As the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic brings with it a new government-imposed shutdown, a silver lining of economic relief is on the way for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Waterloo Region council last week approved $1.1 million in funding for two projects – a COVID-19 safe ambassador program for SMEs and a personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 retrofit program – meant to support businesses in the wake of the pandemic.
Coun. Helen Jowett says she expects businesses will feel the relief of some pressure and build confidence in economic recovery with the launch and expansion of these programs.
“We’re partnering with business, public health and, of course, education here. It’s more of a program so that we can help build confidence for customers and staff so that businesses can demonstrate that they’ve gone through the program and are using safe practices. There’s some confusion as to which practices need to be followed during which phases of different lockdowns, if you will, so this is our way of helping to engage and educate, and certainly help build confidence. It’s been reviewed by our own Public Health [and] we have the potential of reaching 5,000 SMEs in our region. It’s going to run from May right ’til the end of 2021,” said Jowett.
“We’re hoping that we’re relieving some pressure for businesses as best we can, building confidence in economic recovery and customer and employee confidence is critical.”
Run in partnership with the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), a global public health and safety organization, the safe ambassador program will see up to 50 postsecondary students from health programs hired and trained to act as ambassadors. They will be tasked with educating businesses and answering questions to help guide them through best practices and safety based on the colour-coded stages of reopening. The program is free and voluntary for businesses.
Jowett says when businesses bring in an ambassador, they will receive a sticker at the time of completion which can be put in the window to show owners, employees and patrons that they have a reason to be more confident in the way the business tackles safety.
The PPE and COVID retrofit program, in partnership with Explore Waterloo Region, will get a $200,000 investment which will add to an already established fund for businesses in need of PPE. This will provide businesses with compensation for the necessary increase in costs associated with the purchase of PPE, cleaning supplies, and other COVID-19 related retrofits.
“What we’re trying to do is recognize that businesses have really struggled but on top of that, all the PPE expectations, we’re hoping that we can remove some of those pressures… so businesses can apply be compensated for the additional costs that have been required to buy PPE and other COVID-19 related safety measures,” she added.
Jowett also said that businesses will soon be able to get rapid testing kits from their local chamber of commerce, which is expected to add an additional level of confidence in employees and customers.
All programs are expected to launch in the near future.
More information about both programs will be updated on the region’s website as it becomes available.