It has been four months since a global COVID-19 pandemic was declared, and the economic and social impacts continue to be felt around the world. Here in Fredericton, and not unlike many other jurisdictions, we have seen the impacts on businesses of every sector, including but certainly not limited to retail, hospitality, tourism, and more.
As the local economic development agency for the Greater Fredericton Region, Ignite Fredericton plays a critical role in supporting our local economy by offering free business counselling services and tools to entrepreneurs looking to start or grow a business. This role has been amplified over the past few months to help businesses navigate and determine next steps during these unprecedented and challenging times.
Approximately ten years ago, the capital city established the Agencies Group, consisting of the region’s business support agencies, to discuss and address business issues such as potential closures, workforce, and advocacy. What began as a quarterly meeting and support venue for business support agencies has since evolved into a full-fledged working group, now known as the Agencies Forum. Since the onset of the pandemic, The Forum has become a catalyst recovery leadership group, helping to move the local economy from recovery mode into the growth-planning phase.
Together, the Forum has worked to develop the “Re” Ignite Fredericton: Economic Development Recovery Plan. We know this pandemic has caused economic distress, but it has also created opportunity. Exploring these opportunities is the base of the recovery plan. Fredericton is known as the start-up capital of Canada. It is home to many of New Brunswick’s post-secondary institutions. It is the perfect testing hub for new ideas, new innovations, and new ways of doing business.
This economic development recovery plan will help our businesses move forward in three important ways:
- Establishing Baseline Information
Prior to the development of the recovery plan, Ignite Fredericton surveyed over 60 businesses across multiple sectors and industries within the Fredericton-Oromocto region. Details were sought on their present and future needs, timelines to reopen their doors to the public, and whether they might be ready to participate in an e-commerce world in 2020. In addition, Ignite Fredericton has launched a web series called Locked In with Lockhart. The web series serves as a way for local business owners to explain how they have been impacted by COVID-19, as well as how they have adapted their business models in response to the pandemic. The feedback received through these venues has played an important role in shaping this recovery plan.
- Proper Representation
While the original Agencies Group was comprised of five organizations prior to COVID-19, it is now made up of ten unique partners from the public and private sectors, post-secondary education, travel, and the business community. These organizations provide knowledge and expertise in four key categories to help prepare our businesses for next steps. These key categories include communication, programming, advocacy and business forum.
- Recovery to Business Growth
The Fredericton-Oromocto region is home to various sectors, from knowledge- and IT-based businesses, to retail and accommodations sectors. As such, there were many factors to be considered within this recovery plan. For example, the retail and accommodation sectors require immediate help with things like rapidly changing guidelines and restrictions, or communications on new government programs. On the other hand, our cyber security and IT sectors require more of a forward-looking approach in terms of what our partners can provide. The recovery focus isn’t simply on the present, it also looks to the future and where the opportunities lie.
Ultimately, the goal for “Re” Ignite Fredericton has been to support the local economy. While COVID-19 has forced some businesses to close their doors, it has also created opportunities for others to expand their businesses in ways that they may not have previously imagined, allowing them to compete on a national and global scale.
The goal of this economic recovery plan is simple: Play to our strengths by focusing on sectors we can be leaders in while understanding and leveraging the advantage of this small but strategically positioned province. In doing so, we can capitalize on opportunities that we may have once thought were well beyond our reach and continue to grow despite all odds. •