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Open Letter to Chatham-Kent from Stuart McFadden, Director of Economic Development

These past few weeks have been anything but easy. They have pushed the boundaries of us as individuals, as a community, and as a society. There have been significant impacts to people's lives and to businesses locally, and around the world.

One of the things that is being highlighted in the media coverage are the struggles businesses are facing. These struggles are very real and in no way do I want to diminish what they are going through. My team in Economic Development have been making and fielding hundreds of calls to businesses owners across Chatham-Kent and we are hearing the urgent requests for help. It’s why we have set up a special section on our website with COVID-19 Business Resources to provide timely and accurate information. It’s a significant tool that is helping businesses find resources they need to react to the quickly evolving landscape we are in right now, even if it means closing their doors. As details become available, including application forms and ways to access the resources, we are there to help businesses.

But the reason I’m writing today is to talk about the other side of the equation; the businesses that are facing unprecedented demands to stay open. We are talking about the services that keep us fed, that keep things running, that keep us safe, and that keep us connected. We are in a state of emergency where only essential businesses can continue to keep their door open to the public. To those businesses, and the people who work there, I say thank you.

My position in Economic Development is one filled with heart aching stories from people choking back tears as they are forced to make difficult decisions, this includes one call I received late Friday night from a business who was at their wits end and needed some advice. My position is also one where I speak with owners who have their foot down on the gas pedal and driving at 100 miles an hour to make sure that customers are served, staff are safe, and that all possible ideas are explored.

Just this week we heard about how local manufacturers, such as Arkel, are retooling to produce medical equipment. Teksavvy has eliminated overage costs until April to help with people who are now spending more time at home. Local grocery stores, like Sobeys, Food Basics, Mercato Fresh, No Frills, and all the rest, are implementing new safety protocols and equipment to keep their staff safe while also dealing with increased demands from customers who are cooking more food at home in an effort to be socially isolated. Even small businesses like J&E Meats are calling our my staff to tell us that they have sold out of everything, a problem then never thought they would need to plan for, but one that they are working hard to address and will have product available ASAP.

I’m hearing from hardware stores that are busier than ever as people take time to not just renovate, but fix things that are broken in their homes. There are restaurants taking measures such as giving staff gloves to wear in their drive-through, asking customers to not use cash in an effort to eliminate contact, and some that are even offering delivery for the first time. Speaking of delivery, I’m not sure if Parks Blueberries has always offered delivery, but they are now.

This is just a snapshot of things that are different in a positive way. Again, we don’t want to downplay the negative, but sometimes we need to also talk about the good things happening so that it’s not all doom and gloom.

We also need to let businesses know that they are not alone in this. Economic Development and the Small Business Centre are here to help. For months we have been talking about how Chatham-Kent business needs to improve their digital footprint; it’s why we worked with the OBIAA to bring on the Digital Service Squad back in the fall. It’s also why we are now taking the next step to make sure that business owners have access to more webinar and electronic tools to help them plan, recover, and get back on track for growth.

Canada and the world has never seen a situation like this. A huge thank you to everyone, those who are working in the front lines, those who are keeping services going, our non-profit agencies who are also finding new ways to help people, and those in the community who are keeping their distance and isolating. The important thing to remember is that we will get through this – and we will come out stronger.

In uncertain times, you can rely on two things; there will be a great deal change and that Economic Development is working day and night to keep you informed on how to manage that change. You can find updates and information on our website at, on our social media @CKEcDev, and of course by calling us at 1-866-542-5994.

One more thought, because it’s important. I need you to know that I’ve been there. I’ve owned a store, managed staff, and felt the weight of chaos when the lights went out during the big power failure or when the water in Wallaceburg went bad. Like every community, we have had challenging times, but we will get through this and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m born and raised in Dresden, and I call all of Chatham-Kent home. I have your back CK!