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Bradford Board of Trade adapts through challenges presented by COVID

Despite not being able to host many of thir regularly scheduled networking events this year, the BBT has been supporting local business throughout the pandemic, and finding new ways to connect
Some of the BBT members at last year's BBT Gala from left, Gwen Cottingham, Natasha Leskiw, Jackie Kozak, Ryan Shapcott, Donna Katz and Jennifer Harrison. Miriam King/Bradford Today

On Friday evening, the Bradford Board of Trade (BBT) met for their annual general management meeting online to reflect on the year past, and look ahead at plans for the future. 

It's no secret that many businesses have been hard hit throughout the pandemic, and the BBT has been working hard to keep local business owners informed and supported through various online resources, virtual events, webinars and conference calls. 

The BBT aims to connect the community both personally and professionally through educational and networking events in an effort to support local business. 

"The pandemic really hit us hard because what we were able to do in terms of revenue was hard," explained BBT VP of Public Relations Jennifer Harrison.  "While trying to support businesses, we as as an organization are affected by COVID as well."

"It did hit us hard but thankfully we have Mark [Taylor] (BBT Secreatary) and a supportive chain that we were able to continue to provide service," added BBT President Tina Morrison. 

Despite not being able to host many of their scheduled events, the board was able to successfully put on their annual golf tournament this past August, with social distancing measures in place that included a to-go lunch, and online silent auction. 

Last fall, they organized the 'Meet the Candidates' night at the Bradford Community Centre, featuring a Q&A with York-Simcoe's federal election cadidates. In 2020 they have also been able to host virtual events with MPP Caroline Mulroney and MP Scot Davidson so local business owners could have their questions and concerns surrounding the pandemic addressed.  

“It's definitely been challenging, but I think we’ve done a great job so far with what we’ve had and what we are able to do," noted Morrison. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the BBT have been updating their online web portal, keeping business owners up to date on the latest government regulations and financial support oppportunities. 

"When COVID hit, we were all caught offguard," explained BBT Chief Administrative Officer Tricia Barrett-Butler.  "There was an immediate and desparate need for a place where information could be collected."

She noted the portal has been a large undertaking, but the board didn't want anyone to miss an opportunity to get the help they needed. 

"We want everyone to succeed through this pandemic and are hoping to help everyone weather this storm," said Barrett-Butler. 

In an effort to help members, the BBT suspended all membership fees for 2020. 

In early May, the board also launched a PPE procurement portal. 

"We incorporated our partners and partnered with the town, with Scot davidson and Caroline Multroney, the county, CLASS, CHATS and the food bank to procure PPE for businesses," said Barrett-Butler.

One of the board's largest events of the year is the upcoming BBT Awards Gala which recognizes outstanding businesses in the community. The gala takes place every fall at a local venue, but this year, the event has been moved to an online format.  

"We’re rolling with circumstances and it will be a virtual event," explained Harrison.  The Virtual BBT Awards Gala is taking place Friday Oct. 30. at 7 p.m. 

In terms of membership and public relations, Harrison says the BBT has been focusing on building relationships, creating their narrative, and establishing processes. She highlighted the relationships formed with the media and council in order to showcase their value within the community.  

She along with Morrison and Barrett-Butler have been working with the theme of innovation, and showing the community how the board is a diverse, modern organization who is responsive and supportive. 

The meeting concluded with the introduction of three new board members: Tracey Evans of Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning, Salim Bardai owner of freshii Bradford, and Gary Assis from Village Media. 

Morrison thanked the group, along with the town and economic development department for their continued support of local business. 

“We would not be able to do this without your support, and we look forward to being your voice and advocate."

To learn more about the BBT, visit their website here

Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is the Editor for BradfordToday and InnisfilToday. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats.
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