The Surrey Board of Trade is working to keep its members connected and to help them access government help during the pandemic.
Anita Huberman, CEO for the board, said her organization has operated under “ground zero principles” as of March 17, re-deploying staff to not only strive to keep its business membership connected through email and social media “but also to phone each and every member” in order to keep in touch.
“We’ve been hearing from members, of course, by email on more specific questions they have for business support because, as you say, the information it changes so rapidly,” she said. “A lot of these measures are fluid and changing and we’re trying to update it best as we can but out ability to connect with different ministers, different government connections for more specific questions has been a value that we’ve been able to give.”
Huberman said she’s encouraged that the City of Surrey is having a weekly pandemic committee meeting every Friday afternoon “with the different business organizations, associations so they understand what is happening on the ground so that they can act. That is something we really advocated for and finally they agreed to it.”
The first was March 27. It’s an opportunity, Huberman said, to convey to the committee what businesses are saying in terms of how the pandemic impacts them.
“The last two weeks have been quite challenging, quite emotional,” she said. “So many businesses have either phoned or emailed not only myself but my staff in tears. Their dreams have been temporarily disabled and they’ve had to lay off workers, they’re trying to access government programming.”
“Business has really been feeling the pain since March 15,” Huberman noted. “These are really challenging times for businesses, not only small and medium-sized, but all businesses.”
While communication continues through a variety of mechanisms, she said, “We haven’t felt the value of in-person communication more than we do now.”
Huberman said all the meetings have been “virtual,” moderated by SBoT, “and the city manager has been absolutely great in listening and hearing our concerns, my concerns and responding to them in real time.
“In no time did we think we’d be facing this.”
She wouldn’t hazard a guess at how many Surrey businesses have closed, though.
“It’s too unwieldy. We’re sending out a survey, actually, through our provincial chamber which will be Surrey specific, but it is going toward the whole province so that we have good data on the ground, and that will be forthcoming.”
Huberman said Surrey Board of Trade members are concerned about government red tape in their quest for help, she said, and the board is helping them navigate through this.
“Absolutely the number one question that I get is ‘Where do I go – these links are too confusing,” she said, and “I don’t know who to talk to.
“Amongst the business community, they’re looking to talk to someone in person, but I do have to say that the government – the provincial and federal government – their civil service has been absolutely great in real response time to questions that I’ve had.”
“Both levels of government, even our local government, no one was prepared for this.”