The COVID resources can seem endless—the lists of government programs and help sites everywhere.
To help Bowen businesses cut through all the information and access provincial and federal grants, subsidies, loans and other programs, are Bowen’s brand-new business navigators – Rod Marsh and Vaune Kolber.
Marsh and Kolber, both local business people, are respectively chair and vice-chair of the municipal Community Economic Development Committee (CEDC). Since the effects of the pandemic hit Bowen’s shores, the CEDC has held weekly business meetups to share information, check in with local businesses and discuss their challenges and adaptations.
“But we thought the one thing that was maybe missing was a one-on-one opportunity for business owners to speak to somebody,” said Kolber.
So, they applied for and received funding from the Bowen Island Community Foundation’s Resiliency Fund for a one-month pilot program.
Business owners, who may not have been comfortable sharing their information or situation in the larger group chats, can speak to the navigators confidentially and for free, said Kolber. The service is open to any local business, down to the single-person contractors.
Kolber has dealt with two businesses in the navigator capacity so far. “The businesses that I’ve been talking to have been aware of most of the things but not all of the resources and then also not sure about which ones to go to,” she said. “So, I think that actually it’s been very useful.”
Kolber and Marsh are also using this opportunity to gather information on businesses’ various situations and what other services they may need. Ideas range from business mentorship to marketing strategies in the new reality, to helping people pivot their businesses, to offering help understanding financial models. These sorts of services would require hiring people with extensive business experience, said Kolber, so part of the goal of this one-month pilot is to see if there is a need and what it might look like.
“We’re also talking about, in general, what they’re feeling around reopening,” said Kolber. “With the government basically saying that it’s a soft opening as early as the middle of May (phase two of the provincial restart plan), now there’s some real hesitancy.”
“There’s a lot of responsibility for the businesses to ensure that their workers and their customers are safe,” said Kolber. “And so, there’s a lot of thinking through that – Am I going to open? How am I going to open? Is it going to be full time, part time? How am I going to do this? At the same time, how long can I last without having customers?”
Physical distancing requirements and the potential for fewer customers when they do open are of concern too said Kolber. “And also, uncertainty about how it’s going to work with tourists coming to the island and how it’s all going to be managed,” she said. Kolber said some businesses are even considering whether they should even continue their businesses.
“It’s going to be very interesting times coming in in these next month,” she said.
Island businesses can get in contact with Kolber and Marsh at [email protected]
Published in the Bowen Island Undercurrent
May 14, 2020