The Issue: Small businesses in crisis
We Say: Support however you can
As the pandemic wears on, government supports for businesses are still in place, but nearly every industry has taken a significant hit.
Starting and maintaining any business in the North comes with many known challenges and even with financial support from the federal government in the form of grants, subsidies and loans, many small businesses are struggling right now.
Nunavut is moving forward on its path to easing restrictions due to Covid-19. Licensed establishments are now permitted to be open regular hours, which, even with reduced capacity, must be a relief to those owners and their staff. More than 100 workers in the restaurant and tourism industry – just in Iqaluit – lost their livelihood in a day when health officials ordered the shutdown of bars and restaurants on March 20. Nearly five months have passed since then.
But what about the businesses that are harder hit due to being specialized and/or ineligible for these varied supports?
Nunavut News spoke to Kirt Ejesiak, chair and CEO of Arctic UAV, an Iqaluit-based operation that uses drones for aerial imagery in May. At the time, his business did not qualify for any of the defined funding programs. Inuit businesses don’t want to take on more debt, he said, noting that Inuit Business Council (Nunavut) members were seeking an interest-free, no-fee $250,000 line of credit and a forgivable loan of up to $50,000.
Another issue facing his business and many others is planning for the summer sealift season, now in full swing, when up to a year’s worth of supplies have to be ordered amid the uncertainty of Covid-19.
“A lot of businesses have (already) prepaid for goods, prepaid for insurance,” Ejesiak said. “With revenues virtually going to zero, a lot of businesses are worried that we’re going to miss the boat, literally … if you miss that opportunity, that window to ship your goods up North, you literally miss the entire year. Is the government going to help us for the entire year because we missed the boat? Those are the extraordinary cases that we’re trying to make … If I don’t make any revenues this year, I can tell you that I won’t be in business in one year.”
A Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce survey from mid-July revealed that 44 per cent of enterprises reported a decrease in revenue of 30 per cent or less. One-quarter of respondents said they lost between 30 and 70 per cent of normal revenue, while extremely high revenue losses of 70 to 100 per cent hit 12.5 per cent of ventures.
The Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce has members who are calculating losses in the millions of dollars due to the pandemic.
“Small businesses are in crisis,” Ejesiak said. “We need support and we need it now.”
The GN recently announced a new program to support artists with funding between $5,000 and $50,000, known as the Nunavut Public Art Initiative. It’s a tremendous idea and it’s one of many government and regional Inuit association aid programs.
With low income levels being common in Nunavut, we need government to step up, but let’s do our part. Whether it’s buying their products or sharing social media posts, we want our local entrepreneurs to persevere in this very challenging time.