Capital Context: Reopening Safely – and Stronger
The Ottawa Board of Trade’s (OBOT) primary role has always been as an advocate for businesses and an influential economic partner to support our mission to build community prosperity. Over the past eight months, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic – the worst global health crisis in more than a century – our strong voice for business has been more important than ever.
Many small and local businesses have been particularly vulnerable during this pandemic. Those in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality sectors, or those without the resources to withstand a long closure, have been the hardest hit. Businesses in office complexes and in the downtown are also struggling. With many employees now working from home, they no longer have a built-in clientele every day to purchase lunch and to shop at nearby retail stores.
But we have also seen a remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. This is a city with a rich tradition of talented entrepreneurship. There are opportunities for local entrepreneurs to harness their resilience, skills and talent to pivot their current business or create new ones.
We have been inspired by countless stories of adaptability of local businesses. A print company that has successfully retooled its production machinery to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Retail businesses that have ramped up their online presence to provide more purchase options for customers unable to come to their stores. Restaurants opening new patios over the summer and also making a significant financial commitment to invest in PPE to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.
The pandemic has also provided an extraordinary incentive for local companies to accelerate the important digital transformation many had already begun before COVID. With remote work and online buying now becoming the norm, digital transformation that would normally have been achieved over several years has been accomplished in months.
Thanks to government support and community leadership, businesses have been given the opportunity to accelerate the process to digitization. For example, the Recovery Activation Program helps businesses execute an end-to-end digital transformation that increases productivity and evidence-based decision making. The Digital Main Street Program provides businesses with access to one-on-one support and funding to enhance their online marketing capability. The Trade Accelerator Program gets businesses from zero to export ready and opens up entire new markets. Entrepreneurs have access to resources and funding to enhance their business like never before.
We can do this. We are stronger together.
We should all be grateful for the diligence of our local companies and their commitment to reopen safely, mindful of public health recommendations. The most valuable lesson COVID-19 has taught us is that there is an unbreakable connection between physical health, mental well-being, and economic prosperity.
To support the recovery and help local businesses instill consumer and workforce confidence, OBOT partnered with several national partners to launch the People Outside Safely Together [POST] initiative. This program consists of a simple checklist and declaration for businesses to declare they are committed to conducting business safely.
As a business advocate OBOT works with decision makers at all levels of government to provide recommendations on policies and programs that inspire growth and sustainability. I am pleased to report that we experienced an unprecedented level of communication and collaboration between business and government in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Governments have listened to and responded to the needs of business during these challenging and uncertain times. Working together at this level will be critical as we move forward.
However, the success or failure of our economic recovery relies on the members of our community at large. Citizens need to do their part to protect our small businesses. In addition to adhering to health and safety recommendations to protect public health, each of us also has a role in re-igniting the local economic engine by using the power of our consumer dollars.
I encourage every single person in our community to examine ways they can increase their local buying. Otherwise, we risk losing forever, many of the precious businesses that have served us well in the past and can do so again in the future.
The federal government has delivered by taking a leadership position and providing a financial safety net to businesses affected by this crisis. We will continue to advocate for smart policy making that supports a growth agenda and spending targeted to the most vulnerable in our community. But we can only maintain this level of government spending for so long. We must build on the lessons we have learned in the last few months and focus our energies on those actions and behaviours that will allow us to live with COVID until a vaccine is created and distributed.
Moving forward, all of us – as citizens, entrepreneurs, investors and politicians – need to understand that it is the private sector and free enterprise that will ultimately lead the way to economic recovery. We have many challenges to overcome. And many opportunities to explore. Now is the time to realize our full potential and work together to become a community with thriving businesses that protect our environment and commit to enhanced health and prosperity for everyone. Absolutely everyone.
We can do this. We are stronger together.