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Digital Service Squads to provide local support for small businesses

Photo by John Schnobrich.

A $35,000 grant from Digital Main Street Ontario will allow Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO) create a Digital Service Squad (DSS). This squad will help downtown small businesses in Kingston and the smaller communities across the region use digital technologies to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, according to a statement from KEDCO released on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020.

“We are extremely grateful for the continued investment into Kingston and area to support small businesses grow and digitize their operations.  Even before COVID-19, over 90 per cent of companies reported their business models would need to change given digitization. With the funding from Digital Main Street, we are able to provide specialized resources and access to non-repayable grants direct to businesses,” said Donna Gillespie, CEO of Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

This grant is funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), who also recently supported the continuation of the Digital Main Street program with an investment of $42.5 million.

“Ontario’s small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and the keystone of our economic recovery”, said The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. “That is why we have invested in Digital Main Street to help these enterprises adapt to doing business in a digital world, and take advantage of the record number of people shopping online. Congratulations to Kingston and Frontenac County on the launch of your Digital Service Squad. The work you’re doing with small businesses in your community will help keep our main streets vibrant, support good local jobs and help our economy come back strong.”

The local BIA expressed gratitude for their partnership in the program, which is coming in play at a time when it is both wanted and necessary, explained Michele Langlois, General Manager of the Downtown Kingston! BIA.

“Downtown Kingston! BIA has been so pleased to be a partner in the Digital Main Street program, along with Kingston EcDev, the Ontario BIA Association and the provincial government.  The available funding for small businesses could not have come at a more opportune time.  We are pleased to say that more than 60 downtown businesses have been able to take advantage of the program to date — and hope that many more are able to follow suit,” she said.

Kingston Economic Development and its partners will launch the Digital Service Squad with a Zoom event on Wednesday, August 27 at 9 am.  Details can be found on the events calendar at www.kingstonecdev.com.

“When local businesses were forced to close their doors, we know it was a major challenge for many to shift to a digital platform in such a short period of time. This funding will go a long way to help small businesses continue to build out their digital tools and create lasting changes that will help them thrive and be even stronger than before,” said Bryan Paterson, Mayor of Kingston.

Mark Gerretsen, MP for Kingston and the Islands, echoed Paterson’s sentiments: “Our local economy is reliant upon the many small businesses that call Kingston and the Islands home. These businesses have had to adapt the way they operate since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investments through the Digital Main Street, announced today, will ensure that local businesses are supported in their resilient efforts during this time. I encourage everyone to buy local when possible so that we can continue to recover from the effects of COVID-19 and come out of this pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever before.”

Digital Service Squads are fundamental to Digital Main Street’s design and success, with trained specialists who meet with small businesses, at no cost, to help them improve their online presence. The squads assist with a number of activities, including developing a Google My Business profile, enhancing social media presence and providing support for basic website and e-commerce set-up.  Squads will also assist qualified small businesses through the application process for a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant, which includes an online assessment, online training modules and the development of a Digital Transformation Plan (DTP), read the statement.

“Now, more than ever, it is important for every small business to be both adaptive and present in the digital world,” said Ian Arthur, MPP for Kingston and the Islands. “The recovery of Kingston and Ontario’s economies depend upon improving their availability under these tremendously difficult circumstances. That’s why I am happy to hear that Kingston Economic Development, along with Frontenac County and Downtown Kingston BIA, have received this grant for a Digital Service Squad. I look forward to seeing the important assistance they will provide for recovery and building up businesses in Kingston and the surrounding region.”

About Digital Main Street

Digital Main Street is an innovative program designed to help main street small businesses achieve digital transformation. The program is built around an online learning platform, structured training programs, grants and Digital Service Squads teams of street-level experts that help main street small businesses manage and grow their operations through technology adoption.

The program was originally created in 2016 by the Toronto Association of BIAs (TABIA) and a group of strategic partners including Google, MasterCard, Microsoft, and Shopify. For more information, please visit digitalmainstreet.ca.

About Digital Main Street Ontario

Digital Main Street was expanded across all of Ontario in 2018 with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through the $38 million Main Street Revitalization Initiative. It has been further extended through funding from FedDev Ontario and the Ontario Ministry for Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT). 

The new round of funding includes $42.5 million from the Government of Canada’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, a national recovery initiative delivered by Canada’s regional development agencies. With $7.45 million from Ontario, this combined federal and provincial project will strengthen Ontario’s economic capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration, and will promote the development of a strong and diversified Ontario economy. For more information, please visit digitalmainstreet.ca/ontariogrants

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