by Mayor Nancy Peckford, with contributions from Deputy Mayor
As municipalities across Canada have navigated these unprecedented waters of COVID-19 in the last few months, North Grenville has been no exception. In a matter of weeks in late March, we had closed our municipal building, shut down parks and recreational facilities, transitioned to virtual Council and staff meetings, and begun creating a contingency plan for the months ahead.
However, despite these changes, many municipal operations continued without a hitch. Waste collection, water and wastewater treatment (requiring 24/7 staff support), road maintenance and rehabilitation, planning and building applications, as well as bylaw education and enforcement, have all proceeded. Last week, Council convened its first virtual public planning meeting, in addition to what have been regular online meetings of Council since early April.
In Grenville County, we have been fortunate to have been spared the worst of COVID. Our long term care and nursing homes have remained COVID free (up to now), with employees going above and beyond. The pressures on our local and regional hospital and health care systems have been reasonable.
But the challenges for our local business community have been extreme. And, by local, we mean any operating business in any part of North Grenville, from large franchises on CR 43 to the smallest enterprises in hamlets, rural areas, as well as agricultural operations. The historic disruptions and/or modifications to “business as usual” has significantly changed how many enterprises now operate, and the future for those still shuttered or transitioning.
Even for most essential services, such as grocery stores, where sales have gone up, there are still huge challenges. The significant costs to sanitize stores hourly, monitor traffic patterns in establishments, protect staff through plexiglass barriers, masks, increased wages, shorter hours, and other measures, not to mention the high labour costs to sort and offer curbside pick up service cannot be underestimated.
Many other non-essential businesses have invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in developing online stores and amplifying their web presence – all to maintain their customer base and get their products and services out the door.
That’s why Council felt strongly about the creation of a local business support program, inclusive of all businesses. In early April, the Deputy Mayor and I invited the four business networks, the Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement Area, North Grenville Business Builders (NGBB) and Eastern Ontario Women in Business, to appoint representatives to a working group to define the elements of a business support plan.
On the advice of the Municipality’s new CAO, Gary Dyke, who led the creation of the $1.4 million COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan, $150,000 was set aside for the purposes of equipping and supporting North Grenville’s businesses during this transition period.
Will it save a local business that is already struggling? Not likely. These are modest dollars, given what is a modest municipal budget. But, used well, they can make a difference. This is especially true for local businesses that are not eligible for subsidies or loans through the federal programs.
Over the past months, we have been frustrated with federal programs that are not always reaching businesses in smaller rural and urban communities who, quite frankly, could benefit from it the most. We have made these concerns known to federal and provincial decision-makers and will continue to.
Regardless, the business working group and Municipality’s economic development team have prioritized the following:
- An enhanced online Local Businesses Directory with hours and links – www.loveng.ca;
- Webinars from seasoned experts on repositioning business for recovery, maximizing web tools, insurance and financing options, as well as protecting your mental health. Topics are defined by the current needs of the business community;
- The development of a year-long professional marketing and promotions strategy targeting both local and external customer bases, working collaboratively with the Regional Tourism Organization 9 (RT09) and the County;
- An “NG bucks” gift certificate to be administered by the BIA and Chamber of Commerce;
- Buy Local Partnerships – The Municipality will work with industry partners (school boards/ hospitals and other institutions) to strongly encourage local procurement;
- PPE and Safety Support – Where feasible, the Municipality will facilitate the acquisition of protective gear and related products for local businesses.
An additional $100,000 has been set aside for a dedicated COVID-19 grant program that would enable local businesses, if they meet the criteria, to be reimbursed for up to $1,000 for additional accounting, legal, or other professional advice as they navigate the ever-changing COVID-19 terrain.
We are fortunate in North Grenville to have so many options to shop locally – from groceries, hardware, vehicle maintenance, garden centres, clothing, pharmacies, among so many other things. In many ways, it has offered critical protection for our community throughout COVID-19. Residents can meet most of their basic needs here without going to the city where community contagion has been much higher.
Nonetheless, we recognize that the next year will be extremely bumpy for many establishments, and, sadly, some may not make it. Applying an innovative and proactive approach to creating a conducive environment for businesses to adapt and thrive in this new environment is the least we can do.