Region's business owners confused by COVID-19 rules offered 1-on-1 support through new program
Ambassador program offers free guidance to small, medium-sized businesses, region says
A new program for small and medium-sized businesses in Waterloo region aims to help people understand provincial COVID-19 protocols and how best to follow them.
The program is called the COVID-19 Safe Ambassador Program. It's a partnership between the region, the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, and was developed by NSF International, a global public health organization.
The region has hired university and college students to act as the ambassadors. They connect with local business owners who want to take part in the program and offer suggestions on how to improve their COVID-19 safety measures.
The program began on June 7. Two hotels were among the first to receive a visit from the ambassadors last week: the Homewood Suites Waterloo and the Hampton Inn and Suites Waterloo, both in St. Jacobs.
Vittoria Trinchi, the director of sales and marketing for the hotels, said the visit gave staff peace of mind.
She said the ambassadors went over things like signage for staff and guests, the hotel's COVID-19 safety plan and even which chemicals they were using to disinfect surfaces.
"All of the policies that we had in place, we had been doing a really good job; however, it was just really nice to have that additional confidence that what we have is updated and if we were missing any updates with the reopening stages," she said.
Businesses asking for guidance
Matthew Chandy, the director of the region's economic development office and Smart Waterloo Region, said local businesses have had many questions over the past 15 months.
"Since the pandemic started, businesses have been reaching out, asking for guidance on how to operate safely, protect their employees, ensure there's a safe reopening when the time's appropriate," he said. "The ambassadors will provide that one-on-one guidance."
The sessions are 30 to 45 minutes long. If needed, a second session of up to two hours can also be provided. Both are free of charge to the businesses. Businesses that have an ambassador visit can get a sign to display that shows they've participated in the program.
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Waterloo region is the first in the country to offer the program. The region has allocated $3 million over two years to help local businesses throughout and after the pandemic.
Most businesses did 'extremely well'
Paul Medeiros, who is with NSF International, said the 10 trained ambassadors visited 182 businesses in the region last week.
The vast majority of businesses did "extremely well" following protocols while a few "had opportunities for improvement," he said.
"Most business owners want to do a great job with the COVID-19 protocols," Medeiros said.
Ian McLean, president and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, said there is a "thirst" for information. The local chambers set up a website, called chambercheck.ca, to provide a one-stop site for information available online about funding, grants, training and other programs.
"When we put things in front of them, like ask an expert, there's been great uptake on that," McLean said. "When [Chandy] came with this idea, our concern was, not everyone's going to want it, but for those who want it, this will be great for them."
More information is available through the region's website.