For small businesses looking to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 one word comes to mind more than any other: confusion.
“There’s been confusion with some of the government programs,” Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce President, Tammy Leslie said. “None of them are easy to administer from a business perspective.”
Programs like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans, and rent subsidies were rushed into place to help prop up struggling businesses; however, the ever shifting guidelines and updated programs have made it difficult for business owners to do everything right.
“It’s the bureaucracy that’s really killing it for small businesses — and I’m not sure big business is doing any better,” Leslie said.
“Certainly back in the spring, and now it sort of feels like it again, everyone is just trying to save their business at this point. I think the government was trying on the other side to give money where they felt like there was a chance to help save businesses. That was good, but I think there’s a lot of fear now that it’s going to blow up in everyone’s faces when they start looking at the paperwork.”
Leslie said another looming problem is the upcoming T4 and T5 season. Businesses will be preparing T4 slips for their employees soon, and those T4s will now come with substantial reporting requirements around subsidies that businesses received.
“Getting through T4 season is going to be a huge endeavour, never mind tax season,” she said.
Throughout the pandemic, the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce has worked to sift through the confusion and provide local businesses with resources and tools to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chamber Executive Director Mark Drysdale said that one positive aspect of the pandemic has been opportunities for collaboration at a regional level.
The Ladysmith Chamber is part of a task force of regional organizations under the name Buy Local Cowichan. Organizations like the CVRD, Economic Development Cowichan, Tourism Cowichan, and all regional business association and chambers of commerce have pooled their resources to help businesses in the Cowichan Valley.
“That was a huge benefit once all those groups came together because we weren’t doing all that same bunch of work to get the same information out to all of our different members,” Drysdale said.
In June, the Chamber launched a pair of economic development websites: investladysmith.ca and tourismladysmith.ca. Both sites were designed to attract investment and economic activity to Ladysmith prior to the pandemic. An unforeseen benefit of the sites is that they were able to accommodate a COVID-19 business directory of what businesses were open, and what their operating hours were.
The Chamber has also been active at the provincial level. All Chambers of Commerce in B.C. are part of the BC Chamber of Commerce. The BC Chamber held their annual general meeting and policy conference online in May, and has put out a variety of surveys to inform policy positions for their 2020-2021 policy manual.
BC Chamber policy positions have led to the extension COVID-19 temporary layoffs from 13 weeks to 16 weeks, a PST rebate for purchases of heavy machinery and equipment, the BC Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant, a provincial sick-pay plan, and a ban on commercial rent rate increases.
With all the talk of vaccines, and targetted lockdown measures, the Ladysmith Chamber is advising their members to stay safe and take care of their health first and foremost.
“Stay safe and really pay attention to what the provincial health officer is saying,” Drysdale said.
“As long as we can keep the numbers down with the protocols we brought in
The Ladysmith Chamber is offering a Digital Economy Response Program that will help their members harness the power of technology to take their businesses online. The program will be offered in partnership with Innovation Island. The Chamber will host an information meeting on via Zoom on December 3 at 10 a.m..