July 7, 2020

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Chambers shine light in dark times

Biz groups say cash flow biggest worry

Loren Remillard, the president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, likes to refer to the chamber as the North Star for business.

In this unprecedented time of community lockdown and economic disruption, Remillard says the chamber must play that role more than ever.

"I don’t want to be overly dramatic about it, but for so many members, it is just dark times," Remillard said. "We are trying to be that North Star and provide some light with some guidance and direction on how they can manage through this and come out of it."

Leaders of both the Winnipeg and Manitoba chambers as well as Bram Strain, the new CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, primarily serve as a conduit, getting the urgent needs of business to elected officials and senior government staffers.

Loren Remillard, president & CEO Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Loren Remillard, president & CEO Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Remillard, Strain and Chuck Davidson, the president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, say the three levels of government are being responsive and accessible. But there are such great financial and human resource needs that no government has the capacity to fully satisfy them, they add.

For Strain’s members, the largest employers in the province, he said access to working capital is the biggest issue.

"Cash flow is needed now," Strain said. "We have heard some good things from the province and the federal governments and the city about tax deferrals. Anything that keeps cash in the hands of business versus paying it to government and then getting it back somehow… this is absolutely key."

Not surprisingly, business owners are anxious and fear for the future of their livelihoods and businesses.

Ways to support local businesses

- Just like individuals, businesses need to stay connected. And with virtually the whole world in the midst of practicing some form of social distancing, that is now so hard to do. Social media and the digital tools are a helpful way for customers to try to let businesses know that they will return when everything returns to normal.

- Just like individuals, businesses need to stay connected. And with virtually the whole world in the midst of practicing some form of social distancing, that is now so hard to do. Social media and the digital tools are a helpful way for customers to try to let businesses know that they will return when everything returns to normal.

- Both the Winnipeg and Manitoba chambers' web sites are excellent sources for businesses to tap into government support programs as the are created (www.winnipeg-chamber.com and www.mbchamber.mb.ca)

- Many businesses are making their operations available to help with virus containment efforts. In many cases support of material or human resources are needed.

- There are a growing number of private sector support funds that are cropping up. Contributions from businesses and individuals with financial resources to spare are encouraged.

- Businesses whose employees are being left in a state of uncertainty are organizing charitable undertakings which all need to be supported.

"It is heartbreaking to hear what people are saying," Remillard said. "We have worked with many of them to help them grow their businesses. Some are saying they’re shutting their doors and it’s unlikely they’ll ever open them again."

The uncertainty cannot prevent those sorts of thoughts. While larger enterprises need capital to keep things going until the pandemic is under control — and Strain said the big banks are stepping up with some relief — small businesses are concerned about their employees.

"First off, most want to make sure their employees are looked after," Davidson said.

It’s not just about de-clogging the overwhelmed Employment Insurance system. It registered 500,000 applicants last week and there is the prospect of another one million this week.

The federal government's support legislation proposes $2,000 per month for four months. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been calling for the feds to backstop 75 per cent of workers' wages so that companies can keep their workforces in tact.

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

Other than the immediate concerns about having enough money to keep operating, and to ensure the well-being and support of their employees, both chambers are asking members about their other needs.

The Manitoba chamber has hired Leger Marketing and should have survey results by the end of the week while the Winnipeg chamber will try to call each of its 2,100 members.

"This is no time to be proud," Remillard said. "We are reaching out to all members, every single one of them. We are hearing lot of suffering and stress. It can be overwhelming."

"With this crisis, we don’t know what is enough. But we do know what is not enough," Remillard said in reference to the federal government's proposal last week to cover 10 per cent of wages.

Both chambers have turned their websites into clearinghouses for links to all the support programs (even though everything is a moving target at this point).

One of the chambers’ functions is to instil a sense of community among the business crowd. While that job is tougher during the pandemic, it is more important these days.

"We don’t want to cause panic by any stretch of the imagination, but the magnitude of the impact to the business community cannot be overstated," Remillard said. "That is why it is so critical… to make sure we hear from members and communicate that to the decision-makers at all levels of government."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

Read full biography

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