“I think it is important to know that there is that optimism in our business community”, Mulmur’s Mayor Janet Horner said at the October 8 Dufferin County Council Meeting, “to know that there is that glimmer of hope and optimism is really encouraging”.
A presentation was made regarding the county’s Business Retention and Expansion study to the Dufferin Council. Information based on interviews and surveys with local business owners conducted in late-August and early-September was shared by Economic Development Officer Karisa Downey. It was shown that as the second wave of COVID was approaching many business-operators were nervous and uncertain, but had a positive outlook towards the future.
The County of Dufferin Economic Development, in partnership with Orangeville Economic Development and Shelburne Economic Development, surveyed 142 local businesses from twenty different sectors through a variety of different matters. Karisa Downey highlighted one of the things they found from their in-person visits was how business owners “wanted to see someone’s face” and “have a conversation with people”. It was also mentioned how ‘Zoom fatigue’ is being felt across the Dufferin business community.
One of the insights was 64% of the surveyed businesses were able to remain open. This includes businesses that were mandated to close but remained open by adapting their business models to the restrictions. This encompasses tactics such as outdoor-pickups and delivery service models. “I think we’ve done well because so many of our businesses are essential and didn’t have to close,” said Grand Valley’s Deputy Mayor Philip Rentsch. “In a rural society, as a general rule, if you can make it it’s because there is a demand for it.”
35% of respondents had to close their doors, but have reopened since. Hair salons, gyms, and photography businesses rely on people being around each other for extended periods of time, making it impossible to adapt to the restrictions. Two respondents had closed their business permanently, and it was acknowledged that this number does not represent all that has left the Dufferin business community. Restaurants and retail establishments that rely heavily on an in-person experience have been hard-hit. Economic Development Officer Karisa Downey explained how they interviewed some business owners in the heart of the pandemic, back in April and May, “who were frustrated that they were ‘falling through the cracks’ of the financial benefits that were being provided by federal or provincial government”. Survey data showed that the rental subsidy was not useful to many businesses. That being said, many business owners utilized supports such as CERB, CEWS, and CEBA.
As far as employment numbers are concerned, Karisa Downey shared, “The number of employees prior to COVID-19 vs. the number of employees currently is pretty close”. She mentioned that the region’s unemployment rate is 0.6% higher than last year, relative to the GTA’s 6% increase. “Overall a pretty good story here”.
Similarly, 20% of the businesses involved in the study were looking to hire in the next three months. This is in comparison to 8% of Dufferin businesses looking to lay off employees. Karisa explained that after examining the data further, this was mostly seasonal layoffs that would occur regardless of the pandemic. Businesses in need of employees were looking for those with manufacturing experience and who can perform general labour, in addition to those with customer service skills. Organizations are also searching for individuals who are computer-literate while being knowledgeable in areas of social media and video production.
Survey data displayed that, on average, businesses were operating at 75% of their maximum capacity. On a similar note, it was said that the average Dufferin business’s monthly revenue in August was at about 75% of where it was last year at that time. A big challenge experienced by businesses across all sectors is supply chain issues. If one cannot obtain products or materials, it becomes difficult to fulfill sales and operate at capacity.
Another difficulty businesses were shown to be experiencing as a result of the pandemic is people not being comfortable participating in the same activities they once were. This results in issues getting employees back to work and filling vacancies, in addition to lost sales due to customer anxiety. Businesses having to develop new skills in order to respond to changes was another hurdle to cross, especially for those now competing in a digital landscape.
Economic opportunities presented that the Dufferin business community can take part in is the ability to take part in digital markets, innovate the way they do business, and develop new product lines. Other suggestions included encouraging local tourism for those already living in Dufferin and harnessing the rising demand for rural. The presentation states people are more interested in living and visiting rural areas now more than ever before.
References – ‘Glimmer of hope’ in Dufferin business community before second Wave
- Dufferin County Council October 8th, 2020 – Council Meeting Recording
- Dufferin County Council October 8th, 2020 – Agenda
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