CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce held their second of a series of virtual town halls as a part of small business month on Thursday, Oct. 29.
The focus of the second town hall was supporting small business through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chamber invited a number of local representatives from different levels of government and organizations to talk about ways that they had worked to support small businesses during the pandemic.
Representatives included Greg Pietersma, Executive Director of the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce, Denis Lapierre of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Business Advisory Branch, Candy Pollard of the Cornwall Business Enterprise Centre (CBEC) and Martha Woods of the Eastern Ontario Training Board (EOTB).
Much like the businesses they support, these organizations explained that they too had to pivot as a result of the pandemic. For the Chamber, in some ways, their mission remained consistent, namely serving as an advocate for local business.
“The thing we are most proud of here at the Chamber is that we were open throughout,” said Pietersma. “That was something that was of big importance to our board was that we be here for businesses when they needed us.”
Lapierre explained that during the pandemic, his ministry shifted to coordinating with businesses to support frontline workers, primarily through the Ontario Together Portal, which, amongst other things, helped provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to frontline workers and aggregated a list of businesses who produce PPE.
The panel talked about the resiliency they had seen from small businesses during the pandemic.
“Some of the main street businesses we have that have impressed me the most, like the Happy Popcorn Company, and Brunch on Pitt,” said Pollard. “They opened up and changed completely. They figured out how to get people to order ahead. It was ‘how do I get my products online. How do I get people to know I have these things.'”
Pollard had explained how during the pandemic, they had offered seminars to small businesses to help show them how to manage cash flow during the pandemic, and continue advertising.
“Through it all, I saw people who wanted to open a new business or had already opened and wanted to continue that new business,” she said. “I’ve been totally amazed at how versatile and how people have adjusted almost on the spot.”
Lapierre said one of the most important ways that a business could pivot during the pandemic was through online accessibility. He pointed to the Digital Main Street project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping businesses create online stores, and promote online advertising.
On Oct. 30, the Chamber will be holding another virtual seminar on tourism with Archie’s Family Golf Centre being a keynote speaker.