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Economic relief available for businesses impacted by the wildfires

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by Diana Sorace
August 25, 2017

Community investment, Employee volunteering, Billing, Customer service

The BC wildfires have impacted many of the communities in which we live and work. And so the importance of caring for our communities, especially during difficult times, has been top-of-mind for us here at FortisBC.

In support of wildfire relief, FortisBC assisted the British Columbia Economic Development Association (BCEDA) in launching a business recovery hotline to help businesses access the resources they need to resume normal business activities. The calls were administered through FortisBC’s contact centres in Prince George and in Burnaby.

“When FortisBC received a request for assistance from the BCEDA, we worked together to see how best we could help,” says Michelle Carman, manager, Customer Operations and Contact Centre at FortisBC. “We received an overwhelmingly positive response from our contact centre employees wanting to support and be a part of the recovery hotline, which in turn allowed us to do so.”  

As of August 22, the FortisBC call centre alone has received approximately 400 calls from businesses who have experienced a financial loss or burden due to the wildfires.

FortisBC and BCEDA representatives had the opportunity to listen in on a few of the calls received by our call centre volunteers in Burnaby. Some of the stories we heard were heartbreaking, in terms of financial loss. Each story was unique and varied by industry, from a catering company to a farm owner.

The support tools made available through the BCEDA were a real saving grace.

“Businesses who call the hotline provide key details of the impact to them and their employees,” says Dale Wheeldon, president and CEO of BCEDA. “The information we receive from these businesses are then shared with the communities, the Canadian Red Cross, Community Futures British Columbia, the province of British Columbia, chambers of commerce and others to help them plan as the community moves forward.”

BCEDA is planning to send in economic recovery teams to assist communities in the recovery planning process.

 “After each call is logged by FortisBC, we send out the information to a team of volunteers throughout the province who then call back the business and offer additional support,” adds Wheeldon. 

“According to the recent data, just over 85 per cent of the businesses who have called our hotline indicate loss of business or revenue because of the wildfires,” explains Wheeldon. “This is a very concerning number.”

There were also other immediate concerns identified. Here is a look, by the numbers:

  • Just over 67 per cent said they had difficulty understanding what grants and financial support were available. 
  • Almost 50 per cent said they wanted to know about help with operating expenses. 
  • Nearly 15 per cent said they wanted employee support and advice.
  • 45 per cent of businesses said their employees would need assistance. 
  • More than 20 per cent of the businesses said that they had to lay off staff.
  • Nearly 25 per cent said their insurance did not cover losses due to fire and or smoke damage.
  • And almost 45 per cent said their insurance did not cover loss of income, inventory, or interruption of business caused by the fires.

“Many business owners find it difficult to figure out who to call with questions, so the hotline is appreciated,” adds Wheeldon.

For example, one retail business owner who was dealing with an excess of inventory after Billy Barker Days in Quesnel was cancelled, was uncertain about the future of her business. After calling the hotline, she said the call centre staff were “warm, caring and helpful.” The hotline supported her by providing the information to register and receive the provincial government’s grant through the Canadian Red Cross. The grant ended up paying the wages of her part-time employee for one month. Although seemingly small, this was a great relief for this local business owner and a step towards getting her business back in order.

The provincial government offers support for businesses through grant offerings. Small businesses affected by the wildfires can receive emergency grants from the government and delivered through the Canadian Red Cross.

Businesses are encouraged to call the business recovery hotline if they have experienced business interruption caused by the wildfires. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 1-877-422-3377.

To help support our customers who have been impacted by wildfires, FortisBC is providing billing relief for approximately 12,000 natural gas and 2,400 electricity customers who experienced evacuation orders this summer. Find out more here.