When it became clear in mid-March that the impacts of COVID-19 on the business community would be both immediate and dramatic, like many chambers of commerce the concerted focus of the Burnaby Board of Trade (BBOT) became advocating for a wide range of business supports, informing and educating businesses on how to access these resources, and listening to our community to learn what more we could do to help.
Early on, even as many of the immediate assistance measures were still being implemented, we turned our attention to the future and began to look forward to recovery. We explored what our community’s recovery might look like and what role our chamber could best play in leading our community’s return to its previous health and prosperity, albeit in a new and perhaps greatly changed environment.
As a first step, I contacted our Mayor, with whom we have an excellent relationship, to engage him on this Task Force as his support and participation would be essential to ensuring we had the strongest Task Force membership and the most impactful outcomes.
The Mayor immediately agreed and I quickly put together a group of 14 other individuals to comprise the Task Force membership. When considering the Task Force members I purposely sought individuals who represented the breadth of our community, not just our business sector. In the end, the Task Force membership included senior representation from both large and small businesses, academia, non profits, local government and labour unions, and was better for it.
To ensure a professionally executed process, we engaged the services of a dialogue facilitator and created a 10-week meeting and breakout process to achieve what would usually take at least six months. This work would be supported by a Secretariat comprised of the Facilitator, a Senior City Staff Member and myself and a Chamber colleague. We knew this exercise would not be inexpensive, but we quickly secured sponsorship from a number of members to fully cover the costs of the entire process.
Through a series of well-structured meetings and breakout sessions, and a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work by the Secretariat, after four weeks we were able to release a series of “Quick Starts,” which were relatively easier measures we could start to implement quickly in the areas of funding for and access to personal protective equipment (PPE), the creation of more patio space for hospitality businesses facing reduced capacity, encouraging the City to grant quicker permitting for retailers to use outdoor space, and the creation of and easier access to more child care spaces to enable parents to return to work.
The Task Force then focussed on examining other, longer-term solutions to help businesses. Although we understood that many of these solutions could require funding from various government levels, or corporate engagement, to succeed we felt it was important to be realistically ambitious in our thinking.
As we approached the conclusion of the deliberations and it became clear that the outcomes were going to be very diverse, we were keen to create a brand identity to tie them together underneath the umbrella of the Burnaby Board of Trade. This led to the creation of the “Burnaby Centre for Business Recovery and Resilience,” a combined virtual and physical entity housed within the BBOT that would execute the Final Action Plan outcomes, part of which would be to offer training and skills development, access to technology solutions and support in adapting business models to the new economy.
As part of this Centre, and an example of an early action from the Task Force’s final report, we are launching a Digital Development Assistance Program with our local Universities where students will be allocated to local businesses to assist in bolstering their digital presence, be that implementing social media marketing, improving websites, or setting up online e-commerce stores.
This process has definitely positioned us as THE recovery partner for the Burnaby business community, has helped strengthen our relationships across the City, and will have a huge impact in our community’s ability to return to our previous health.
Paul Holden is president and CEO of the Burnaby (BC) Board of Trade. The outcomes of the Burnaby Business Recovery Task Force can be found at bit.ly/BurnabyTaskForce.