As the country grapples with a second wave of COVID-19, businesses are bracing for a different second wave — the end of government supports.
On Tuesday (Oct. 6), Venture Kamloops executive director Jim Anderson spoke to city council about his team’s latest efforts to help local businesses amid the pandemic, at which time he raised concern for when supports run dry.
Anderson said after various relief programs are gone — among them the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, wage subsidy, commercial rent relief — businesses will need to stand on their own.
“I think that if we were to look at sort of a tipping point for when businesses that are hanging on might have to make a really hard decision, it’s when the wage subsidies stop,” Anderson said.
“I think that there are more businesses than any of us know who have taken advantage of that and that has been a real stop-gap for them. And, I think, when those subsidy measures come to an end, that’s going to be a real reckoning point. So, we need to prepare for that. We need to keep working with businesses toward that point because it can’t go on forever.”
In an update to council, Anderson said the pandemic has had a “definite effect” on the city’s economy. Those feeling the brunt include the hospitality industry, companies requiring personal interaction impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, businesses that were hurting prior to the pandemic and newer firms without resiliency planning in place.
Anderson said well-established businesses with business plans are more likely to be able to weather the storm.
He said Venture Kamloops, which promotes economic development, has helped businesses in recent months to navigate aid programs and to adapt to operate in a world in which the virus is expected to be amongst us for some time, including online storefronts and updated point-of-sale systems.
Anderson said that due to the city’s economic diversity, the toll has not been as bad as it could have been. While some businesses have struggled, others have taken a bad situation and turned it into an opportunity.
Anderson said businesses that took early steps to adapt have fared better than those that waited. Other businesses found themselves to be in higher demand due to the pandemic.
KTW has heard of bike shops, pool companies and RV dealerships with increased demand, for example.
“There is a whole section of the economy, that if they apply themselves, they can do well,” Anderson said. “They can make ends meet in the short term and they can do well over the long term and we’re hoping to bring everyone along as much as we can …”’
He said he has seen increased interest from companies new to town. On average in previous years, Anderson said, between three and five delegations toured the city to determine fit. Lately, however, Kamloops has seen between three and four such delegations per month, including one this week.
Anderson added it is a “great time” for startups because timelines and pressures normally applied have loosened and entrepreneurs are looking for opportunities. He cited real estate and industrial service and supply as examples.
“There is a genuine advantage to a company that is forward-looking, forward-thinking and ready to plan for the future during this time,” Anderson said.
As for those hanging on with government aid, Anderson said his gut feeling is that the Christmas season will tell the story. If COVID-19 restrictions impact Christmas shopping, it could lead to problems for local stores, he said. Conversely, if nobody is travelling, Christmas shopping might be more localized and would result in a “great Christmas.”
“It’s a matter of being prepared for both kinds of scenarios,” Anderson said.