KENORA—Ontario’s Digital Main Street Program and Student Digital Service Squads, launched as a $57 million partnership between the Ontario and federal governments, are helping connect tech-savvy students, $2,500 in government grants and online training with local small businesses who need help launching and expanding their online stores -while government closures remain in place.
“Northern Ontario’s small businesses are the backbone of our economy and our community,” said Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora–Rainy River. “The Digital Service Squads are helping our businesses transition online, allowing them to access new customers safely and reliably. By choosing to shop local by shopping local we are helping our businesses stay in business.
”Throughout 2020, 4 local Kenora small businesses received Digital Transformation Grants, while many others accessed help from hired local students to go digital and increase their e-commerce sales. A total of $34,250 in funding was provided by Ontario to help local Kenora and area small businesses transform digitally.
Students working in the squad program assess a business’s digital literacy and provide:
•Information on how to access the Digital Main Street digital transformation training program
•Help in creating a Digital Transformation Plan and applying for and spending the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant
•Support to create or update a website and adopt best practices
•Advice on social media promotion and advertising •
Technological support and recommendations on tools for specific business needs
•Advice on additional digital transformation support including loyalty programs, point-of-sale systems, ecommerce and back-end business operations support.
Digital Service Squads across the province are already on track to help thousands of small businesses across Ontario develop their online offerings. This is meeting a critical need for many Ontario businesses as they transition to online storefronts.
“Confronting the economic impacts from COVID-19 is a team effort, and through the Ontario Digital Main Street program and Digital Service Squads, we’re enlisting our students to help our local small businesses get up and running online,” said Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. “I encourage all Ontarians to use their purchasing power to Support Local —by buying their goods virtually from local small businesses today and into the future.” The program is administered by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association, which works with participating municipalities, Chambers of Commerce and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs).
The Digital Service Squads are an important part of the Digital Main Street platform that is expected to help up to 22,900 Ontario businesses create and enhance their online presence and generate jobs for more than 1,400 students.
“Digital Service Squads are the true heart of the Digital Main Street initiative,” said Kay Matthews, Executive Director of the Ontario BIA Association. “By working directly with main street small businesses, the passionate students that do work on squads bring local business owners the knowledge, tools and hands-on support they need to transform to brick-and-click operations. In this way, our downtown cores can continue to be strong and vibrant while also giving local businesses the online presence to thrive through the pandemic and beyond.”
Currently, only about 60 percent of Ontario’s small enterprises have a website, and only 7 percent accept online payment. Through Digital Main Street, Ontario businesses are adopting new tools that will allow them to reach a wider customer base and help them weather the economic impacts of COVID-19.
•The Ontario 2020 Budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover outlined more than $13.5 billion in support for people and jobs.
•The Main Street Relief Grant provides up to $1,000 to help eligible small businesses for the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Main Street Relief Grant is available to small businesses with two to nine employees in retail, accommodations and food services, repair and maintenance, and personal and laundry services to help cover personal protective equipment costs.
•Ontario’s Small Business Support Grant provides a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $20,000 to eligible small businesses who have had to restrict their operations due to the Provincewide Shutdown.
•Eligible businesses can apply for more an $600 million in support through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, Ontario Main Street Relief Grant: PPE Support and temporary property tax and energy cost rebates through a single, online application portal.
•In October, the government launched Ontario’s Main Street Recovery Plan and introduced the Main Street Recovery Act, 2020, legislation that will support small businesses and modernize rules to allow them to innovate and meet the challenges of today. The act will remove hurdles faced by small businesses and allow them to pursue new opportunities —while maintaining or enhancing protections for public health, safety and the environment.
•The Digital Main Street platform is a $57 million program jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments. It is part of Ontario’s support for small businesses through Ontario’s Main Street Recovery Plan.
•Ontario is also investing an additional $150 million in rural broadband which will help open the digital road for many Ontario small businesses.
•Find all small business grants and recovery resources at ontario.ca/smallbusiness
•Learn more about Rebuilding Main Street
•Learn about resources available to help grow online through Digital Main Street•Find out how you can help stop the spread of COVID-19