As the re-opening of the local and provincial economy seems stymied by the continually growing spread of COVID-19, the City of Guelph is announcing new ways of doing business thanks to the Our Food Future program sponsored by the City of Guelph and Wellington County. Meanwhile, Guelph’s political leaders are looking for more help from the Province.
First there’s Seeding Our Future, which is a new program that will offer micro-grants to new and existing food businesses in Guelph and Wellington. The grant is $5,000 and non-repayable through the Innovation Guelph’s Circular Food Economy iHub (CFE iHub) and it comes with 30 hours of expert advice from mentors and industry specialists, as well as a spot in a 12-week education program about business resilience and sustainable practices. The education component has a value of about $5,700.
“While we are invested in growing and nurturing Our Food Future for the long-term, we know that action is needed now,” said Anne Toner Fung, chief executive officer, Innovation Guelph. “Providing immediate support to new and existing food systems companies and organizations locally is a critical part of how we are supporting our community’s economic recovery.”
Approximately $1.6 million of the Smart Cities challenge funding is being used to create new initiatives to help local food development and sustainability, and support the goals of creating a circular food economy.
Applications for Seeding Our Future opens on May 27, and closes on June 30. To apply, click here.
The other new program is R-Purpose Micro and R-Purpose, which is actually two different initiatives out of the Provision Coalition. R-Purpose Micro is a 12-week virtual program with a weekly two-hour sessions that is designed to help food and beverage companies increase efficiencies and decrease operating costs and waste. The course will be offered three times over the next 18 months starting June 5. The full R-Purpose program will offer up to eight companies the chance for one-on-one consultation.
“Grow Back Better, and programs such Seeding Our Food Future, R-Purpose Micro and R-Purpose, will help provide food businesses in our community financial sustainability as they recover and work towards supporting our local circular food economy,” said Kealy Dedman, the DCAO of Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise. “With innovation, collaboration and a community mindset we can create a circular food economy that supports the immediate and future needs of Guelph-Wellington.”
While Guelph groups and agencies are taking new initiatives in the name of sustainability and resiliency, Mayor Cam Guthrie has issued a letter to Premier Doug Ford asking for some more consideration for existing businesses on behalf of his Task Force on Economic Recovery.
“While we recognize that many businesses have been permitted to re-open as part of Phase 1, our community continues to search for innovative solutions to allow more businesses to resume safe operations and further stimulate economic recovery,” Guthrie wrote in the letter.
Specifically Guthrie is asking for the Alcohol and Gaming Commissions of Ontario (AGCO) to allow restaurants to expand dining areas into sidewalks and laneways to guarantee social distancing. He’s also asking that professions that are able to practice social distancing be allowed to re-open, businesses like professional photographers who might still be able to deliver their services safely.
“While we recognize that many businesses have already been permitted to re-open as part of Phase 1, our community continues to each for innovative solutions to allow more business to resume safe operations and further stimulate the economy,” Guthrie wrote.
The letter was copied to Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner, who spent his day at the Legislature trying to rally more provincial assistance for small businesses. Schreiner specifically cited the Neighbourhood Group, which operates five restaurants in the Guelph and Waterloo area; they’re working with two of their landlords on rent relief, while two others are refusing to participate.
“This is a model business for how to treat workers and the environment while supporting the local community. I’m so disappointed that the Ford government is refusing to make a simple change that will help keep them and other small businesses in business,” said Schreiner.
According to a press release, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says that half of all small businesses will not be able to pay their June rent, and 22 per cent fear eviction even with the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, which despite recent changes is far from universal.
“We’ve been asking for rent relief since March. The closer we get to June 1st, the more stressful things are getting and the more business failures we will see,” said Laura Jones, CFIB’s executive vice-president. “We’re begging governments to move quickly to create additional help outside of CECRA. […] We would now like to see government increase the forgivable portion of CEBA [Canada Emergency Business Account] which would go a long way to cover the CECRA shortfall.”
Schreiner called for an temporary freeze on commercial evictions as a temporary solution, and the minimum that the Provincial government can do. “The Premier’s threats to landlords will not matter at the end of the day if small businesses get kicked to the curb. He should use his power to save small businesses today,” he said.