After a summer of perseverance and adaptation, Chatham-Kent businesses will soon be moving into a fall season that could bring a few other hurdles.
The phased reopenings that began several months ago, along with funding from various grants, have made a difference, economic development director Stuart McFadden said.
Officials have been helping business owners in the meantime and showing them how to navigate the different programs.
“We’ve had a lot on the go since COVID,” he said on Friday. “It’s been very busy and it’s all focused on helping people get through the challenges.”
One area where some businesses face challenges, though, is hiring, particularly in the industrial and service sectors. McFadden said finding people with the right skill sets has proven difficult.
He added there are still some operations that find themselves struggling, noting his department will do what it can to help.
Expanded patios have proven to be popular with customers in an effort to maintain physical distancing. However, with cooler weather on the horizon, McFadden expects there will be an impact, given that indoor dining has a smaller capacity.
“Patios have been a great solution while the weather was great, but it’s going to be a challenge when we still have a 50-person limit inside of buildings when the snow is flying and the cold breeze is blowing,” he said.
“When you take the patios away from people, it is going to have an impact on some of these service businesses, just due to the size of their current facilities. You have other buildings that are quite large and 150 people inside of them would not be a challenge at all. … They’d be able to social distance.
“That’s a provincial mandate at this point in time, whether the province is going to look at that to increase the number.”
He said factoring in such initiatives as the Digital Main Street program and the task force recovery plan, there has been more than $430,000 provided for area businesses.
“They’re understanding how to do business differently,” he said. “I’ve heard the reception from the local community has been phenomenal, coming out and supporting them.
“Another big initiative is the buy local campaign. If we continue to support our local businesses, it’s going to go an awful long way to making sure they recover.”
Given that the situation with the pandemic is constantly evolving, McFadden expects there will be further updates concerning economic development efforts over the coming months.
He reiterated the need for the community to continue to listen to the advice of public health officials and keep Chatham-Kent’s active caseload relatively low.
“We need to be respectful. As long as we follow the guidelines out there, there is no reason as to why we cannot do business safely,” he said. “From what I’ve seen and heard, everyone is doing their absolute best.”