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Up to $20K in support available for local businesses

Members of the Wood Buffalo business community stand with dignitaries including Jenn McManus, VP Alberta and Northwest Territories with the Canadian Red Cross, Mayor Melissa Blake, and Alberta Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous. Sarah Anderson. REPORTER

Local businesses affected by the wildfires will be eligible for up to $20,000 in support in the form of a grant to help pay for uninsured losses, property damage, cleanup, payroll and more.

The provincial, federal, and municipal governments have all come together alongside the Red Cross to create a program that will work on a case-by-case basis depending on the needs of individual local businesses.

“We’re going to have the experts sitting down with businesses, identifying their needs, and they will determine how much a business will receive up to the $20,000,” said Deron Bilous, Alberta Minister of Economic Development and Trade.

He said the program will have businesses apply in one place and then go through a case management system which will be overseen by a third party contracted through the Red Cross to ensure objectivity in allocating the funding.

“The example that I’ll give you is that there are some small businesses that were doing $200,000 plus revenue a month, they’re very different from say a sole proprieter who has a part-time small business who may not need the assistance of up to the full $20,000,” said Bilous.

That is why the program will see the funding allocated on a case-by-case basis and not the same dollar amount for every company as was seen in the initial emergency relief funding of $1,000. The financial support is a grant and will not have to be repaid by the businesses. The funding will be available in September.

The program is being hailed by the business community and Chamber of Commerce as a direct response to the needs they identified in the wake of the wildfire.

“It was nice to see that the provincial government was able to bring together a group of stakeholders very early on, meeting with us in Edmonton,” said Bryce Kumka, the president of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce. “Minister Bilous and Minister (of Municipal Affairs Danielle) Larivee were very open to listening to our challenges as small businesses in our community and they’ve gone with that and our request for some assistance and put together the historic collaboration between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments using the Red Cross as a catalyst to make this all possible.”

Kumka said the move is significant because the small businesses in Fort McMurray hold the community together.

“A community without the support of the services available to them isn’t much of a community at all so, it’s really nice to see that there’s support for not only the people of Fort McMurray but the businesses within it,” he said.

To qualify, businesses will have to be registered with the Business Recovery Hotline 1-855-RMWB-BIZ, be licensed locally or be members of the Chamber of Commerce or Construction Association, employ 50 or fewer people, and have plans to operate locally before the end of 2016 if they are not already operating again locally.

Each order of government, the RMWB, the Province of Alberta, and the Government of Canada, contributed $15 million to the fund while the Red Cross $25.5 million, thanks to the donations of Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast to the wildfire relief fund.

Last week RMWB Council approved the $15 million municipal commitment with a unanimous vote.

“On behalf of the municipality, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Government of Alberta, the federal government, the Canadian Red Cross and the millions of supporters who donated and made these programs possible This funding will allow the municipality to address head-on our business owners’ needs and help our community continue to move forward rebuilding together,” said Mayor Melissa Blake on Tuesday.

She also commended the businesses for their work to support one another and to get back on their own feet in the wake of the wildfire. Blake has long been an advocate of the Shop Local movement and of supporting local businesses, something she has said will be even more important in the months and years following the wildfire.

Supporting local businesses will help ensure the overall recovery of the community as a whole because of the role they play in the local economy.

In the wake of the Slave Lake wildfire local business failure was one of the most significant hurdles to recovery and it is something all levels of government are committed to preventing here in Fort McMurray. Our municipality plays an integral role in the Canadian economy, contributing $91 billion to national GDP and 480,000 jobs.

More information on supports available to RMWB small business is online at redcross.ca/AlbertaFiresBusiness and choosewoodbuffalo.ca.

Local businesses can also contact the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s Business Recovery Hotline at 1-855-RMWB BIZ (1-855-769-2249). This hotline provides updates for business owners and links them to local resources.