Locally owned and operated businesses are the social, cultural and economic heart of a community. Unfortunately, this past year has left many unsure if they can continue. In this weeklong series, we look at the vital role local businesses play in our communities, the financial pressure they are under due to COVID-19 and what we can do to help them survive.
Local businesses are the backbone of the economy for any community, especially in Niagara, says George Spezza, the region’s director of economic development.
But more than that, they support communities in many other ways that their more corporate-driven cousins can’t. They are the ones who are sponsoring the local sports teams for kids. They are the ones who always ante up for charity, whether it be through financial fundraisers, sponsorships, or by offering in-kind services.
“They are, in many ways, the lifeblood of the local economy,” Spezza said. “They support local business associations and groups.”
But most of all, they create jobs in the community, he said.
“They very much direct the lifestyle and livability of our communities,” he said.
The business community in Niagara is made up mostly of small- and medium-sized businesses that employ local people and are invested in whichever of Niagara’s 12 municipalities they call home.
“So much of the business they do goes back into the local economy,” he said.
And Niagara’s economy has been hit hard, with gross domestic product (GDP) shrinking by $1.2 billion in the past year from the historical high of $17.2 billion in 2018. Unemployment went from a pre-pandemic 4.8 per cent in December 2019, to 13.2 per cent in May 2020. As businesses began to reopen over the summer — when Niagara came out of lockdown — that rate dropped to 6.8 per cent. Then, the province went back into lockdown last Dec. 26. Subsequently, the unemployment rate jumped back up to 11.6 per cent.