By Bruce Corcoran
Efforts are underway to plan for local economic recovery when governments eventually begin to lift restrictions in place due to COVID-19
The co-chairs of the Chatham-Kent Economic Recovery Task Force say they are up to the challenge.
Rocky Gaudrault and Mike Grail head the task force and have met with committee chairs via conference call briefly. They will take a report to council May 25.
Gaudrault, co-founder of TekSavvy who now runs the Junctura group of companies, said he may not have been born and raised in C-K, but his roots are here.
“I’ve been in Chatham-Kent for more than a couple of decades now. It’s my home. I want it to succeed,” he said.
Grail, along with his wife, Paula, runs a number of Tim Hortons franchises in the municipality.
Both have been and are involved in non-profit organizations in Chatham-Kent as well.
Grail said he, Gaudrault, Mayor Darrin Canniff and others look forward to working to shape the future. Sitting around and worrying doesn’t solve anything, he added.
“I think the one thing we are focused on is replacing fear with a sense of empowerment. C-K will recover and undoubtedly be stronger,” he said. “But it all starts with the psyche. If we fear this, we don’t learn from it. I think we understand it; we’ve gotten better; we know how to be safer. Now, we have to help businesses recover, have to help them reopen and have to get services up and running.”
Gaudrault said sitting down with Grail made it “very easy” to want to be part of the task force and get moving.
“It will take some give and take on both sides – the business sector will have to find a way to deal with the new realities and will have to work with the city to make changes to accommodate the new way. Both public and private will have to change to get more fiscally focused in this time of need,” he said.
Much of work to shape the “new normal” is going to be in the hands of the businesses themselves, Grail said. There will be changes in how services are delivered and goods purchased. And those changes will linger.
“I think it’s long term. I think we’re in a new world. Anytime something like this comes along, it forces change,” he said. “What we’re going to see is a lot of creativity a lot of innovation, and a lot of things that will improve productivity and long-term profitability in many sectors.”
Grail said that is already underway, as people work from home. He said there are cases of improved productivity, due to less travel time to and from work, less wasted time.
“We’ve got to understand how the work-life balance changes. We have to figure this out together,” he said.
Gaudrault added no one is even sure what the repercussions and lingering restrictions will entail as businesses begin to reopen.
“We still don’t know if distancing rules will make one-third of your space gone,” he said, referring to the needs for people to remain at least two-metres apart. “There are a variety of things that still have to be answered. For the sake of small businesses right now, it will require a serious look at what’s available to them.”
Grail said while all levels of government have done well to date, it would take more to continue to be a “tremendous resource” in the future.
“Everyone has a role to play in coming out of this crisis and recovering, not only as a community, but as a nation,” he said.
Gaudrault said the task force has strong committee members and sub-chairs.
“The group is set up so that we have a ton of knowledge and a ton of business sectors covered,” he said. “How do we divide the tasks and conquer? The best practice is to put them in a place and work directly with councillors and city staff to find a win-win for everybody. If we can grow out of this, then it’s a win for everyone, and that’s what we want.”
Gaudrault said to date, only preliminary meetings have taken place, but that will quickly change as they have three weeks to deliver their report to council.
“The majority of the heavier lifting is going to start this week and continue into May, with the ultimate goal of the May 25 presentation,” he said.
“We’re trying to say, ‘OK, what do businesses have to be responsible for?’ and at the same time, what are the formal recommendations we will make to the municipality to allow businesses to thrive?” Grail said. “We’ll be looking at taxes, looking at different things such as utilities, infrastructure and room for growth.”
Grail said there are some very solid people in the local business community and many are involved in the task force. And what will come out of this will be from a business perspective.
“We will do this, but we are going to de-politicize this report. We are going to present practical, logical solutions to problems we see for both coming out of this crisis into recovery and longer term where we actually thrive,” he said. “If we do this properly, as a community, we will start to attract and recruit skilled workers, retirees and people looking to start families. We want C-K to grow and prosper, but we also understand there are some challenges that lay in front of us.
“What’s been encouraging, though, is that through the whole process, all levels of government are listening. They are looking to the business community for solutions and advice.”