The pandemic has wreaked havoc on everyone’s lives and livelihoods. The local businesses that had to close down due to the social distancing measures, have suffered a lot during this time. With the economy slowly opening up again, the businesses are having a hard time finding employees to come back to work, and people to come shop or eat at their places.
“We really didn’t expect that this was going to be as hard it was to get back to normal, so a lot of businesses thought that ok, now we are supposed to open up and you would think it was as easy as just opening up but no one had anticipated how much it would impact when the businesses were closed,” said the village’s Economic Development Officer Lorie Watson adding that a lot of communities were finding the slow back-to-work tough.
Watson also indicated that a lot of employees who were on the subsidy, are reluctant to go back as they are getting paid more than they would if they were working. Some others have babysitting issues or even not feeling safe enough to go back to work. This is making it difficult for employers to find people to come back to work.
”I am working right now with WorkBC to see if we can figure out some sort of a matchmaking program or something along those lines. What we are doing is we are just trying to collect data of what types of jobs or the jobs that employees or businesses are having trouble filling and see if there is a way so we can help them fill those positions. That way they can be open regularly,” said Watson especially because the province-recommendation states that having businesses open for longer hours would be the best practice right now. Having a store open just for a few hours would mean people crowding in the stores during those short windows which would prove to be completely counter-intuitive to the social distancing measures that need to be followed.
Watson informed that the service industry, which was already having a tough time before Covid, is hard hit by the pandemic. “Some of the businesses are looking for people with specific skill sets so cooks is the number one – trying to find a cook for restaurants in town – oh that is tough. And then they will get a cook and they will move away.”
Currently, Watson and her team are reaching out to the 245 businesses with active business licenses, to see if they need any assistance. She expects to complete the calls in the next two weeks after which she will submit a report to the council to work around any potential solutions for the local businesses.
Watson informed that there was still a lot of confusion among the businesses she had surveyed so far, as to the best practices and what needs to be done. Things like the mandatory safety plan that needs to be posted on the business’ door and on their social media or website, or the non-mandatory plexi installation inside the stores are some of the things that the businesses are still unclear on.
Another major issue is the demand for services and products. Watson mentioned that a lot of people are no longer wanting to or needing to go in to the stores. “Covid really pushed online shopping. So right now it is just about finding people – find me people to come shop here or find me people to come work here so that’s mainly what I am hearing right now.”
Watson is insistent on ensuring that businesses know the several options and aid packages available out there. “I have been trying to get the businesses to know that we are here to help. We have Tracey Payne on board, who is a grant writer provided by the Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT) and I have been trying to push that out to business owners. So if there is anything they want to apply for, she can do it for them.” However, Payne hasn’t had anyone approach her and Watson thinks it might be because people are still unaware that the service is free. “They don’t have to pay anything. So if there is any program or grant or anything they want to apply for, Tracey can do it for them for free.”
Watson wants the businesses to know that those who applied for provincial or federal aid and didn’t get through, still have options out there in the form of other grants and aids. All they need to do is reach out to Watson and she will find a program matching their needs which she will then forward to Payne to help with the application process. “I think letting the businesses know that we are there for them and Tracey Payne is there for them is important. As long as you have a business license and you do business here, we will do the best we can to help you,” she concluded.
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