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Redefining the “new normal” in Prince Rupert’s business community

Janet Song is the Business Innovation Project Coordinator with Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab and the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce. She is currently completing her master’s in economic development and innovation at the University of Waterloo.

After four months of organizing and executing a city-wide survey on the business community, I publicly presented the results in May during a weekly Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce conference call-in. Revealing the survey results garnered the interest of small businesses, local organizations, and even businesses looking to expand in Prince Rupert. I showcased how the problems that existed in Prince Rupert’s businesses, such as staffing, financing, tensions with government policies, high rent cost, and lack of retail traffic, were more prominent when COVID-19 restricted business operations. These challenges are both as a result of COVID-19 and vulnerabilities within Prince Rupert’s local economy that persisted before the pandemic.

Uncertainty as the only constant

In the presentation, I announced that the Chamber would be launching its Business Vital Check-in Calls, where we would call a few small and large businesses in 15 industry sectors to ask them if they were still operating during COVID-19, their challenges, and the areas of support we can provide at the Chamber. The plan for the second half of my internship with the North Coast Innovation Lab was to co-create a project with the members that focused on providing the key resources for businesses to get back onto their feet, after the pandemic forced them to pivot.

So my project is…

My supervisor, Anthony Yecyec, and I grappled with the fact that uncertainty seems to be the only constant at this time, despite the BC Economic Restart Plan’s phases, because any plans of lifting business restrictions can be pulled back if there is a sudden surge of COVID-19 cases.

We agreed that my key deliverable was to continue to provide a weekly call that alternated the themes of sharing resources on helping businesses recover by adapting their operations, and gathering key community stakeholders to discuss issue-focused topics.

“Through this project, we’re finding ways to strengthen our local supply chain to be more resilient, rather than relying on items shipped from the Lower Mainland.”
Janet Song

After each call, we aimed to find innovative ways to keep our local economy moving and to strengthen the Chamber’s relationship with its business community.

Curating weekly events for locals by locals

The result has become a weekly learning session where the Chamber seeks to equip our members with skills to better pivot their business, such as literacy in finance and technology tools. I developed a timeline of weekly topics that resonated with the active participants of the call and reached out to the less active members to see what they need to recover. My goal was to plan two weeks in advance to gather experts in the topic, and then target key businesses and other stakeholder members in the community who would best benefit in this engagement.

Redefining the “new normal”

However, I’ve found that many businesses are “zoomed-out”, meaning that they are tired of engaging on screens and crave human interaction. I am actively seeking ways to interact with our members in socially distant, yet face-to-face ways, and to give businesses the opportunity during our weekly events to teach each other how to be resilient in uncertain times. Many business owners have a lot to say, but they need to be heard.

We are continuing to strive to harness the power of public engagement as a Chamber organization – one conversation at a time – so that our “new normal” can build stronger partnerships for the long-term in Prince Rupert and throughout the North Coast region.