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If businesses plan on weathering the pandemic’s economic storm, experts suggest they move beyond reinventing the wheel.
After months of uphill COVID-19 recovery, new figures from Statistics Canada’s Survey on Business Conditions indicate revenue increases have stalled, business optimism has come to a standstill and independent firms are worried they won’t last the year.
But while provinces like Ontario and British Columbia are shown to be more likely to create innovative solutions to "pandemic-proof" their businesses, Manitoba appears hesitant to reinvent.
About 29 per cent of all surveyed firms in both B.C. and Ontario said they’re modifying their workspaces as a result of COVID-19, with 22 per cent in B.C. adding they would increase online sales capacity and 12 per cent in Ontario saying they would diversify their supply chains.
That’s compared to Manitoba — nine points behind both provinces and six points behind the national average — where 20 per cent businesses said they’d be willing to modify operations.
"For a while now," says Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, "the thinking was actually getting through the pandemic before looking outward to innovative solutions."
"It’s definitely changing," he said. "Only time will tell though whether these changes — seen through e-commerce, in deliveries and other such measures — will remain momentary, temporary or become permanent."
Polling data, however, shows a propensity for online sales in the province remains downhill.
Seven points behind the national average, 11 per cent of Manitoban firms polled in July said they would increase capacity for online operations and only six per cent said they’d diversify supply chains.
"We were definitely already at a bit of a disadvantage compared to other provinces," says Bram Strain, CEO and president of the Business Council of Manitoba. "Governments like Alberta’s were much quicker to act — providing tax breaks, incentive measures and such programs faster than we did. That definitely helped them more than us."
"What I think businesses are struggling with most now is the moving target around what ‘normal’ in the future is actually going to look like," he said. "They still don’t know how exactly they can innovate when what they’re currently doing can quickly change again."
A firm’s individual industry and size will also impact the desire to innovate, suggest Statistic Canada’s sector-to-sector comparisons. Health care and manufacturing, in contrast to retail or food services, for example, polled more likely to diversify their reliance on single-supplier solutions.
Part of this is that consumer confidence remains "a tenuous factor," says Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.
There’s a difference between regaining customers’ trust and rebuilding it altogether, he said, "And I think it’s a bit of both."
"The reality is, if you’re still unwilling to find new solutions or move online, you’re going against what people are used to now," he said. "Inevitably, then, you will be left behind."
Meantime, findings also revealed that minority-owned businesses appear disproportionately less confident about their future.
Just under half of all LGBTTQ+ respondents said they will not be able to maintain business operations for up to 12 months, should conditions remain unchanged. About 40 per cent of First Nations, Métis and Inuit-owned firms, 35 per cent of immigrant-operated and 18 per cent of those owned by people with a disability, said the same.
"At the end of the day," said Remillard, "businesses aren’t monoliths. They’re people.
"And if people are slow to adapt or simply don’t want to change, one person’s decision to wait for ‘normal’ to come back is different from another’s — and that’s OK."
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.
Updated on Friday, August 7, 2020 at 9:44 AM CDT: Fixes byline
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