As the COVID-19 pandemic continued into its second year, Burlington companies needed proactive support, access to resources, and communication with business organizations to assist their recovery. Recognizing the need for a larger role in advocacy, Team Burlington – including Burlington Economic Development, Burlington Chamber of Commerce, Burlington Downtown Business Association, Aldershot Village BIA, and Tourism Burlington, created the Burlington Economic Recovery Network (BERN).
BERN brings together stakeholders and business leaders from across Burlington to develop an economic recovery strategy following the COVID-19 pandemic, while advocating for resources that businesses need from all levels of government. The purpose of BERN is to create one voice to advocate for our business community, while being accessible to companies so that any business approaching a Team Burlington partner can receive the assistance they need. The BERN committee structure includes a Chair, Executive Directors from Team Burlington organizations, City of Burlington representatives, and leaders from major employment industries across Burlington. Sub committees are formed for each employment sector, hosting discussions with leaders to understand challenges faced by businesses and to identify potential solutions through coordinated BERN efforts.
BERN is effective in facilitating discussion between companies, local government officials, and business organizations in Burlington on the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the supports businesses need to mitigate them. BERN invited Halton Region’s Associate Medical Officer of Health to attend BERN meetings to provide insight into the pandemic and steps businesses can take to keep customers and staff safe. Having the opportunity to connect with stakeholders and businesses through BERN was important to directly hear how public health measures were affecting their business operations and identify resources they need to help subsidize those impacts.
BERN’s advocation for resources to accelerate a business’ digital strategies led to the successful application of Burlington’s Digital Service Squad. Through the Digital Main Street program, 200 local businesses were supported. In response to higher levels of government proceeding slowly with critical support for businesses, BERN was a key player in Burlington’s Safe Restart program too. The grant supported companies with a grant of up to $2,500 to purchase personal protective equipment or renovate business spaces to meet reopening guidelines. The Safe Restart program directly resulted in $240,481 granted to 153 businesses across the city, supporting them as they navigated the pandemic while still serving our local community. After listening to detrimental impacts in the hospitality industry, BERN helped our city’s restaurants through the Summer Patio Program. The updated application process waived all fees, increased access to public lands for larger patio spaces to serve patrons while being physically distanced and extended the patio season.
Another method of financial relief for businesses that BERN developed was the COVID-19 Property Tax Deferral Payment Program, approved by Burlington City Council in March 2021. Local businesses unable to pay their property taxes by the current scheduled dates due to financial challenges from the pandemic could apply to defer tax payments under a pre-authorized payment plan.
While the pandemic evolves and businesses move towards recovery, BERN is evolving as well. The committee continues seasonal meetings to discuss recovery progress made by Burlington’s businesses, as well as planning for long-term economic sustainability. There are still challenges facing businesses due to long-term impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, including staffing shortages and financial challenges, so the BERN team will continue to proactively support our business community to ensure Burlington companies can succeed.