COVID-19: St. Thomas EDC is there with support for businesses, albeit it’s more emotional in nature right now


city_scope_logo-cmykSean Dyke, CEO at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., admits he is feeling a little handcuffed right now.
We all know the feeling as we settle in for the long haul in the battle of wits against the coronavirus.
We talked with him earlier in the week and in the intervening days, it seems the COVID-19 playbook has been completely amended.
We started the conversation on a positive note in that construction is continuing on the Element 5 plant in the Dennis Drive industrial Park.
It was announced last July the Toronto-based firm was to set up shop in St. Thomas to produce solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives.
It will be a $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. facility with production expected to begin late this year.

Dyke noted the majority of the smaller operations in the city deemed essential are, for the most part, still operating.
“There’s a few that have shut down just because their customers have shut down, which is a logical reason to do so,” advised Dyke.
“But in general, the ones that are deeming themselves essential are continuing to operate, sometimes at a slightly lower level than usual, given the fact that some of their employees would be at home taking care of kids or potentially self-isolating.”

“If you had some certainty as to when it was going to end or when things were going to get back to normal, regardless of what that normal looks like, you can plan for it, but right now nobody can plan.”

He is spending plenty of time determining what other communities are doing during the pandemic and he cites the example of Wellington County.
“They have put aside some funds to put toward small business loans that would be repayable, but without interest or with low interest into the future.

proud

Sean Dyke with a #stthomasproud button.

“That’s the kind of thing that I’m trying to discuss with our local community here and in Elgin county, to see whether there’s something that we can come up with that helps those really small businesses that actually aren’t supported right now by any of the government programs.”
He continued, “So it’s, a tough go for some of these businesses. And we’re, quite honestly, we’re afraid we’re going to lose some of our small business base.”
It’s easy to feel you are mired in a helpless situation right now but you have to continue to offer support.
“I mean, what we’re trying to do as an organization is support the business community, you know, we’re out there promoting the ones that are still open and the ones that are able to continue to ship or deliver or offer takeout-type services.
“So we feel a little bit handcuffed. And we’re providing, in some cases, more emotional help than we are actual business support.”
Uncertainty is the biggest challenge, advised Dyke.
“If you had some certainty as to when it was going to end or when things were going to get back to normal, regardless of what that normal looks like, you can plan for it, but right now nobody can plan.”
However, he was able to close off our discussion on a positive note.
“And believe it or not, we’re still getting inquiries on industrial land, you know, companies that are looking to grow. So that part hasn’t actually dried up necessarily.”

REPURPOSING IN THE PANDEMIC REALITY

One of the companies Sean Dyke referred to in our conversation was Best Damn Doors and its gung-ho owner, Brad Cairns.
On a normal day the firm manufactures – well, the name says it all – the best damn doors. These are far from normal times and so Cairns is chipping in to do his part during the COVID-19 pandemic by designing and assembling face shields.
Brad Cairns Best Damn DoorsWe caught up with him this week to find out how he undertook the not insignificant transition from doors to shields.
“Tons of retooling and learning about plastics and foams and adhesives,” advised Cairns. “And I mean, it’s been a wild week.”
The switch over in production took just days, he says.
“As luck would have it from my past life, we’ve had products that have all had one aspect of what goes into these face shields, so I wasn’t totally going into it blind.
“And yeah, it just sort of panned out, like the pieces fell into place and we were able to start producing in you know, in about three days.”
In his first production runs, he produced about 500 shields. Now, he is aiming for 500 per day.
Many of them are destined for seniors’ facilities in addition to the city’s fire department and EMS.
Cairns started with a few designs found online and that’s where the ingenuity kicked in.
“We’re a problem-solving company. We love to solve problems we just found problems with each one of the designs. Little things that you know, it didn’t make them a bad product but we could improve on it and then so we just distilled it down and down and down until now we’ve got something that we’re really happy with.”
Cairns stresses this is just a temporary sideline, however.
“But the reality is we want to get Canada back to work. Nobody wants to build this stuff forever. We just want to get back to making doors. As soon as the coronavirus goes away, the sooner we can get back to making doors.
“All our lines of credit are wrapped up trying to make this thing happen. But, we’re just trying to do what’s right, not what we can afford.”
He is making the face shields available for personal use and you can order them online at bestdamndoors.ca.
Once there, you’ll see they make pretty good doors, too.

TIME TO GET SERIOUS, REALLY SERIOUS

A sobering message Friday from St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge outlining institutional operational changes and restrictions coming into effect aimed at protecting the health and safety of police officers, civilian employees and the community at large during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 graphicHerridge notes under the Quarantine Act proclaimed by the federal police officers are empowered “to enforce particular provisions of the act at the request of a screening or quarantine officer, particularly where a traveller is refusing to comply with the act.”
In addition, with the province shuttering non-essential businesses, city police will be strictly enforcing these closures.
Under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), police in Aylmer have already charged an individual with failing to adhere to quarantine regulations.
Herridge stresses, “It’s important to note that this is temporary power provided through an Emergency Order to help law enforcement personnel carry out their duties as they deal with the extraordinary challenges posed by the COVID-19 situation.”
He adds, “This requirement is the same authority contained in other legislation such as the Highway Traffic Act and the Trespass to Property Act. Our police officers must be able to identify individuals who are being charged with an offence related to the health crisis facing our communities.
“Our police officers will not be randomly requesting individuals for identification. The authority to request identification in this context relates specifically to persons who are being charged with an offence under EMCPA.”
The punishment for offenders reflects the seriousness of the situation, as Herridge outlines.

“Please stay home unless absolutely necessary. The sacrifices we all make today can have a significant impact on the duration of this crisis.”

“Failing to identify yourself carries a fine of $750 for failure to comply with an order made under the EMCPA or $1,000 for obstructing any person in exercising a power if a provincial offences officer issues a ticket.
“Failure to comply with an emergency order could carry punishments of up to one-year imprisonment or a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation, or $10,000,000 for a corporation itself if a provincial offences officer charges the individual by issuing a summons. These penalties apply in addition to the penalties for breaching other emergency orders.”
Hopefully, this will deter those who feel there is nothing wrong with a round of golf with time on your hands or a picnic on the beach in Port Stanley is simply a pleasant outing to relieve the boredom.
Herridge closes with this reminder.
“We encourage our community to look to reputable sources of information on COVID-19 to make the best decisions for yourselves, your families, and your neighbours. We are all in this together, and respecting one another in this uncertain time is of utmost importance.
“Please stay home unless absolutely necessary. The sacrifices we all make today can have a significant impact on the duration of this crisis.”
And we echo the sentiment of the city’s police chief when he reminds, “Please be safe, together is the only way we will get through this crisis.”

A MODICUM OF RELIEF

City council returns to action Monday – via live streaming, don’t forget – when members will deal with the payment of property taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a report to council, city treasurer Dan Sheridan notes, “Businesses and individuals are having extreme financial pressures due to the restrictive measures the Ontario Government is using to combat the spread of this virus.
“It is probably prudent for council to consider measures, at this time, to help taxpayers navigate
through this unprecedented financial environment. Other municipalities around us have already
performed this review and provided financial relief to their taxpayers.”
Sheridan recommends “The city give taxpayers an additional month to submit their April 2020 property tax installment. This means the city would change the interest penalty date from May 1, 2020, to June 1, 2020, for any unpaid amounts of the April 2020 property tax installment.
“This one month waiving of interest would only apply to the April 2020 property tax installment and not to any outstanding balances from previous installments.”
Encouraging to know city administrators believe this whole COVID-19 thing will be but a memory in a month.

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