Covid-19 and NewWest's Business Community
When it became obvious the Covid19 was going to steamroll across the country, flattening so many businesses on its way, the City of New Westminster immediately set up the Business and Economy Working Group, including key stakeholders in the community. Led by Blair Fryer, the city's Manager of Business and Economic Development, its focus and mission became “finding ways to mitigate or minimize the economic impacts where possible”, according to Fryer.
Cash flow was the principal concern of local business, as it became clear in the first meeting of the stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce, the New Westminster Business Improvement Associations - downtown and uptown, Tourism New Westminster, Massey Theatre Society and the Arts Council of New Westminster.
Of the working groups immediate initiatives, was providing continually updated information on federal and provincial programs for Covid19 help on the City website, www.newwestcity.ca./covid19business. Lobbying senior levels of government for immediate ways to provide relief also topped of the agenda. From the federal government, they asked for wage subsidies etc., and from the provincial government, help with property tax bills. The City of New Westminster, which has its own electrical utility was able to provide a 1% reduction on electrical bills for the rest of the year with additional relief possible.
The city also launched a number of other initiatives, including the “Support Local” campaign, also to be found on the city's website, which lists ways that citizens can help their local business community. As Fryer acknowledges, small business is the heart of the economy, and it's incumbent on government and citizens to support them. Buying gift certificates and providing positive testimonials on social media are two ways people can help.
The city has also re-deployed some staff to check in with local businesses, to see how they are doing. If nothing else, it at least gives business owners the knowledge that they are not alone and the city has them in their sites.
The city's website, InvestNewWest.ca, has been re-tooled to deal primarily with issues related to Covid19. It's a place where businesses can put up their profile along with information as to whether they are open or closed, and how they may have re-jigged their operations for functioning in these times. Fryer also advises people to subscribe to the newsletter.
The city has also been working with police and other city staff to set up a business safety and security plan. With business areas more vulnerable to vandalism, it is hoped these “eyes on the street” will mitigate potential vandalism.
As for the future, Fryer says: “Covid19 is not like a light switch that you can turn on and off and everything is going to be fine and dandy tomorrow, you've to to go through a process.” He admits that it's hard to see what the future might be, but if people follow the protocols, and the orders of the provincial Medical Officer, we'll get though sooner than later.
He has a lot of optimism about the abilities of entrepreneurs to find their footing in the “new normal”. As he says: “One wonderful thing about entrepreneurs is they tend to think differently than the rest of us. They tend to see opportunity where you and I may not see it or are just maybe blind to it. They tend to see outside the box, and the things that you may consider crazy and not be brave enough to take the first step, they are already four or five steps down the road and that's where success comes from. This is where the originality and creativity of entrepreneurs really gets to shine during a crisis like this.”
By: Susan Millar