Coping with COVID-19: Behind the Headlines

Editor's Note

In order to keep Ottawa business leaders informed in this unprecedented health and economic crisis, OBJ publisher Michael Curran is conducting a series of video panel discussions over the coming weeks with members of Ottawa's business community.

In this Coping With COVID-19 podcast episode, OBJ publisher Michael Curran speaks with OBJ editors David Sali and Peter Kovessy about some of the week’s biggest stories and how Ottawa’s business community is adapting to the ongoing economic challenges.

This is an edited transcript of the panel discussion. To hear the full interview, please watch the video above. Prefer an audio version of this podcast? Listen to it on SoundCloud.

CURRAN: Peter, let’s start with you. This is a time where lots of businesses are looking to re-enter their office space, and yet Shopify looks to be going in the exact opposite direction. Can you give us a sense of what’s happening at Shopify? 

KOVESSY: Shopify is not going to reopen its offices to its employees until 2021 at the earliest. This isn’t just a delay by a few months, this is actually a rethink about how Shopify uses its office space. The company said it will now be a “digital by default” company and that the era of “office centricity” is over.

This is significant for a few reasons. First off, Shopify has such a large presence in Ottawa’s downtown core, so certainly as it continues to grow there will be implications for the city’s commercial real estate sector. What’s also interesting is that anyone who has been inside Shopify’s offices knows that it’s designed for collaboration. They were a real leader in this space when they opened up. So this announcement is raising a lot of questions of whether this is a sign of things to come for the wider tech community. 

CURRAN: Dave, over to you now. In the wake of this news, what are you hearing from various furniture providers in the city?

SALI: Yesterday I spoke to Bill Toutant from Advanced Business Interiors and he pointed that this is a multimillion-dollar a year business, and their sales are down almost 90 per cent in the last two months. He said the phones have stopped ringing, and right now everyone is just hunkered down at home waiting to see what’s going to happen. He’s even had to lay off about 80 per cent of his staff temporarily. 

CURRAN: Another sector being affected is of course tourism. Dave, you also got the chance to speak with officials at the airport earlier this week, what are they saying?

SALI: The financial situation at the airport is definitely grim to say the least. The airport will likely have to borrow in the range of $150 million over the next two years to cover its operating costs. That’s simply because there are no flights landing and taking off from the airport these days. Pre-pandemic times there would be 200 flights arriving and departing a day and now there’s maybe 15. That’s meant that the landing fees and departure taxes that the airport would normally be raking in aren’t coming in anymore so it’s going to be a huge number when it comes to the airport’s deficit.