The Federal government has released two new funds, totalling $962 million federally and $49.5 million locally, aimed at helping northern Ontario businesses weather the economic storm caused by COVID-19.
The first is the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF)- a $24 million fund, which provides a one-time, repayable or conditionally payable loan of up to $250,000, repayable interest free over a five-year term. It targets small and medium enterprises (SME) which are experiencing hardship due to COVID-19, but have been deemed ineligible for existing relief.
Sectors targeted by the initiative are: Agri-Food, Forestry, Health and Life Sciences (Private Sector only, excluding professional services), Mining Supply and Services, Manufacturing, Tourism, Information and Communication Technology, Not-for-Profit Sector: Chambers of Commerce, Not-for-Profit Sector: Industry or Sector Association, Not-for-Profit Sector: Tourism organizations and Other sector or applicant of significant importance to a community, region or supply chain.
Eligible expenses that qualify for the fund include: Commercial Rent or Mortgage payments, Rent or lease of equipment and machinery; Salaries and benefits deemed ineligible under other programs; Property taxes; Utilities; Cleaning supplies; Additional safety measures; Bank interest/charges and loan repayment (interest); Office supplies; Vehicle operating expenses; Professional fees; Insurances, and other fixed overhead costs and one-time stabilization expenditures.
The announcement is a welcome one to the tourism industry. It’s been hard-hit, because it relies on travellers from the US, which are currently barred from entering the country, with no end date in site. The seasonal nature of the industry, and high up-front costs, have blocked many from accessing existing programs, leaving many with large loan and mortgage payments, with no revenue in sight to pay the bills.
It has put operators in a precarious spot, unable to plan for the summer, said Geoff Gillon, of the Rainy River Future Development Corporation. “They need certainty, to be able to plan,” he said.
The fund will be distributed on a first come, first served basis through FedNor, and eligible businesses are encouraged to contact FedNor directly.
The second fund is a 25.5 million loan program, targeting “Main Street” businesses. It takes the form of loans up to $40,000, administered locally by the Rainy River Future Development Corp, to businesses such as retail shops, restaurants, corner stores, sole proprietors and businesses of strategic importance to the communities they serve. The new announcement allows the RRFDC to distribute double the loan size it was able to give previously, noted Gillon.
“It should make a difference,” said Gillon, who anticipates many local businesses to access the new funding.
Thunder Bay-Rainy River MPO Marcus Powlowski is particularly proud to announce the new funds. He has been working with neighbouring ridings to draw attention to the plight of the northern tourism and Indigenous business sector. He encourages any business in need of assistance with filling out forms and applications to contact his office.
“I am pleased to see additional financial support arriving for the businesses in northwestern Ontario that have been unable to access existing emergency financial programs provided by our Federal Government during this pandemic,” he said. “My office has been working hard to try to assist businesses that have been hurt by this crisis as best it can, and we are prepared to continue offering guidance, advice and advocacy where and when it is needed.”
“No matter how wide we extend the safety net, businesses across Canada continue to slip through the cracks,” added Melanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for FedNor. “Many entrepreneurs are still anxious about whether they will get the help they need. With nearly a billion dollars in support across the country, the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund will fill in some of the gaps. Our message to Canadians is clear: we are here for you now; we will be here for you in the weeks and months to come and we will get through this together. We’ve got your back.”
Any business owner interested in applying for the loan program is asked to contact the Rainy River Futures Development Corporation, at 807-274-3276, or e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.St