Editor's note: The province recently announced the region will be moved to the Red Zone as of Monday March 8
The Bradford Board of Trade (BBT) hosted a virtual Recovery Forum earlier this week, with guest speakers from the community, including local dignitaries Mayor Rob Keffer, MP Scot Davidson and MPP Caroline Mulroney.
The event was targeted toward local businesses that have had to pivot and rework their approach to servicing customers over the past year during the pandemic, letting them know about the government supports in place and how to navigate through them.
MPP Caroling Mulroney addressed the emergency brake used on Simcoe-Muskoka this week forcing the shutdown of many local businesses.
"I know this is hard news for our community," she said, noting she has been in talks with Dr. Charles Gardner and options to discuss his recommendations for moving to Grey Zone and how it has affected the business community and options to balance while keeping residents safe.
"Small businesses in BWG have demonstrated true resilience amid COVID-19," she said. "Each small business in BWG brings life to our community and creates jobs and opportunities for our families."
She highlighted the Ontario Small Business Support Grant available for business owners in BWG, a one-time grant of up to $20,000 that will give eligible small business owners a boost to help them pay business expenses such as rent or employee wages.
Eligible small businesses can also apply for a $1,000 small business grant for the purchase of personal protective equipment.
In addition, the provincial government is also applying rebates to property tax and energy bills available through a single application process on the Ontario government website.
Those businesses struggling to pay their energy bills can apply to the COVID-19 Ontario Energy Assistance Program for a one-time one bill credit to eligible small businesses and registered charities for up to $1,500.
She spoke about the Digital Main Street Program and the need for businesses to go digital.
"We need to help Main Street businesses and consumers understand that shopping local and shopping digital can go hand in hand," she said.
The $57 million program small businesses are eligible for $2,500 to help businesses with their online platform.
"Digitially, Canadian businesses are estimated to be two years behind their U.S. counterparts," she said.
In response, the province is investing $150 million in rural broadband to help more local businesses get online.
For those who have been approved for The Canadian Emergency Rent Subsidy program from the federal government, the provincial government has temporarily paused evictions.
"I look forward to continue to collaborate with the town on how we can fully recover from COVID-19," she said, adding that the government will safely reopen once vaccine levels are high and upswing in resurgence is down.
She noted as the town continues to grow, the Bradford Bypass project will also help to create jobs, alleviate congestion and grow the economy.
BWG Mayor Rob Keffer spoke on behalf of council and their support for small businesses.
"The move to the grey lockdown really caught up by surprise," he said. "It threw us through a loop."
He spoke of the threat of the UK variant, while also aware that small businesses are not the source of the COVID cases.
"You've all gone above and beyond to follow protocol...and to protect your customers and employees," he said.
Last weekend Keffer urged Premier Doug Ford to reconsider the decision or to amend the restrictions to allow small businesses to open.
"We need to be able to know what businesses are falling through the cracks," he said. "We want to know who is not eligible for some of the provincial and federal programs to see how we can help those businesses out."
Michael Kemp with the town's economic development team made a video presentation about the ways in which the town has been supportive of businesses throughout the pandemic including a reference website, the patio program and The Harvest Market in the downtown core.
He also talked about the support available for local businesses from the town, including the COVID-19 Resiliency and Recovery Plan launched in November 2020.
"It's an ambitious plan but there are 24 objectives and 68 action items," he explained.
He highlighted the Downtown Community Improvement Program, grants that allow local businesses in the downtown core for the aesthetics of the business, planning and building fees, taxes and development charges.
The program has been extended to December 2021, with a budget of $200,000. So far nine applications have been received.
More information on the town's economic development can be found here.
MP Scot Davidson was the last to speak at the forum. Davidson used to run a restaurant for 10 years and can sympathize with all small business owners in the current lockdown.
"It is incredibly frustrating and that's why we need a path forward," he said.
He went over the federal programs available for businesses.
The Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA), an interest-free, partially forgivable loan of up to $60,000. It is a $20,000 forgivable grant due to diminished revenues. This is available through the banks and credit unions until March 31, 2021.
"The last thing small businesses needs is more debt," he reasoned, "but if you're struggling right now this is one program I encourage you to take advantage of."
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy covers employee wages of up to 75 percent, so that business owners don't need to layoff staff, available until June 2021.
The Canadian Emergency Rent Subsidy is a direct rent and mortgage subsidy of up to 65 percent of business expenses that have been restricted by lockdowns. It is available until June 2021.
"This program has increased again, I urge you to take advantage of this," he said. "Everyone is working together right now to help small businesses."
He mentioned the Bradford Strength and Conditioning gym who closed down in December, how hard it was for him to see them close their doors for good.
"That day they were moving the last of their equipment and that's just something I don't want to see any more of...it was a heartbreaking moment," he said. "I don't want to lose any businesses in Bradford, I want to be at more grand openings."
He encouraged any businesses seeking support to contact his office directly.
Michelle Eaton and Trevor McPherson from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Aaron Goertzen, an economist with Bank of Montreal and Martin Kuzma with Nottawasaga Futures also spoke at the event.
To watch the entire forum, visit the BBT website here.