The federal government is announcing more than $2.8 million in targeted support towards Manitoba businesses hard hit by the coronavirus — estimating it will help at least 5,600 workers get back on their feet.
Funding under the initiative will be provided through 23 different business networks across the province — such as the Manitoba Trucking Association, the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce and the Manitoba Music Industry Association — to support local startups and mature companies with sector-specific projects.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Winnipeg South MP Terry Duguid called it "critical funding that will inevitably be a lifeline for so many struggling businesses."
"It’s important that government step in during this time when our community is struggling," said Duguid, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of economic development and official languages, via video conference. "But governments don’t have all the answers, and fortunately we have organizations and networks that do. That’s why we’re empowering them to come up with the best way forward."
Duguid said the initiative is part of Ottawa’s Throne Speech pledge to create more than one million jobs to restore the economy amid the ongoing fallout from the pandemic, with financial backing from the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund created for businesses in Western Canada. "This funding adds on top of the support we’re giving directly to individual businesses," he added.
As the province experiences a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases, with the highest per-capita infection rate in the country, Manitoba businesses have currently been blanketed under sweeping pandemic restrictions. Amid widespread shutdowns, Duguid said it’s "more than important for us to provide them with immediate assistance so they can stay afloat and ride this storm out."
Recent figures from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business suggest only 36 per cent of firms in Manitoba are back to making normal sales, with over half unable to be fully staffed.
"That’s why we’re so grateful to be getting this kind of boost right now," said Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, one of the non-profits receiving the funding.
Davidson said the chamber will put the funds towards creating "a comprehensive business survival guide for the pandemic," to be shared widely with companies across the province. It will also allow the organization to provide information and services that include business continuity planning, workplace preparedness, and information on safety requirements, he added. "Leading to improved resiliency, productivity and competitiveness."
"Most importantly," he said, "we can help our businesses transition to a digital marketplace — which is perhaps the most valuable thing in a COVID-19 environment."
"These kind of services are often as important as revenue and liquidity for the success of a small business," said Dayna Spiring, CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg. "And this funding means we can gather important data to provide to our businesses, so they can make informed decisions about their recovery."
For CentrePort Canada, a company that manages global investment opportunities for the 20,000-acre trade zone next to Winnipeg’s airport, CEO and president Diane Gray said the funding is "incredibly important to offset the damage done by COVID to our supply chain channels."
While they’ve seen increasing interest from external markets in the past few months, Gray said, "we’ve needed this kind of fund in order to support and capitalize that development activity to secure our province’s future."
"At the end of the day, it’s initiatives like this that will allow us to stabilize Manitoba’s economy, and in the future, grow our economy," she added.
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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