In BWG town council meeting on Tuesday night, Mayor Rob Keffer and council members received an updated report from the Office of Economic Development on the town’s COVID-19 Business Support Programs launched last month.
There were three components to the program, designed to help businesses get by during the COVID-19 crisis and emergency closures:
1. Deferral of CIP (Community Improvement Plan) Loan Repayments for 1 Year.
2. Free business consulting and assistance with Federal and Provincial Government programs, provided by Nottawasaga Futures.
3. The BWG Emergency Business Sustainability Fund, which made available a total of $250,000 in $5,000 and $2,500 grants to address the immediate financial needs of businesses forced to close their doors during the pandemic.
Under the CIP relief program, there were six businesses facing loan re-payments in 2020, with an average annual installment of $2,100 each. All payment due dates have been pushed to 2021, when each business taking advantage of the deferral will have to pay on average, $4,200 each. All six businesses were appreciative of the deferral option, the report noted, and most, if not all, will be taking up the town on the offer.
The free business consulting and assistance program not only provided information on emergency programs offered by other levels of government, but advice and assistance to businesses interested in building a robust online presence and economic platform.
“Thus far, we have had seven businesses utilize our consulting program,” reported Martin Kuzma, CEO of Nottawasaga Futures. “The sessions included sitting down with a business coach and discussing a particular business ‘pain point’ (three businesses), as well as four businesses looking for information on available COVID 19 support programs, and funding requirements. We have also had an additional three businesses looking/applying for working capital loans through the Nottawasaga Futures program.”
Participation in the program was less than expected, council was told, but Nottawasaga Futures will continue to promote and offer the free consulting services.
The BWG Emergency Business Sustainability Fund (EBSF), set up to provide $5,000 grants for storefront businesses and $2,500 grants for full-time home-based businesses hit hard by COVID-19, received a total of 91 applications, six of which were received after the deadline.
The first phase of the program is now completed, with 90 percent of the funds allocated, council was told. The remaining 10 percent will be allocated by May 22, upon submission of final receipts from the businesses.
The program was handled by Nottawasaga Futures, which approved 57 applications – 43 of them from storefront businesses, 14 from home-based businesses. As of May 12, nineteen of the businesses have received their final disbursements and 38 were waiting to be processed.
A total of 28 applications were declined, because the businesses were ineligible: solopreneurs operating without a business licence, new businesses that could not demonstrate a 30 percent loss in revenues due to COVID-19, multi-level marketing businesses, community groups and charities, or mortgage and insurance agents operating as home-based businesses.
Instead, they were referred to the Pathfinding Service of Nottawasaga Futures, and offered guidance in applying for other relief programs.
Nottawasaga Futures is now working with approved applicants to distribute the final 10 percent remaining in the fund, by June 1 at the latest. The town will be billed $5,000 for the administration of the Fund by NF, which leaves a total of $16,250 still to be disbursed.
Of the 57 businesses approved, 44 responded to a survey on the program. Over 95 percent of respondents rated the application as “4 or 5” out of five stars; 100 percent said that the staff at NF were helpful in assisting them through the process.
Kuzma noted the program was well-received.
“With the speed in which the town moved to provide the funding, the relief for many small businesses will be felt immediately,” Kuzma wrote. “These funds will help small businesses to keep the lights on and keep the ‘doors open’ once the mandatory lock down is lifted, with some much needed cash flow.”
Deputy Mayor James Leduc was impressed with the work of the town and NF.
“As council, I think we’ve done a fairly good job to make sure we’ve taken care of our business community and residents,” he said.
“I fully agree. I think it was a great initiative,” said Michael Disano, Manager of Economic Development. He thanked NF for their efforts in administering the program. “They did a fantastic job.”
Coun. Gary Baynes agreed, noting the main objective of the program was to act quickly, to help local business owners.
“We set out to do something quick, to get money in their hands quick,” said Baynes. “I certainly sit here and say we did the right thing… We got ‘er done.”
Coun. Peter Ferragine said he was happy the program was put in place, but hoped that only businesses who really needed the money applied and that no one took advantage of the funding.
“I am hoping they (the business owners) appreciate what was done for them and the right businesses are the ones that came forward,” he said.
Leduc noted that the program wasn’t just about “giving money away”, but about helping the business community. “It was also about being there for businesses,” he said. “We are with them every step of the way.”
Mayor Rob Keffer noted that although there was some initial criticism of the town’s grant program, municipalities like Bruce and Halton Region are now looking at BWG as a model for similar programs in their own communities.
“In a way, we led the way and it’s good to see other municipalities following suit,” the mayor said. “Thank you to the Nottawasaga Futures for working so quickly and rolling this out. It really went quite smoothly.”
The report also noted that the town had given $5,000 to CONTACT community services, for its COVID-19 Community Flex Fund. The money helped provide emergency support to seven families, but $3,574 remains of the original allocation.
Council was told that the funds remaining will be transitioned to the Urgent Needs Fund of the United Way, to continue to provide assistance for local families in need.