Pandemic hits Outaouais’ businesses hard


Allyson Beauregard

OUTAOUAIS – The results of a study QuébecInnove released on November 11 shows the COVID pandemic has hit businesses in the Outaouais and Abitibi-Témiscamingue a lot harder than other regions of Quebec.
The results come from a Léger survey of over 710 small and medium enterprise (SME) owners in Quebec; 32 from the Outaouais and Abitibi regions. The results shed light on the impact of the pandemic, the state of innovation and the transformations the crisis may have accelerated within SMEs.
On average, SMEs in the two regions project a 7.1% decline in their sales
this year compared to the 4.5% provincial average. According to Rhonda
Perry, director general of the Pontiac SADC, some businesses were hit a
lot harder than others, especially those in the tourism sector who have had to manage with reduced out-of-province traffic.
Perry noted the MRC Pontiac’s rural nature has been beneficial. With a low number of confirmed COVID cases, the region remains in the orange alert level and businesses are open with safety guidelines in place. Some regions of the Outaouais are in the red zone, meaning a variety of businesses are forced to remain closed.
However, according to the survey, the crisis has provided an opportunity to accelerate transformation projects for the majority of SMEs. In the Outaouais and Abitibi, 54% said they had to review their business model because of the
pandemic and 53% said they accelerated digitization projects by focusing in
particular on e-commerce, computer security and cloud computing.
According to Laurel Lebrun, co-owner of Bryson Lake Lodge, the pandemic gave them the funding opportunities and motivation to move forward with ideas. “We have been looking at our business model and how we can offer something more innovative, sustainable and eco-touristic in preparation to move out of this crisis. We know we have to find something new and improved and honestly, it’s been something we’ve wanted to do for a while,” she said, noting that her business did take a financial hit.
“We’ve decided to join a virtual show platform; looking at different markets to promote activities our American clientele normally practice. Our American guests will likely have cross border issues continuing into our 2021 season, so we really have to try to fill those gaps alternately,” she added.
Some SMEs said the crisis allowed them to review their priorities. In the Outaouais and Abitibi, 35% developed more eco-responsible practices, and 27% reported
integrating more local components into their supply chains.
However, according to 27% of the Outaouais and Abitibi SMEs, the crisis is a major reason they reduced investments in their business. On average, businesses only invested 1.3% of their revenues in innovation in the last 12 months, down from 2.9% last year. Only 28% of the two regions’ SMEs have developed an innovation in the past year, which is 50% less than the Quebec average.
Workforce and labour issues are at the heart of the challenges facing SMEs. “Since the green light was given for businesses to reopen, businesses have said it was and continues to be difficult to recruit employees or have them return to work,” Perry told the Journal. Specialized labour is the main need of the region’s SMEs, according to 79% of respondents. 79% of the executives contacted also believe a better match between the available
workforce and their needs would help them invest in innovation in the future.