Small businesses in Niagara are “too big to ignore” and a new campaign will highlight that fact to the community and politicians during the next six months.
“The majority of our members are smaller businesses, and especially if you look at a market like Niagara, 98 per cent of businesses are considered small businesses,” said Mishka Balsom, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.
She said Industry Canada defines a small business as any business with less than 100 employees.
“The challenges (facing small businesses) have been significantly increasing over the last many years, and we want to create an awareness around that.
“Building a 21st century workforce has been a cornerstone of our advocacy efforts for quite some time.
“We’ve seen tremendous progress on this file over the past few years, but we recognize the need to foster greater connections between skilled workers and employers.”
Balsom said there will be roundtable discussions during the coming months involving local chambers of commerce, boards of trade and small business owners throughout the province to identify the barriers they face.
“The three challenges that have been identified in our early conversations (with small businesses) have been a lack of access to workers we need.,” she said.
“There’s a skill gap. We can’t get the right people to come for the jobs that are open, and that is really hurting the economy.”
According to a recent Ontario Chamber of Commerce report, 39 per cent of employers have had difficulty filling a job opening during the past year-and-a-half — an increase of 11 per cent since 2014.
“The second (challenge) has been identified as a key infrastructure gap, and the inability to get from one place to another.
“The last one is the rising cost of doing business.”
For example, Balsom said electricity prices in Ontario have risen by 375 per cent since 2004.
According to the OCC report, one in 20 businesses in the province expect to close their doors in the next five years due to rising electricity prices.
In addition, 38 per cent will see their bottom line shrink, with the cost of electricity delaying or canceling investment in the years to come.
“The Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, if you are small business with 10 employees, the cost will rise by $9,500. That’s a lot for a business,” she said.
“Then we have the Ontario cap and trade system that is being introduced. Every business is supportive of environmental initiatives, but again, it’s an additional cost that is there.”
Balsom said the voices of small businesses “need to be heard.
“They are a critical part of our economy, they are a critical employer, they are a critical supplier for big businesses that are there, and we need to advocate on their behalf.
“We want to go back to the government and say, here is what is needed for this big sector of our economy.”
The Small Business Too Big To Ignore campaign was launched Tuesday by the GNCC, in partnership with the OCC.
Allan O’Dette, president and CEO of the OCC, said small businesses employ nearly three-million Ontarians.
“The insights gained from the local chamber consultations will inform an upcoming OCC report to be released during Small Business Week in October,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to the feedback.”