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Grants may provide glimmers of hope for construction companies hard hit by COVID

Peter Caulfield
Grants may provide glimmers of hope for construction companies hard hit by COVID

There is lots of government money available to help small- and medium-sized businesses, including construction companies, get through the tough times caused by restrictions imposed due to COVID-19.

For example, in December 2020 the B.C. government made it easier for businesses to qualify for its Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant program, which is part of StrongerBC: BC’s Economic Recovery Plan.

The changes make more businesses eligible for a grant of up to $30,000.

For more information on the program, which ends March 31, 2021, click here

In addition to emergency programs like the one above, there are many others the construction industry can take advantage of.

David Oliver, principal of SCIUS Advisory Inc. in Vancouver, said the federal and provincial governments usually provide the largest amounts of spending, including grants to businesses, in areas that are aligned with its political priorities.

“Today, those areas lie in job creation, infrastructure spending is a perfect example, particularly jobs for minorities, such as First Nations, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fostering innovation across industries,” said Oliver.

He cites two examples of government priorities, one federal and one provincial.

The Investing in Canada Plan is a 12-year, $180 billion federal program. It was set up to build modern, resilient and green communities with a focus on public transit, infrastructure, housing and transportation.

In British Columbia, the CleanBC program was established to help reduce GHG emissions in energy and housing.

“There are also many local programs, municipal and regional, that construction companies can benefit from,” said Oliver. “The Federation of Canadian Municipalities runs several federally-funded programs that are relevant to construction. Its Sustainable Affordable Housing program, under the Green Municipal Fund, is a great example of public grants that construction companies can leverage with municipal partners.”

Although it is known there is plenty of government grant money available, the total number of dollars is a mystery.

“That’s the billion-dollar question,” he said. “It is very difficult to figure out the total public funding amounts out there. Governments usually operate in silos. Each department publishes its own information and data, but there is no central depository or open data access.”

There are, nevertheless, some numbers that hint at big pots of gold at the end of the public sector rainbow.

For example, Infrastructure Canada currently has a total of $57.6 billion in unspent funds from all of its programs.

“In B.C., the government doesn’t seem to publish public funding totals,” said Oliver. “But CleanBC, for example, is a multibillion-dollar program with multiple funds, such as the Building Innovation Fund.”

Many people believe governments have stopped allocating grants because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The opposite is true, however,” said Oliver. “The pandemic has accelerated the release of public funds, including funds left unspent during 2020, or created completely new programs to support industry now.”

It pays to look for grant programs that are specific to COVID-19, Oliver said, because the review and approval processes are usually faster than the regular programs.

“Some ministries have launched COVID recovery programs, which go by different names,” he said. “The simplest way to look for them is to do an online search, using that or similar terminology, for B.C., Canada, your municipality or sector.”

How much money a successful grant applicant can expect to receive depends on the funding program.

“There is a wide range of grants out there, from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of millions,” said Oliver. “Typically, small- and medium-size companies receive grants in the $20,000 to $100,000 range, although a multimillion-dollar grant for a construction project is not rare. It depends on the program.”

If a company is awarded a government grant, it isn’t free money it can do with whatever it wants.

“Governments monitor and hold accountable any project proponent that receives public funds,” said Oliver.  “All organizations that get their applications approved sign a contract with the public funder. The contract stipulates the contractual terms, such as deliverables, timelines, eligible costs and items like that which the company will need to meet.”

For small grants, Oliver said, the rule of thumb is that the grant recipient must stick to a specific timeline, agree to one or two checks during the project and present the deliverables to a funding panel.

Part two of this story on government grants explores how and where to apply.



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