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WD 2020 Year in Review: Focus on protecting Western Canadian businesses and saving jobs

Western Economic Diversification Canada helped keep businesses solvent through the pandemic, providing more than $433 million and protecting over 26,000 jobs.
Edmonton, Alberta – Western Economic Diversification Canada - In 2020, a year of unprecedented challenges, the Government of Canada has turned to the regional development agencies (RDAs) to support as many businesses as possible in communities large and small. RDAs like Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) know and understand the specific needs of their regions and the businesses they serve.
With hard times already in many western Canadian communities, the COVID-19 pandemic caused businesses to struggle with solvency and families to worry about their livelihoods. The ongoing viability of small and medium-sized businesses is critical for Canada’s economy. That is why the Government of Canada responded with decisive action throughout 2020 to keep businesses viable and poised to grow to create jobs on the other side of the pandemic.
Today, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada, highlighted the impact of WD’s investments this year, which totalled more than $433 million,  and have created and maintained over 26,000 jobs across Western Canada. These investments are positioning Canada for a strong recovery, while supporting the government’s commitment to create over one million jobs, restoring employment to previous levels.
Addressing the economic impact of COVID-19
WD has been at the forefront of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 economic response in Western Canada, rolling out emergency relief programs on an unprecedented scale and adjusting ongoing programs to support businesses through the pandemic period.
Using regional know-how and local networks to pivot, WD provided over $333 million in COVID-related support to more than 6,100 small and medium-sized businesses in 2020. At least 25,000 jobs have been protected or created as a result of this funding. Some businesses adapted by transforming to digital platforms, others were able to keep staff on payroll when liquidity ran low, and still others paid for employee protection to work safely through the pandemic.
WD’s notable pandemic relief programs in 2020 included:
Real help for real businesses run by Western Canadians
Through the RRRF program, WD has helped businesses struggling with the financial impacts of COVID-19 in almost every sector, from retail to manufacturing, from services to transportation, from tourism to natural resources. Eligible firms and organizations that could not qualify for other Government of Canada COVID support programs, received support in the form of no-cost loans.
For instance, Vancouver-based Rocky Mountain Flatbread, an award-winning family pizza and pasta restaurant with six locations in Alberta and British Columbia, used RRRF funds to innovate its business and save 10 jobs. It developed a home pizza kit and started growing its own salad sprouts, which it now sells to other restaurants.
In another case, Driftstone Consulting a woman-owned engineering firm in Regina, was able to meet payroll during the early COVID-19 downturn, until business recovered. Back on its feet, the firm is finding new opportunities to grow and expand its business.
The northern tourism operators were among those who were hit hard from the travel ban. The Churchill Chamber of Commerce was provided funding to hire a liaison to assist tourism operators and small businesses with relief fund applications, adaptation strategies and implementation of safety measures. This position will help train 80 individuals and assist 50 businesses in Churchill, Manitoba.
Meanwhile, WD continued to deliver its ongoing business support programs, providing over $100 million to start, scale-up, and grow businesses, as well as to help business support organizations serve their local entrepreneurial communities. This is anticipated to result in at least 950 new jobs, increased economic activity, and boosted exports.
WD’s funding programs in 2020 included:
WD also engaged partners to meet the needs of under-represented sectors of the western economy, including outreach to rural businesses through Community Futures organizations (CFs), to women entrepreneurs through the Women’s Enterprise Initiative (WEI), and to Francophone businesses through Francophone Economic Development organizations (FEDOs).
While funding projects have helped protect families against the short-term challenges, WD has kept its eye trained on the future strength and diversity of Western Canada’s economy.  Many projects have helped secure the West’s place in growth sectors of the future, such as artificial intelligence, healthcare innovation, and clean energy.
For instance, this year WD supported 13 Indigenous communities in British Columbia to explore the development of clean energy projects, such as solar, geothermal, and wind power. These projects will help First Nations reduce reliance on conventional diesel power generation, achieve energy independence, and support economic development opportunities.
In another example, WD supported Brandon University’s new micro-analytical facility. This lab gives crucial support to environmental, construction, and mineral resource companies across rural Manitoba. Similarly, WD partnered with Alberta Innovates to provide province-wide product management, marketing, sales training and mentoring for innovation-focused companies. Meanwhile, WD funded the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce to help integrate Indigenous people, immigrants, youth, and women into local workforces across the province.
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