Iqaluit business community rallies to survive COVID-19 lockdown
‘We’re in a precarious position here,’ says Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce president
The chambers of commerce for Iqaluit and the Baffin region have teamed up to provide their members information about COVID-19 and act as the point of contact for business matters regarding COVID-19 and the Government of Nunavut.
Their united front is intended to offer a lifeline to many of the 400 businesses in the capital city, big and small.
Businesses are facing tough times under the current outbreak and lockdown in Iqaluit, said Robynn Pavia, the president of the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce. Many businesses face going broke because they have been obliged to shut down or don’t qualify for assistance programs.
To help their members, the chambers plan to hold weekly meetings with the GN to discuss any issues that need attention or provide answers to questions, she said.
To that end, the chambers are urging businesses to send their concerns straight to them.
Pavia is a business owner herself. She owns two businesses, a training and business services company called Ikajuqtuq and Ledgers, which offers accounting and bookkeeping.
She said Ikajuqtuq has been “decimated” by the current health restrictions on gatherings.
Training has moved online, she said, even though many in Nunavut lack the equipment and connectivity to make that work.
Pavia said she offers personal training, which can’t take place, but she doesn’t qualify for any of the financial support for small businesses to help with through COVID-19.
“There’s nothing else for me at this point. I can’t get financial assistance because I am just small and it’s just me,” she said.
“But it’s not just the me, the white woman, the qallunaaq, who is struggling … We see a lot of tourism operators in the same boat. Hairdressers, chiropractors, all those other solo entrepreneurs have been left out.”
But the problem is that not every business qualifies, Pavia said, adding that’s why it’s important to bring the business community’s concerns to the GN.
Even larger Iqaluit businesses, like the NCC Investment Group Inc., with 60 employees, are suffering.
Clarence Synard is president of the Baffin Regional Chamber of commerce and NCC’s president and CEO.
The activities of NCC, owned by the four Inuit birthright corporations of Nunavut, include real estate rentals, property management, real estate development and construction.
“There is a lot of work that we would normally be doing for customers now, but we can’t, due to safety concerns. We have slowed things down to emergency only, which has stopped us from growing our business and doing further work,” he said.
NCC is taking “severe precautions” to keep its workers safe, Synard said.
“We’re only subject to one outbreak in our staff and then we’re shut down,” he said.
Right now, NCC is playing catch-up on two big projects, which were deferred from 2020 due to the pandemic: a big mixed-use development on the Lower Plateau and a renovation of the Nunavut Arctic College residence.
“We’re into the optimal period for construction. Every day I count our blessings that we are able to keep going and keep operating because it’s scary to think of what is going to happen if we end up getting shut down,” he said.
Apart from the larger financial blow to the company and its employees, a shutdown would mean many products would have to thrown away because their shelf life would expire.
The business impact of the lockdown has also spread to other Baffin communities where NCC has already chosen to defer projects to 2022.
“We’re in a precarious position here,” Synard said. “Everyone is doing their best to keep their head above water.”
But he said he’s worried about the ability of some businesses to bounce back.
Better communication and working together now can help get through the outbreak, he said.