Sask. brewery CEO says businesses will need more than bank loans and help paying wages to come back from this
Shawn Moen of 9 Mile Legacy says many in food and beverage industry could find benefits irrelevant
The taproom at 9 Mile Legacy Brewing in Saskatoon is much quieter these days, due to pandemic restrictions. But its CEO and co-founder Shawn Moen says his company has been fortunate it hasn't issued layoff notices amid the major changes.
"We're small enough right now that we can turn on a dime, which means that there's lots of work and lots of places where creative minds could really be of use. So we're lucky in that respect," he said. "So we could use our casual staff to design our pick-up depot, or also in providing information to our team."
9 Mile has managed to shift more toward being an online distribution and delivery operation, and the beer is still being brewed and bought.
But Moen knows not everyone has been so fortunate within the food and beverage sector.
He's concerned about the nature of the benefits that are available to businesses like his amid the COVID-19 restrictions and recommendations.
"Politicians get criticized for that from time to time, but I do think that's a virtue in policy, to take the lessons and reflect and revise. And what I'm imploring our policy leaders—both on the federal and provincial side— is to continue to reflect and revise. We're close. We're not there yet," he said.
Subsidies, loans likely won't apply for Moen
Moen said he's proud his company looks like it will not qualify for the federal Emergency Wage Subsidy announced last week. It requires a 30 per cent loss of revenue to qualify for a 75 per cent wage subsidy, but Moen said his company is working hard to remake itself and rally through the challenge without a loss of that size.
The other option he said would most likely apply to businesses like his is the federal government's plan to guarantee bank loans for small businesses, which will be interest-free for the first year. In that case, he says his company is fortunate to have financial partners who stepped up to help right away, so he doesn't anticipate using that form of credit at this point, either.
And he's not sure all of that would be the solution for other companies in Saskatchewan's food and beverage industry, many of whom have had to close dining rooms and lay off staff.
"For a lot of our friends and colleagues ... they're not going to fire right back up because there's a wage subsidy. It's just not that relevant to what they're doing. Their primary business operation went away overnight," he said, adding the loan program may not do much good, either. "It's a good thought. It's good if this is a short term thing, but let's level with each other, this is not a short term thing. For many of these businesses they're going to have to totally re-imagine what they're doing."
Calling for a grant system
Moen is concerned that when a traditional bank loan comes due, businesses might still be grappling with challenges to pay up. Instead, he's suggesting bodies that traditionally administer business grants could serve a similar function in helping local business, such as regional economic authorities and tourism boards. He said he feels it would be a very wise move — whether it's from Ottawa or the province — to inject money that way and see it flow down directly to grassroots.
"These are organizations that offer grant funding for things like marketing, for things like economic development, property improvement, and that's what's needed here," he said.
"What's needed isn't a loan from a charter bank that's going to come due in a few months. Because frankly, in a few months, these companies aren't going to be in a position to re-pay these loans. They're going to need more working capital to continue to get back into startup mode. So let's use the infrastructure that we have. We have good people who know how to administer granting programs. Let's get money to them."
Moen said he's proud to work in a rich mosaic of small Saskatchewan businesses, and he wants to see his colleagues and neighbours do well. But he's also concerned that time is ticking for a better solution for them.
"Well, we're late for a lot of people. I think there's a handful that have already closed and won't re-open, which is why we need to act now," he said.