Lalli: Our actions today must empower the reinvention and entrepreneurship we need tomorrow
This op-ed was originally published in the Calgary Herald on March 28, 2020.
I looked at the team standing before me, trusted colleagues at the company for years. After weeks of weighing whether we could keep going, whether we could mitigate the impact on our employees, I broke the news: the company had to close its doors.
That was the fall of 2016, when I had to make the difficult decision to close Keystone Excavating Ltd., a company that had been part of Alberta’s business community for 36 years.
Today, similar scenes are playing out at an unprecedented scale — in Calgary, Alberta and across Canada — as businesses are forced to scale back or shut down completely as a result of COVID-19.
It’s wreaking havoc on our economy as it erodes customer bases, threatens supply chains and breaks business models entirely.
The economic impact is staggering, and full recovery will take months, if not years.
WestJet laid off 6,900 employees, almost half of the airline’s workforce. Suncor cut its capital spending by 26 per cent this year and is halting work on a $300-million wind power plant in southern Alberta.
And small businesses are hurting tremendously. Preliminary results from a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business show that 48 per cent have seen a drop in sales, and 25 per cent would not be able to survive for more than a month if their income dropped by 50 per cent.
We must never forget that small businesses, with 100 employees or less, are the backbone of our economy. They are our job creators.
In 2018, small businesses employed over 8.38 million Canadians, which is 69.8 per cent of the total private-sector labour force. That same year, small businesses accounted for 20.1 per cent of Canada’s total exports of $522.8 billion.
These businesses need our governments to act efficiently to reduce our fixed costs, now more than ever.
From Calgary city council, we need reduced fixed costs to business, like property tax relief.
From our province, we need economic stimulus to support sectors such as technology and innovation, in addition to oil and gas.
From the federal government, we need payroll tax relief and to make liquidity available for the near term, and the long-term ramp up.
Providing economic stability will allow business owners to adapt to this new reality — to redefine their customers, rethink their supply chains and reimagine themselves as only entrepreneurs can.
Our economy depends on their ability to do this.
COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted our lives, and I worry about the impact it will have on this and the next generation of entrepreneurs.
We will need nothing short of reinvention in these unprecedented times, and the creativity, grit and determination of our entrepreneurs are our best hope. If we are not here for them today, they will not be there for us and our economy tomorrow.
This is a national crisis that needs a national response; it needs business and government and our citizens working together towards the city and country we want to be at the end of this.
We are up to the task.
Calgary has always been a meritocracy and a “can do” city. We have an opportunity to go back to the spirit of what makes Calgary, Calgary.
As we all heed the physical distancing instructions of our health-care leaders to “flatten the curve,” we know we are in this together. We can’t put on our rubber boots and help out like we did in the days of the flood. But we can unite in our common effort to protect our most vulnerable, support our front-line workers, and avoid adding to the strain our health-care system is already under by doing our duty as citizens.
The road ahead will be uncertain and difficult, but none of us are walking it alone.
Sandip Lalli is the president and CEO the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.