Region approves over $1 million in funding to support the local business community

The Region of Waterloo announced Wednesday that it would be dedicating $1.1 million to two programs that will support the local business community during the pandemic.

The first initiative is the COVID-Safe Ambassador Program for small and medium-sized enterprises, which is free and voluntary for businesses.

Through the program, students from post-secondary health programs will be hired and trained to act as ambassadors to help educate businesses on the province’s colour-coded stages.

According to the region, businesses who work with the program’s ambassadors will receive a sticker to be displayed in the workplace’s window.

The region said the initiative is meant to provide business owners, employees and patrons with additional confidence in the safety of the workplace.

The program will be overseen by NSF International, a global public health and safety organization.

“Since the onset of COVID-related safety measures, businesses have been asking for increased clarity and information on how to operate safely in different stages of the Province’s framework,” said Helen Jowett, Regional Councillor and Regional Economic Development Committee Chair in a press release.  “The COVID-Safe Ambassador Program is a direct response to this need and is the first of its kind in Canada. We are certain it will help increase customer confidence as our region moves into economic recovery.”

The ambassador program will receive about $900,000 in funding and the region is hoping to certify 5,000 businesses before the end of the year.

The second program that will receive funding is a Personal Protective Equipment and COVID-19 retrofit program for small and medium-sized businesses.

In partnership with Explore Waterloo Region, $200,000 will go towards providing businesses with compensation for the additional costs required to buy PPE and install other COVID-related retrofits such as patio expansions.

The Region said the PPE program began earlier this year with funding provided by the federal government, but the demand has been higher than the funding provided.

“Local businesses requested 300 per cent more funding than was available,” said Regional Chair Karen Redman in a press release. “As part of Regional Council’s Vision for Beyond COVID-19, the doubling of this program is part of our $3 million strategic investment through the 2021 budget to help alleviate financial pressures business owners have been forced to take on.”

The funding for both programs comes from the $3 million Strategic Investments for Business Supports, previously approved by regional council.

Regional officials said both programs would be rolled out over the coming months with assistance from The Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, and Explore Waterloo Region.