In March 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the impacts were felt worldwide. In Ontario, the ensuing lockdowns and restrictions put businesses in incredibly difficult circumstances when they were ordered to close with little assurance as to when they could re-open again.
In the weeks following the announcement, the Newmarket Economic Development team were receiving more calls and emails on a daily basis than it was possible to respond to. Recognizing the potential long-term effects on businesses and in order to ensure businesses received a response to their concerns during this time of crisis, the Newmarket Economic Development team launched the Business Assistance Concierge (BAC) program. The program was modelled off of emergency responses led by the BC and Alberta Economic Development Associations in response to wildfires. The program was adapted to accommodate the requirements for isolation and the Newmarket community. The main offering of the BAC was a crisis response centre where businesses could be paired with a dedicated advisor from the Town or Chamber who could provide guidance on funding programs and restrictions.
The program was developed to assist small and medium businesses in the Town of Newmarket to understand and feel confident in applying for funding supports, understanding the requirements for re-opening and lockdown restrictions and supporting businesses through an unprecedented economic time.
The primary challenge was to determine how the BAC could provide highly tailored support in a timely manner for the unprecedented number of businesses contacting economic development while training 9 re-deployed staff members from across the organization and the Newmarket Chamber. The initial training model used a customer service centre model where staff were provided a question tree that could be used to help businesses sort through available programs. BAC staff used this tool to recommend which programs businesses might be eligible to apply for. The BAC team met weekly to discuss new programs, any questions that had come up with clients and how the delivery of the BAC could continue to evolve. As restrictions and programs became more complex, BAC team members took the initiative to create a jot form survey that simplified the program delivery substantially. All client data was entered through an automated submission form in the TieIt CRM. The Business Development Specialist and the EDO also provided further guidance when BAC team members were unsure or needed clarification on programs.
Over the course of the year project assisted over 133 small businesses multiple times beginning in April 2020. Many of these businesses connected with their BAC liaison over five times during 2020 and 2021. Of the 133 businesses that Town and Chamber staff assisted during the BAC’s operation, only 3 businesses reportedly closed as of August 2022. Businesses who chose to respond to the BAC follow-up survey in August of 2021, indicated that they were somewhat or definitely confident that their business would continue to operate (87%) and 57% were anticipating a better upcoming 6 months than the previous 6 months. Additionally 57% participated in local grant programs and 87% participated in provincial emergency relief-funding programs. While the program was a short-term emergency relief program aimed at supporting businesses with immediate support, its long-term sustainability as a program lives on in the data that was collected using the CRM and the continued economic impact the participating businesses are having in the community. Economic Development staff have been checking back in with businesses now that restrictions have been lifted. This touch-point allows Economic Development staff to ensure not just emergency support but the long term economic health of Newmarket’s small businesses.