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'Twists and turns' of COVID-19 pandemic will dominate 2021: Newmarket mayor

Chamber of Commerce hosting Business Thrives Conference to look at pandemic's impact
Jan. 6, 2021
Lisa Queen

Entering 2021, Newmarket’s objectives for the year will be viewed through a COVID-19 lens, Mayor John Taylor says.

Of course, the town has priorities that aren’t directly related to the virus.

But operating during COVID-19 means the pandemic will have an influence on lockdowns, recreation programs, financial considerations and more, Taylor said.

“The single biggest priority for myself as mayor will be responding to the effects and implications of COVID-19. This pandemic is requiring us to retool how we do business at the Town of Newmarket and how we provide services to our residents,” he said.

“I expect that the twists and turns that this pandemic has thrown at us will continue through most of 2021.”

That means continuing to meet weekly at the town to analyze issues such as how facilities operate, if they should open, how many residents can participate in a program or space and how to staff for that, Taylor said.

“We will continue to innovate and accelerate our support for the local business community through efforts like the patio program or the waiving of sign fees and more. We will continue to work with our partners in public health and Southlake (Regional Health Centre) to ensure we can support them in their efforts to provide testing and vaccine distribution,” he added.

“The town will be there to support the rollout of the vaccine and the planning has already started. As mayor, I sit on the board of public health, along with all of regional council, and we will have many difficult decisions to make in the coming year related to restrictions, vaccination and enforcement.”

The bylaw department will continue with its heaviest workload ever as it responds to COVID-19-related infractions to ensure the very few businesses ignoring the rules do not ruin it for the majority, Taylor said.

“There is a significant role for the mayor and council and the town to play in trying to keep COVID numbers down through restrictions and enforcement and communications,” he said.
“But there is also an important role for us to play in supporting the business community and ensuring that people have recreational options and other programming to support our individual and collective mental health.”

One of the greatest challenges will be managing the budget during the pandemic, Taylor said.

“We will have to continue to make decisions about what facilities to open and what services to offer, not only in relation to the virus but also in relation to the budget,” he said.

“We will try to balance our communities’ needs with financial pressures and our need to support public health and Southlake. This is not an easy balance to achieve.”

Tracy Walter, president of the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce, said the organization enters 2021 focused on “helping businesses through the economic challenges of the pandemic and through to recovery -- adjusting to changing consumer behaviours, adopting and adapting to the digital landscape, building resilience and navigating the changing policy frameworks.”

Advocating for businesses’ needs at all levels of government will be a main focus for the chamber, which will work closely with its provincial and federal networks to help bring about an improved economic outlook, Walter said.

“2021 will be a year of continued change and transformation and we will be focused on collaborations that will help our businesses to thrive in an environment of constant change,” she said.

“For example, in February (Feb. 2 to 4), we are partnering with York University/Schulich School of Business and the York Small Business Enterprise Centre on a Business Thrives Conference to look at the impact of COVID, the opportunities and challenges ahead for business and strategies to move forward.”

The chamber will continue to support local businesses with online platforms and digital marketing to promote and enable shopping local, Walter said.

It will also work to find innovative and interactive digital platforms for a variety of events and expos that have traditionally been held in-person events.

New models will likely be hybrids of digital/virtual approaches and in-person events as we transition through COVID-19 protocols, Walter said.

“We do look forward to the rollout of the vaccine and to the opportunity of helping to improve the economic and social well-being of the community,” she added.