Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson says the provincial needs to do a better job of giving businesses a heads up about restrictions. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson says the provincial needs to do a better job of giving businesses a heads up about restrictions. Photo: Tyler Harper

NEWS AND VIEWS: Provincial health orders raise the need for more business supports

Tom Thomson writes about the impact of restrictions on Nelson’s businesses

By Tom Thomson

Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce represents over 530 member businesses employing thousands of employees in Nelson and area. We applaud the government and Dr. Bonnie Henry for many of the provisions that have been put in place over the last 12 plus months. However, recent province-wide closures of food and beverage locations are yet another blow that some in this struggling industry may not survive.

The board of directors of the Nelson and District Chamber has called for stronger supports from the provincial government during this third wave of COVID-19 due to the resulting restrictions to business operations. Just as some businesses had started staffing up, they are now once again laying off staff.

We are requesting that the province strongly considers taking a regional approach to COVID-19 restrictions so that areas that are not being severely impacted by the increase in COVID cases are not put under the same restrictions as areas that have been harder hit. That’s not to say encourage travel, but to not penalize businesses in the regions that have kept a handle on protocols.

In addition, businesses need to be given adequate notice when such restrictions will be put in place to allow them to prepare their business and staff for further lay-offs and cutbacks. Many restaurants had put in large orders for supplies for the Easter weekend, which has resulted to an even greater negative impact on their bottom lines. The repeated and sudden nature of closures and restrictions that provide no notice for the industry to adjust staffing, provision procurement, and credit/cash flow arrangements needs a closer scrutiny.

The Chamber works closely with all sectors, but the food and beverage businesses, gyms and fitness facilities and the hundreds of employees in our area are reeling from a series of gut punches, and the latest could be the knockout punch for some that are unable to take on any further debt.

The Kootenay region of the province has done an exceptional job of COVID-19 protocols. Businesses of all type have adapted and pivoted trying to stay solvent. Case numbers have been extremely low and for that we are grateful. We truly understand the need to limit travel, which also has had serious impacts, but feel there has been a solid health and business case to utilize regional restrictions if only for these businesses. It is highly unlikely that people will cross provincial health jurisdictions to dine in. These recent three weeks of restrictions, which will likely be extended due to the increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases especially in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health districts, are likely to impose unbearable economic hardship to those businesses who have been surviving in the worst of times.

When the closures were first announced, the Chamber network and other industry organizations worked hard to find additional supports for the industry. Last week, those efforts paid off when the provincial government announced that it will provide more than $50 million to help the 14,000 restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, gyms and fitness centres affected by the March 30, 2021, provincial health orders.

The new Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant will provide affected businesses with up to $10,000 in one-time funding to help with expenses like rent, insurance, employee wages, maintenance, and utilities. The grant can also help cover unexpected costs that resulted from the restrictions, such as the purchase of perishable goods.

“We applaud the B.C. government’s action to provide additional financial support to the many businesses impacted by the circuit breaker measures,” says BC Chamber president Fiona Famulak. “Those measures have had a devastating impact on businesses across the province. We are particularly encouraged to learn that the criteria and roll-out process associated with the grant will help to ensure both established and start-up businesses have the financial support they need.”

The announcement demonstrates what can be achieved when private and public sectors adopt a collaborative approach to problem-solving. That said, we know that businesses need more help and that our advocacy efforts are not done. We will therefore continue to listen to businesses’ feedback through our most recent COVID-19 Pulse Check Survey and share the insights with government.

The Chamber has rolled up its sleeves and worked hard for all sectors, and that won’t end. In fact, we will soon be providing additional business outreach to assist with recovery.

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