Update: The impacts of COVID-19 on the Atlantic Canadian economy

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Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and our economy here in Atlantic Canada, and they have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we head into the final quarter of the year, we wanted to pause and take stock of exactly how our economy is doing, what projections look like, and what we might even have to look forward to in the future.

To help us out, we talked to Sheri Somerville, CEO of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce (ACC). As the largest accredited business organization of influence in Atlantic Canada, the ACC works on behalf of more than 16,000 businesses and 93 independent chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and corporate partners across all Atlantic Canadian provinces.

Honest Money: How are Atlantic Canadian businesses fairing with everything that’s happened?

Sheri Somerville: There are six industries that have been hardest hit: tourism, construction, manufacturing, retail, oil and gas, and restaurants. Combined, those industries have lost over $12 billion in revenue in 2020.

Those are the sectors that seem to be the most impacted right now, but if you look at manufacturing, for instance, some companies were able to transition quickly when COVID-19 hit. They’re making hand sanitizer. They figured out quite quickly how they could change and adapt and keep their business open.

HM: Has the Atlantic Bubble helped us?

SS: The Atlantic Bubble has been good because one of the key things to keeping business successful is consumer confidence. People need to be able to feel they’re going to be safe, that businesses are going to do what they need to do to protect people, that they’re being compliant with the guidelines. With the Atlantic Bubble, consumer confidence was able to return—combined with businesses being able to figure out how to be compliant.

We need to keep that consumer confidence up. One small thing people can do is wear a mask. First get out and shop, of course, but wearing a mask is one small thing because that helps consumer confidence. If you’ve wearing a mask, then everybody feels safe. Not just the employers, but other consumers too.

HM: What can businesses do to prepare for an uncertain future?

SS: Businesses are trying to plan based on what they know—that’s what you do in business, you plan. You look out at the landscape and you do your six-month, twelve-month, five-year plan and, right now, that’s been fluid.

We [ACC on behalf of small businesses] need to work with provincial and federal governments to also get a medium- to long-term plan in place for recovery and provide a bit of a vision for what recovery could look like and what the plan is to get there.

HM: Are you optimistic about the Atlantic Canadian economy?

SS: I am optimistic because our businesses here are so resilient. We’ve seen that happen over the last six-to-eight months. We had the shutdown, but businesses reacted and were able to adapt and change where they needed to.

I also don’t think we’re going to see the economic landscape in totality until we get on the other side of COVID-19 and we stop federal subsidies. Until those subsidies are no longer around, we’re living in a bit of a false economy. I’m also not blind to the fact that there are some businesses that are very much struggling and there are some businesses that are probably not going to be around.

HM: What are some of the opportunities to come from COVID-19?

SS: Remote work situations. We all know Atlantic Canada is the best kept secret in the world. We’ve got a very special place here in the world to live. We have a situation where people have been working remotely and will continue to work remotely. If people can work anywhere and they don’t need to be tied to an office anymore, then why wouldn’t you choose to live in Atlantic Canada? We’ve got a great quality of life, your spending for housing is going to go a lot further here, plus great oceans, beaches, food, people. It’s an awesome quality of life. There is a huge opportunity for Atlantic Canada to start attracting people that we might not have been able to before because of the remote work situation.

The other thing that’s a big opportunity for us is looking for new and creative ways to be innovative. To adapt. We’ve all seen how many people are using video conferencing now—everybody is quite familiar with it. Coming out of this, people are going to be more comfortable with that technology and we can look at what technology can do for us in terms of bridging the gap between talent acquisition to increase our productivity, to increase our efficiency, to increase our effectiveness and our ability to do what we already do, and do it even better so our companies can leverage new technologies.

While many Atlantic Canadian businesses have been resilient and adaptive, that’s not been the case for everyone. Closures and significant shifts in how products and services are offered have also been part of the story. Our government—both federally and provincially—has been able to act quickly and provide support for many businesses, which has helped many keep their doors open. And though Sheri speaks of the notion of a “false economy”, it’s not all doom and gloom—it’s more so about being conscious of how the choices we’re making now will have an impact on our future.

If you’re curious about your own financial situation because of COVID-19, your local credit union is here to help. Get in touch with one of our financial experts today.