Sarnia-Lambton industry leaders, business owners discuss pandemic impact

Screenshot of Sarnia-Lambton Community News Conference - Business Reopening Update. June 2, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the local economy was the focus of discussion at Sarnia-Lambton’s fourth online community news conference Tuesday.

Industry leaders and small business owners spoke about their new realities and how their business models are changing in order to protect staff and citizens.

Sarnia & District Labour Council President Jason McMichael said in terms of the building trades and unions in Sarnia, there’s between 50 and 60 per cent employment currently, after being as low as 25 per cent at one point during the pandemic. And he anticipates they’ll be approaching 80 per cent by the end of June.

“But throughout that, these unions stayed strong, they stayed together, they stayed focused on our community,” said McMichael. “A lot of the unions whose folks weren’t working, stepped up in our community. Things like members of the labourers’ union building the field hospital at Lambton College, the carpenters union made tremendous donations to the Bluewater Health Foundation, our teachers and educational support workers have made sure that our children are taken care of and that they continue to grow and progress throughout this pandemic despite not being in the classrooms.”

Imperial Sarnia Refinery Manager Rohan Davis also took part in the Zoom Chat panel discussion, saying they were deemed an essential service and have a responsibility to keep Ontario moving.

“Examples of that are things like the diesel that we produce, we need that for the trucks to transport food and medical supplies and we need the gasoline to help essential service vehicles on the road and to make sure essential service workers can get to jobs in the hospitals and in grocery stores and pharmacies,” he said.

Rohan said demand is improving.

“We have 800 full-time employees, we’ve had no layoffs and we have no plans to do so. We did see a significant drop in demand, particularly through April and that does impact profitability. We are seeing that demand is improving.”

Owner of John’s Restaurant and Coffee Lodge Leo Stathakis said they saw an immediate decrease in sales across all of their restaurants resulting in more than half of their staff not having work.

He said sales are gradually increasing as restrictions are relaxed but they’re concerned about their tourism business.

“We are certainly missing our tourists from the United States, we are missing travellers on the 402 coming to Sarnia,” Stathakis said. “Coming into the tourism season, that is really a concern of ours, is what’s going to happen to the local tourism business this year.”

In the future Stathakis said patrons can expect to be seated apart from other customers, be checked-in at the door and pre-screened. He said they will offer more online options and curbside delivery.

-With files from Colin Gowdy