A new short-term program has been created by the province to help businesses adapt to new COVID-19 public health guidelines, as well as protect employees and customers.

Northern Ontario Recovery (NORP) was announced this morning by Greg Rickford, Minister of Energry, Northern Development and Mines.

“As the province continues to respond to the ongoing challenge of the global pandemic, our government will continue to support our business owners, entrepreneurs and workers,” said Minister Rickford. “There is no denying that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on businesses throughout Northern Ontario and this program will deliver targeted funding so they can continue to serve their communities.”

Companies can apply to NORP for assistance to help them adjust to the impacts of COVID-19 including, but not limited to:

Building renovations and new constructions

Customer and employee safety installations

Equipment purchases, including personal protective equipment (PPE)

Marketing for new business initiatives

Restructuring of business operations

Applications open October 1, 2020, and will remain open until December 31, 2020, with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) administering the new program.

Current NOHFC applications will close as of September 30, to allow Corporation to focus exclusively on NORP funding applications.

Peter Chirico, President of the North Bay Chamber of Commerce, who also sits on the NOHFC board, says that it’s a great initiative by the government and he says it shows that they have listened.

“Over the last few months, we’ve been discussing with business owners right across Northern Ontario looking at the most effective way to help businesses struggling due to this pandemic. Helping them in a way that will assist them with some of those costs they incurred by innovating, changing, doing business in a different way. We believe that this fund, a $25,000 conditional grant, will meet some of those needs. Obviously not going to do everything for everyone, but the allocation of 20M through this fund will assist some 800 businesses, if each one takes maximum, and help them with those costs that they’ve incurred.”

Locally, Chirico hopes that local businesses will be prepared to apply.

“That’s the key. To have all of those costs outlined and detailed. Anything incurred up to this point and maybe be possibly incurred over the next few months that they will need assistance with. Especially capital costs like PPEs for staff, making sure customers and staff are safe… those types of costs are very important as we struggle through this pandemic. If this is just the start of a second wave, those costs are even more important to be funded.”

Chirico hopes that preparations that have already been in place during the first wave will help businesses keep residents safe, which will then potentially avoid a total lockdown like the province saw in the spring.

“With preparations, many businesses already implemented, for protection of staff and customers will hopefully, I truly mean that… hopefully… help in making sure we don’t see a total lockdown as we saw in the first wave. I think that as a province, as a country, as a municipality, we’re better prepared going into it – and hopefully with safety measures that most businesses have already prepared for we will see a lesser severity in cases.”

He adds that the money is not just for restructuring of businesses, and can also help cover costs of marketing new ventures, insurance costs, etc.

“Whatever cost they might have or will incur. We want businesses to survive. We want to make it through these next 6 months. It’s critical for these businesses who have already suffered from closure.” he finished.

Minister Rickford also announced plans for a new and improved NOFHC program to be launched in January.

He says it will make it easier for people and businesses to apply and support more projects in rural, northern communities.