North

Feds extend funding for northern businesses, but some owners still struggling for support

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency extended the Northern Business Relief Fund on July 10, in light of the ongoing effects of the pandemic on small- and medium-sized businesses.

The Northern Business Relief Fund was extended on July 10

Kelli Hinchey, who owns the Yellowknife Racquet Club, said she didn’t know the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency funding program for small- and medium-sized businesses had been extended. 'This is fantastic news,' she said. (Jeff Hipfner/Submitted by Yellowknife Racquet Club)

The federal government says that two months ago, it extended a financial support program for northern businesses affected by COVID-19, but some of those businesses say this summer they were struggling to get support. 

Kelli Hinchey, the owner and general manager of the Racquet Club, a fitness centre in Yellowknife, said she didn't even know the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) funding program for small- and medium-sized businesses had been extended. 

"This is fantastic news," she said, adding that it "absolutely" would have helped to have known the program had been extended.

"We're doing our best to keep going and, you know, reaching out to see if there's additional funding available. I've reached out to my MLA, to the chamber of commerce," said Hinchey. "Short of applying for additional loans … there's really not much out there."

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) extended the Northern Business Relief Fund on July 10, in light of the ongoing effects of the pandemic on tourism, and related industries, such as the hotel and restaurant industries. Businesses in the arts, entertainment, recreation, transportation and retail industries may also be eligible, and businesses in other areas "may be considered on a case-by-case basis."

Small- and medium-sized businesses in these industries that demonstrate need may be eligible for non-repayable grant money of up to a maximum of $100,000 or up to March 31, 2021, whichever comes first, says the government. 

The grant is meant to help with operational costs and ranges from $2,500 to $100,000.

When asked about the funding extension, Renée Comeau, executive director or the NWT Chamber of Commerce, said she didn't know about it.

Costs up, revenue down

Hinchey said operating costs have shot up with the additional cleaning they're doing, and at the same time, revenues have plummeted, with fewer people allowed in the building at a given time.

"We need to sell memberships in order to keep going, so [the pandemic] has had a huge impact on our business," she said. 

Now that she knows there may be more CanNor money available, Hinchey said she plans to re-apply for that funding.

Dinku Tadesse said the lease is ending on Zehabesha, his restaurant in Yellowknife, and he doesn't know if he'll renew it. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Dinku Tadesse, co-owner of Zehabesha, a restaurant in downtown Yellowknife, said he too had gotten federal money to help float his business through the widespread shutdown this spring.  Unlike Hinchey, he was told in July the funding program had been extended and that he could re-apply, which he did.

But he has yet to see any new cash.

"I'm worried," he said, noting the rent, electricity bill and four employees he has to pay. 

Normally in the winter, said Tadesse, his restaurant is flooded with groups of aurora tourists, but this year, that won't happen.

Zehabesha's lease is up in November and Tadesse said he and his wife are unsure if they'll renew it.

"Nobody's coming now … that's why I'm worried." he said. "If I get support, we're going to continue to renew the [lease]."

CBC reached out to CanNor for comment on how it communicated its funding extension to northern businesses. A spokesperson said they would follow up early this week. 

On Friday, CanNor said that more than 230 businesses in the Northwest Territories have gotten a total of $12.3 million through the government's Northern Business Relief Fund and the national Regional Relief and Recovery Fund.

CanNor says it stopped accepting new direct applications for Northern Business Relief Fund money after July 31.

If you're a northern business impacted by COVID-19, CBC North wants to hear from you. Email reporter Sidney Cohen at sidney.cohen@cbc.ca.

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