Economic restart reviving events, workplaces, air travel

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup

Edmonton's economic restart is bringing treats to downtown, workers back to offices, and reconnecting the city to the world. At the same time, local companies are struggling with supply shortages, and energy consumers are learning they will foot the bill for relief programs.

Taste of Edmonton kicked off July 22 with new COVID-19 precautions in place, including reduced capacity, hand sanitizing stations, and designated seating areas for eating and drinking. Masks are recommended when moving around the site. Organizers have partnered with downtown hotels like the JW Marriott Ice District to offer discounted food tickets with the cost of a room.

The number of vendors has fallen from 69 in 2019 to 52 this year as some local restaurants skipped the event over concerns about safety and the financial risks of a deadline in December to commit to participating. "Taste of Edmonton is a really great promotional event that is good in the summer, but this year with the pandemic and sales being down, it is really hard to justify the higher fees that go in with it," Henry Song, owner of Buok Fresh Korean Kitchen, told CTV News.

Companies are testing return to work strategies and AltaML's plan includes colour-coded wrist bands to alert co-workers about comfort levels with personal contact. "I would say safety is the number one priority and we're being accommodating to any individual to make sure that their experience back in the office is as comfortable as possible," chief of staff Keri Smith told CTV News.

Taste of Edmonton

Taste of Edmonton is back at the City Hall grounds this year. (Taste of Edmonton/Facebook)

Edmonton International Airport will open to trans-border flights starting Aug. 9 when federal travel restrictions are eased to allow vaccinated Americans to enter the country under some conditions. "A strong airport, it's very important for business attraction and for domestic and foreign investment but also for business retention to keep businesses here," Edmonton Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeffrey Sundquist told CTV News.

On the supply side, the pandemic continues to disrupt local business. A global microchip shortage has cut the supply of new vehicles and boosted demand for used inventory. "Because there's not a lot of new vehicles coming in through the pipeline, that's driven the price of used cars, quite frankly, through the roof, and the demand for them has gone up exponentially," Gerald Wood, president of the Motor Dealers' Association of Alberta, told CBC News. General Motors was the latest manufacturer to fill the pinch from chip shortages, announcing pickup truck production would be halted for a week.

The impact of the prolonged pandemic restrictions also became clearer. Alberta's energy consumers will pay through small increases to their electric and natural gas bills up to $16 million in outstanding debt from a government-ordered pandemic payment deferral program. About 16% of utility customers took advantage of the relief plan, Postmedia reported.