Those looking for a sign that Peterborough’s business community will survive the fallout from the unprecedented measures implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19, take heart — a group of local business leaders is meeting daily with just that at top of mind.
Known collectively as TeamPTBO, the group — members are Community Futures Peterborough executive director Gail Moorhouse, Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA) executive director Terry Guiel, Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development CEO and president Rhonda Keenan, and Peterborough Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Stuart Harrison — met in person on Monday (March 16) and will regularly meet — virtually — moving forward.
Also a member of the group, although not represented at Monday’s meeting, is the Innovation Cluster Peterborough and the Kawarthas, headed by CEO Michael Skinner and president John Gillis.
“We’re identifying everything that needs to be done now, from lobbying to advising levels of government … we’re going to continue to do that and it will be probably be long term,” says Guiel, noting the impact of the government-ordered closure of restaurants and bars is particularly concerning to him, as downtown Peterborough is home to more than 100 eateries.
“Take a place like Riley’s that has upwards of 80 employees alone, and then you add in cleaning staff, security, and DJs — it’s significant. When you multiply that by all the bars and restaurants, that sector is a significant economic driver for the City of Peterborough. Thirty-two per cent of the commercial tax base is downtown alone. Its health is vital to the community.”
TeamPTBO, notes Guiel, has been in regular communication with representatives of all three levels of government regarding short- and long-term needs as they’re identified. That, he says, will continue to happen.
“They need to know what the business community needs now and is going to need. They need to know what the (local) strategies are and where to put any money as it becomes available. There’s going to be lots of red tape. We need to be creative, especially when the all-clear comes and we’re going to have to try to recover. We’re being pro-active.”
One tangible result of the group’s meeting was Monday’s issuance of a survey to business owners throughout the city and county, asking for information regarding immediate and projected challenges and needs. The survey is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/COVID-19BusinessSurvey.
“We don’t want to create the wrong solutions that are only going to make things worse,” explains Keenan of the need to compile and understand that information.
“It’s to see what solutions we can help with and how we can work with all levels of government to say ‘This is the type of need our local businesses have’ so that they can build effective programs once we move into the recovery phase.”
Keenan says, as of Tuesday afternoon, more than 160 survey responses have been returned.
“We want to be able to be responsive when we’re in a position to make a decision, and that means having information to give it to the right people so programs that aren’t helpful won’t put in place. We want programs that are actually addressing the needs of business right now.”
“We know there is never going to be enough (money) to address every single need, but we want it to be targeted and have the most effect that it possibly can when it’s made available.”
In addition to TeamPTBO’s efforts to stay ahead of the curve on behalf of the business sector, Community Futures Peterborough announced Tuesday (March 17) that it is offering each of its 147 clients the option to defer their April 2020 loan payment.
“Our mission statement is to foster a vibrant and sustainable community by supporting business development, so we’re being pro-active during this unprecedented time by offering our clients payment relief,” says Moorhouse, noting 65 per cent of Community Futures’ portfolio, which represents a total investment of $9 million, is comprised of hospitality and retail businesses.
“We are working with our TeamPTBO partners on developing assistance wherever possible. The opportunity to postpone the April payment is one option that we hope offers some comfort to our clients during this time.”
For his part, Harrison says “having the same message” is the goal.
“We’re not all trying, within our own purview, to figure things out … we’re trying to figure things out as a group,” he says.
“Everybody has their own constituency. We’ve all got our own clients. Speaking as a common voice, there’s a lot of impact there.”
“But I don’t want anyone thinking we’ve got this figured out. The federal, provincial and municipal governments, individual business people, employees, agencies … we’re all trying to figure it out. What we’re trying to figure out is what is the best information we can give to all levels of government. What does our business community need?”
“Everyone is wanting that information locally, provincially, and federally,” Harrson explains. “Minister (Bill) Morneau has announced $10 billion dollars’ worth of funding, but (the federal government is) still looking for the most efficient ways to get that money into the hands of people who need it — employers and employees.”
From where she sits, Mayor Diane Therrien terms TeamPTBO’s efforts “a great initiative … it shows how in times of crisis our community always comes together.”
She spoke to Guiel on Tuesday and, on Monday (March 16), a conference call involving herself, TeamPTBO members, and Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef took place.
“What I’ve been saying is we don’t need to bail out airlines,” she says. “We need to help the backbone of our economy which is our small- and medium-sized businesses.”
“The challenge is municipalities are so limited in their funding and their capacity to provide assistance. We’re looking at what can do locally, but also continue to advocate higher levels of government about the need to support our entrepreneurs.”
“Everything’s changing, even hourly, but we can lay the groundwork … suggestions and a framework for how we’ll be able to come back from this, which we will do.”
Mayor Therrien’s optimism is wholly shared by Guiel and it’s based on past experience.
“Our business community is very resilient,” he says. “We survived the flood. We’re going to survive this.”