Collaboration has paid off for a few South Georgian Bay municipalities.
The South Georgian Bay Small Business Enterprise Centre has just been awarded an Ontario grant to implement a pilot program that seeks to get locally-owned, main street businesses online and up to date with new technologies.
The Digital Main Street pilot program has been running in Toronto for the last two years, moving into Kitchener last year.
Now, it’s coming to South Georgian Bay. This will mark the program’s first foray into Simcoe County.
“It’s for main-street businesses that want to take stock of their digital impact and find a way to enhance it,” said Tim Newton, manager of the South Georgian Bay Business Enterprise Centre (SBEC).
“Consumers in this day and age are using their mobile devices more than ever to do research before they make purchasing decisions. If you can’t be found online, the possibility of you selling to a new customer is almost none,” he added.
Collingwood, the Town of the Blue Mountains, Meaford, Wasaga Beach and Stayner wrote the Digital Service Squad Grant application together, and were approved for $10,000 to set up a Digital Service Squad that will service all of South Georgian Bay.
The squad will provide one-on-one assistance to small main street businesses to provide training, consulting and advisory services.
“Canadian companies are being viewed as less competitive on the global scene than our counterparts south of the border. If we help with a groundswell of support from the grassroots mom-and-pop-shop businesses, it can only ripple up,” said Newton. “This will help small businesses that – who knows? -- might become bigger businesses or international and global businesses.”
Newton says a request for proposals for the Digital Service Squad went out about a month ago, and SBEC is currently working through the procurement process with the bids they’ve received.
“We are excited to be delivering Digital Main Street to Ontario’s main street small businesses,” said Kay Matthews, executive director of the Ontario BIA Association. “The government of Ontario recognizes the importance of investing in the digital capabilities of Ontario’s small business and in our province’s downtown cores. The result is an important program that provides grants and resources to municipalities, business groups and main-street small businesses to use digital tools and techniques to grow.”
“South Georgian Bay has clearly demonstrated its forward-thinking approach,” she said.
The provincial government also applauded South Georgian Bay for their efforts to support small businesses.
“Our government is committed to helping small businesses improve their competitiveness, create jobs and attract investment,” said Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “That’s why I’m so pleased that the Town of Collingwood will benefit from the expertise of a Digital Service Squad... (which) will help businesses tap into the latest trends in today’s digital economy.”
To kick off the use of the funding, SBEC will be hosting a workshop for main-street business owners on June 18 at the Collingwood Public Library.
Called Camp Tech, attendees will learn about search engine optimization (SEO), how Google and other search engines work, how to successfully conduct keyword research, how to write website content with Google in mind and how to use social media and links from other websites to improve your Google ranking.
This workshop runs from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Community Rooms B and C on the third floor, and is free for main-street small businesses in Collingwood, the Blue Mountains, Meaford, Wasaga Beach and Stayner.
Individual businesses are also eligible for the Digital Transformation Grant Program through the funding, which provides $2,500 to each qualifying small main-street Ontario business to purchase and adopt digital tools and technologies. There are only 2,000 grants available until March 2020.
For more information on the Digital Main Street program or to apply for a grant, click here.