Task Force releases three initial recommendations and calls for cooperative action to drive recovery

During a meeting yesterday, the Northumberland Economic Recovery Task Force finalized initial recommendations to drive the recovery of local businesses and the revitalization of Northumberland’s economy post-COVID-19.

Over the past several weeks, 63 working group members – including business owners/leaders, municipal partners and industry stakeholders—across six targeted sectors have been engaging their networks for feedback, evaluating data from recent surveys, and sharing key insights from their operations in order to support the Task Force in developing formal recommendations.

The Task Force has now identified initial recommendations, where opportunity exists for local business and government partners to take direct and cooperative action to revive Northumberland’s economy. The following recommendations will be refined through further engagement with the working groups for integration into a final report:

1) Tackle broadband deficits

High-speed internet connectivity is a linchpin to local economic recovery. Unfortunately, there are significant gaps in high-speed availability and capacity throughout Northumberland.

  • Action underway: Northumberland County is leading an initiative to evaluate local high-speed internet capacity and connectivity levels, and define a recommended approach to—and roadmap for—maximizing access in underserved and unserved areas. An RFP has already been issued and will close on June 11, 2020.
  • Support required: Phase 1 of the Broadband Strategic Plan will be completed by August, with the next step being application for funds for implementation. The Task Force recommends partnership with the federal and provincial governments as an urgent priority, in alignment with the goals of programs such as the ‘Improving Connectivity in Ontario’ program and the ‘Connect to Innovate’ program.

2) Power the transition to online

Where there is adequate internet access in areas of high connectivity, support is required to help businesses transition to the online environment. Local surveys indicate that consumers wish to support local businesses, but feel the safest way to do so in the current environment is by buying online.

  • Action underway: The Business & Entrepreneurship Centre Northumberland (BECN) and local partners are launching an initiative to assist small businesses in developing their online presence. A working group of business owners and stakeholders has already begun to evaluate the best approach to address this important issue and facilitate the implementation of a support program as soon as possible. The program will support small businesses to launch or improve their social media presence, launch or improve their web presence, and engage in e-commerce.
  • Support required: The Task Force recommends partnership with the provincial government to facilitate business adoption of necessary tools and technology and to support capacity-building activities.

3) Fuel consumer confidence

Standardizing a requirement for personal protective equipment for consumers will enhance public safety and increase consumer confidence in visiting bricks and mortar establishments.

  • Action underway: Businesses across Northumberland continue to monitor and respond to public health direction and ensure measures are in place to enhance the safety of customers visiting their establishments. However, without clear guidelines for a universal approach, these measures are inconsistent and generating confusion and concern among businesses and the public alike.
  • Support required: The Task Force recommends partnership with local municipalities to develop a county-wide standard for the wearing of masks in all customer-facing environments.

“This has been a strong, united effort by our business community, together with partners like the County, the Chambers, the Manufacturers Association and the CFDC, to lay the groundwork for the workforce innovation and infrastructure updates required for the support of our local economy under this new normal,” states Co-Chair Brendan Cunneen.

“Our business owners and leaders are self-starters, motivated to succeed and prepared to invest in transformation where they can. The intent is to produce recommendations based on local conditions that inspire collective action. To that end, several measures are already underway that we believe will generate outcomes for the community. These are interim recommendations and we look forward to releasing final recommendations in a formal report by the end of the month, and partnering with our municipal, provincial and federal counterparts to fulfill these recommendations and deliver results.”

Additional recommendations for the final report are anticipated to centre around issues that have emerged as common themes across all working group tables, including the need for access to child care services, the importance of access to mental health resources, and the resolution of supply chain challenges for access to Personal Protective Equipment. The Task Force will identify a strategy of advocacy and action on these issues as part of final recommendations.

This report will be delivered to County and local municipal councils, as well as federal and provincial government representatives by the end of the month.

For more information, please visit the Northumberland Economic Recovery Task Force web page.