Businesses forced into ‘drastic changes’ due to COVID-19

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Businesses across Wellington County have been forced to make drastic changes and adapt to current measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19, a report prepared by local economic development officials indicates.

The province ordered the mandatory closure of all non-essential workplaces on March 24, with additional non-essential workplaces added on April 4.

To provide a picture of essential and non-essential businesses in Wellington County, a comparison of the provincial non-essential/essential workplaces and the Wellington County Economic Development Business Directory was conducted, explained economic development director Crystal Ellis in a staff report presented at the April 30 county council meeting.

While non-essential workplaces are closed to the public, some continue to operate if staff are able to work remotely at home, or if the business can offer services online or by phone with proper pick-up or delivery options.

However, the report notes, there is currently no data to show which non-essential workplaces are still operating under these new arrangements.

“Therefore for the purposes of this comparison, we have only identified if businesses are identified as essential or non-essential,” the report explains.

The report indicates Wellington County is evenly split 50-50% between essential and non-essential workplaces.

“That’s probably due to the fact that we have a lot of agricultural-based businesses,” noted councillor George Bridge, who chairs the county’s economic development committee.

The report shows the county’s top three essential workplace sectors are agriculture and food production, general services, and health care and social services. The top essential general services provided locally include automotive repair, veterinary services, bed and breakfasts, and pharmacies.

Centre Wellington has the most workplaces in Wellington County (40%) and therefore has the highest number of essential (22%) and non-essential (18%) workplaces.

In an effort to monitor the progression of COVID-19 on local business, the county’s economic development department released a business survey on March 23, inviting employers in the community to express concerns and provide feedback on what aid they require.

“Results for the survey highlighted the immediate impact COVID-19 had upon our business community and the need to assist these businesses,” explained Ellis in the report.

Responses were received from 93 Wellington County businesses and included a range of sectors. The responses indicated impacts are being felt heavily by the retail and hospitality industry. The majority of businesses that completed the survey were businesses with under 20 employees. The breakdown of employee numbers shows 59% of respondents have one to four employees, 22% have five to nine employees, 14% have 10 to19 employees and 5% have 20 or more employees.

When asked what best described the impact of COVID-19 on their business:

– 53% indicated the impact to be very significant and growing fast;

– 39% indicated the impact as significant and steadily increasing; and

– 8% indicated that the impact was noticeable but not significant, or limited so far.

Businesses were asked what measures they were likely to use to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey responses showed that 63% said they would close the business temporarily, 33% would have to lay off employees, 18% had contracts cancelled, 28% required emergency loans, 28% would reduce hours of operation, 13% would shift to flexible hours and work from home.

“Members of the Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus (WOWC) released similar surveys and information is being compiled to show a regional view,” the report notes.

A second business survey coordinated by economic development staff in the WOWC region was conducted from April 15 to April 26, 2020.

“The information collected will assist with our local understanding of the situation and contribute to the regional view and recovery response,” the report states.

“Staff will work with member municipalities and business support partners to assist and collaborate on initiatives that will help our businesses and communities through this challenging time,” states the report, which was received for information.

“I’m looking at when we can get the economy rolling again and economic development will be a big piece of that,” said Bridge.