On March 18, 2020, Niagara’s mayors and Regional Chair came together to launch the Niagara Economic Rapid Response Team (ERRT). Upper levels of government-mandated the closure of all businesses and the subsequent provincial and regional state of emergency due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Local municipal leaders recognized the detrimental impact these closures would have on local businesses and the regional economy and took action to mitigate the effects as much as possible.
Through this team, Niagara’s economic development professionals have been collaborating throughout the pandemic to connect Niagara businesses with the supports and resources they need to survive and recover.
Niagara is united in its support of the business community during this unprecedented crisis and will foster collaboration, innovation and resilience as we seek to safely re-open. The ERRT is committed to offering long-term, ongoing support to help ensure Niagara’s businesses remain supported and connected throughout this process and will re-emerge prosperous and sustainable.
The 13 municipalities across Niagara have each taken measures to relieve the burden on local businesses in their communities. These activities include deferrals of taxes and utility fees, increased online advisory services, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) waiving various penalties and interest on outstanding accounts, and launching shop local campaigns promoting businesses that are open and offering modified services.
Additional stakeholders like the Chambers of Commerce, Niagara Workforce Planning Board, and Employment Ontario providers have been, and will continue to be, critical partners in assuring that communications about new programs are widely shared and businesses’ challenges are being brought to the forefront. They are part of a larger network of community enablers that will play an active role in the ERRT recovery planning process and implementation.
The Niagara Economic Recovery Plan (the “Plan”) and its identified actions are reflective of the responses and input received from businesses through the survey responses, input from further by industry and sector consultation, as well as the results from corporate calling efforts.
The Plan will focus on local initiatives to address the needs of our businesses and connect them with resources to provide further assistance. This will include both strategies to re-open safely and to build more resilient businesses by learning from changes realized as a result of the pandemic. The plan is centred on encouraging and supporting businesses, investment, and job creation in order to proactively recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Plan has been developed in a way that aligns with local economic recovery efforts, as well as broader, province-wide priorities. This alignment has been obtained by engaging the local area municipality (LAM) staff responsible for economic recovery planning and through participation in the GTA Economic Development Alliance.
The GTA Economic Development Alliance is recently formed group, composed of 20+ municipalities that have come together to support economic recovery across Ontario. Current members are Aurora, Brampton, Burlington, Durham Region, Georgina, Halton Hills, Halton Region, King, Markham, Milton, Mississauga, Niagara Region, Oakville, Richmond Hill, Toronto, Vaughan, Whitchurch-Stouffville, York Region, the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO), as well as the regional investment attraction agency Toronto Global.
Based on the initial reporting through the first COVID-19 Business Impact survey, the impact of the pandemic was projected to be close to $576.3 million within the first 3 months. It is recognized that for many Niagara businesses, the road to economic recovery will be long and difficult.
The Accommodation and Food Service and Tourism sectors were especially hard hit, being the first to be mandated closed and experiencing the highest reported staff lay-offs and revenue losses. Retail and Arts, Entertainment and Recreation were also hard-hit and experienced a significant loss in revenue and high lay-offs. An unprecedented number of people have left the workforce as a result of lay-offs due to COVID-19. There are significant workforce and labour market challenges that lie ahead to combat the negative effects of the pandemic.
The Niagara COVID-19 Business Impact Survey – Part 2 was distributed to approximately 10,000 businesses from May 15 until June 1, 2020, mainly through direct email.
This survey’s questions centred on recovery, with questions that address the aid programs that businesses accessed, the areas where they require further assistance, the largest barriers to re-opening, and the like.
The survey yielded responses from 1,382 business across all 12 municipalities in Niagara. The responses are representative of all industry sectors in Niagara’s economy and respondents reported employing 47,456 staff.
The industry sectors where respondents reported the highest number of employees included accommodation and food services; arts, entertainment and recreation; manufacturing; retail trade; and, health care and social assistance. Respondents reported total layoffs of 17,950 staff across industry sectors, with 58% being full-time staff and 42% being part-time staff.
Through the survey, businesses reported a combined loss of $425.11 million in revenue. It is apparent some industry sectors were affected disproportionately. Arts, entertainment and recreation and accommodation and food services reported the highest revenue losses.
Although many businesses reported accessing a number of aid programs, it is apparent that additional supports are required to assist them in re-opening and recovering. Respondents reported the highest needs as property tax deferrals, promotion and marketing assistance, deferrals on utilities, and advocacy to other levels of government.
We acknowledge the overall responsiveness of policymakers that introduced support and relief measures for many businesses and employees impacted. As the Province looks to re-open parts of the economy through the Re-Opening Ontario after COVID-19 framework, the ERRT has shifted its focus and efforts to recovery planning.
The proposed Plan is a series of actions that will create a positive investment climate in Niagara and help its local economy by supporting local businesses. Specifically, the plan is centered on the following 3 main themes: Research and Information, Advocacy, and Resilience.
In order to help move the economy forward, a series of actions will be taken immediately, while other measures will be actioned subsequently. The Plan uses a phased approach that will follow the Province’s framework for re-opening. Guidance will be taken from the Province to guide how we move between phases. Input from the local Medical Officer of Health will be sought to help advise decisions locally on how to move between phases as well.
The Plan will be updated regularly and will likely change as the COVID-19 emergency evolves, as more information becomes available, and as the Province of Ontario updates its Emergency Orders. This will not be a linear progression through the framework, as any sharp increase in the number of cases would require movement back to previous phases.
The proposed progression of this Plan is as follows: