FERGUS – Not one business in Centre Wellington closed as a result of the pandemic. In fact, a couple opened according to the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce.
As a result of the collaboration between the chamber, the Township of Centre Wellington, business organizations and residents, the community spirit of Centre Wellington has been the driving force that supported the community through this troublesome time.
“Throughout this, things have changed quickly,” said general manager of the chamber, Dana Burdenuk.
“Our team here at the chamber has been working quickly to make sure we were proactive, knowing what was coming out, getting into the hands of members as soon as possible keeping members in touch with each other.”
Throughout the pandemic, Burdenuk said supporting local businesses was the top priority. To get the message out, the township implemented initiatives proposed by the subcommittee which includes spreading the word to support local on radio and distributing magnets that read ‘support local’. A sign that reads 'support local' on the trestle bridge between Elora and Fergus is currently in the works.
“There’s been a big effort to encourage the community and remind everybody that we’re here for each other. I do think the community spirit was a big part of the success of being proactive,” said Burdenuk.
The township witnessed quick initiatives such as the closure of streets in downtown Elora and Fergus during certain times to create patio space for restaurants. The county also provided a $1 million grant program to provide loans to businesses and help them reinvent themselves.
For the pandemic, the township created a business recovery subcommittee to its Economic Development Task Force to solely focus on business revival.
The subcommittee, composed of the township, business owners, the chamber, the mayor and local leaders met weekly from April to June and then bi-weekly in July to collaborate and develop strategies and action plans.
One of the recommendations from the subcommittee was a $50,000 Support Local Centre Wellington Business Recovery Grant Program by the Township of Centre Wellington that helped 18 businesses receive $3,000 to create a marketing platform or patio setup.
The chamber also developed a COVID-19 Business Resources Portal that included business support, a return to work safety toolkit, and webinars.
One of many people working with the chamber is local businessman Peter Mohr, who owns Shoetopia Footwear in Fergus and is also a member of the Business Recovery subcommittee.
“I want to help out as much as I can. I’m a lifelong entrepreneur,” said Mohr who also runs the Entrepreneur Council created in 2019 to help struggling entrepreneurs.
In April, Mohr was part of a webinar series created by the chamber called THE NEXT 90 DAYS that included strategic planning and a focus on what businesses should do once they’re given the green light to open.
“As we were closed, we were trying to say, ‘hey don’t bury yourself in the sand here. You need to start planning on how you’re going to reopen and have a successful reopen,’” said Mohr.
“A lot of the talk was more about how things are changing, how to deal with the change and what you need to do to prep yourself up in a mindset that’s going to take two-five years to get out of.”
Mohr says he volunteers with the Economic Development Taskforce because he believes that in order to have a strong and thriving business, the community needs to be strong and thriving.
“The vibrancy of a community revolves around the success of its businesses. And if the businesses are failing, the community fails,” said Mohr.
“Small businesses are the backbone of this country and we need to help these small businesses.”
With every business having a unique approach on how to get back on their feet, Mohr said the chamber helped businesses connect and made sure they were able to communicate with others so their issues could be identified and solved.
He said businesses succeed because of the strong chamber, because of the business community and because business owners care for each other.
“Our role is really collaborating with the township, with the other support organizations which include the Wellington Waterloo Community Futures, Business Centre Guelph-Wellington, the BIA. The township is spearheading a lot of that with economic development,” said Burdenuk.
The chamber also made sure to recognize its business community by hosting an award of excellence event in a drive-in movie format at Grand River Raceway with a 40-foot inflatable screen, LED projector, live MC and prerecorded winner videos. The event saw 150 participants in 80 cars.