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Business of the Year winner sees reason to be optimistic when COVID-19 crisis subsides

Jason Naccarato says that while pent up demand may mean a boost for business, some sectors will still be vulnerable
Jason Naccarato, president of Northstar Consulting, addresses the crowd after winning the Skipper Manzzutti Award for Business Achievement at the 2019 Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce Business Awards. James Hopkin/SooToday

Every year, the Chamber of Commerce hands out awards honouring local businesses. The annual gala is a time for optimism and celebration.

In 2019, Jason Naccarato won the Skipper Manzzutti Award for Business Achievement. His business, Northstar Consulting, also won Business of the Year (up to nine employees).

It was a good haul and a good night for Naccarato whose experience serving on various boards, the Chamber of Commerce, his consulting work and property management gives him a good feel for the local economic pulse.

Fast forward a year. The COVID-19 cloud of uncertainty hangs over everything.

“Everyone’s hunkering down,” he said. “There are a few small businesses that have found a way to do their share and contribute and be rewarded financially for doing so in this crisis, but that’s a small few . . . The bulk out there are suffering.”

Naccarato, who worked at Queen’s Park with MPP Ross Romano, is heartened with the work being done at all three levels of government.

“I think they’re all working towards assisting and understanding the economics of the situation. I think they are all doing a very good job,” he said.

He does, however, see some areas falling through the cracks.

Naccarato said the dynamic between landlords and renters is something that needs attention.

In 2019, Naccarato’s property business, Northern Advancement Capital, managed 42 residential units and more than 40,000 square feet of commercial space.

“On the residential side I think there is enough support out there to allow that to kind of limp along, but there’s a real concern around the commercial and industrial.”

Waving interest and penalties on property taxes until May 31 is not enough.

Naccarato hopes the city considers an extension to that May date as well as a portion of forgiveness towards property taxes.

“As good landlords you want to work with tenants. . . which we are all trying to do,” he said.

However, he said if there is no relief from the top side and tenants from bottom side are not able to pay, “that’s very challenging.”

He sees a natural uptick when the COVID-19 situation subsides, but there’s been such a large amount of wealth that’s been dissolved. “It will take some time to recover.”

While some businesses will benefit from the sudden release of pent-up demand, others won’t. For example, you’re not going to get your hair cut twice on the day COVID-19 is defeated.

He also expressed concern that programs which allow people to pay loans and utilities at a later date may just be kicking the expense can down the road. “You can only defer so much,” said Naccarato.

Every crisis should provide a learning opportunity. This one is no different.

Naccarato says COVID-19 has focused business owners’ attention on the importance of the digital marketplace and there’s no going back.

“The thing with technology is once you move the needle forward, you very seldom see it retrace backwards.”

“You have to be able to pivot when this type of thing happens,” he said, adding that businesses should ask themselves if they can do something to help front-line workers during the crisis or help make the supply chain work properly.

For example, a steel fabricating company in New Liskeard, which Naccarato works with, is looking at making mobile COVID-19 testing units. Closer to home, numerous local restaurants have been working hard at establishing on-line markets.

Education will also change in the post-COVID world.

Naccarato admits face-to-face learning is best, but high schools, colleges and universities will need to embrace more on-line learning in the future.

When his kids are in high school he wants them to have a component of on-line learning.

“It’s not just for the content, but to teach kids who will be taking on-line classes for the rest of their lives.”

Even those working in the trades must use on-line lessons to upgrade their skills, he said.

Besides the importance of staying home and safe, one lesson Naccarato said the crisis hammered home for everyone is that “We’re in this together.”