted to look like fish hung outside the tent where officials had gathered.

 

Called ‘koinobori’ or carp streamer, Toyota Motor Corporation’s late president Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda explained the significance of the gesture, noting the fish is known as one that fights its way, even up a waterfall.

 

“The carp streamer is used as a symbol of vitality for parents who wish good health and strong development for their children,” he was quoted at the time. “We have hoisted the koinobori here in the hope that our company will grow to become a business appreciated and respected by everyone as a whole.”

 

Nearly 40 years later, it’s clear this ‘hope’ for success has manifested as Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. continues to be a major industry and economic leader, and community partner for Cambridge and southwestern Ontario as a whole.

 

From the moment the first Corolla rolled off the assembly line at its Cambridge facility shortly before 10 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1988, the company has continually succeeded creating hundreds of new jobs over the years through the expansion of new product lines.

 

Cambridge was selected from over 40 municipalities in Canada for the plant and federal government incentives were a consideration. Former Cambridge MP Chris Speyer, quoted in an article in the Dec. 12, 1985, edition of the Cambridge Reporter announcing the news, said there were incentives in the contract to encourage Toyota to buy Canadian parts and that the provincial government would contribute $15 million over five years toward a program to train Ontario workers.

 

“I’m extraordinarily proud of our community that Toyota would choose us to locate such a major enterprise. This is the happiest day of my political career,” he told the Reporter, before describing the “tremendous positive impact” the plant would have on the local economy, noting the average salaries at that time would range from between $25,000 to $30,000.

 

“Just think of what that means to housing in our area, to shopping and small business as well as the spin-off effect by other industries locating within our area in order to service Toyota,” said Speyer.

 

The Cambridge plant was expected, in the beginning, to produce 50,000 cars a year with the capacity to reach 100,000 when market conditions permitted, providing work for 1,000 employees.

 

In a Reporter article published a year before the plant opened, it was reported that a progress report indicated it would provide 1,000 direct manufacturing jobs that would result in another 2,000 new jobs in the automotive and service industry.

 

To date, TMMC now employs more than 8,500 people across its three production lines in Cambridge and Woodstock. In Cambridge alone, its North and South plants encompass three million square feet on 400 acres located at the corner of Maple Grove Road and Fountain Street North.

 

The company, which has won numerous awards recognizing it as a ‘top employer’ and ‘greenest employer’, continues to thrive and evolve.

 

In August of last year, it marked a special anniversary when a red Lexus NX 350h hybrid electric luxury SUV, rolled off the line in Cambridge representing the 10th million vehicle produced by TMMC.

 

“Today’s milestone speaks to how far Toyota’s manufacturing operations in Canada have come over the past three decades,” said TMMC President Frank Voss in a press release at the time. “In 1988, the year we opened our first plant in Cambridge, our team members built 153 Toyota Corollas and it took over 11 years to produce our first 11 million vehicles. Today, we’re Canada’s largest automaker and leading maker of electrified vehicles, building half a million Toyota and Lexus vehicles for the North American market every year. Our world-class team members have been trusted to build some of the most popular vehicles in North America and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

 

 

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