Townships launch Digital Service Squad to help small businesses adopt online technologies

MINDEMOYA—In partnership with the Township of Billings, the Municipality of Central Manitoulin has received a $12,000 grant from Digital Main Street, Ontario for a Digital Service Squad (DSS) to help small downtown businesses use digital technologies to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Funding for the grant is provided by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT). The squad member will begin visiting small businesses in Mindemoya, Providence Bay and Kagawong this fall.

“We are very pleased to announce that we received this DSS grant in conjunction with the Township of Billings,” Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens said in a press release. “Sharing resources and co-operation among Manitoulin Island communities is key to the long-term success of our area. The Digital Main Street program is an innovative economic development program that will assist in the digital transformation of many businesses, allowing them to use new technologies and adapt to the new realities we are all facing now and into the future.”

“I think the DSS will be a very useful support to some of the key businesses in the Township of Billings, especially during this time of pandemic-related economic uncertainty,” Billings Mayor Ian Anderson added. “The fact that we were able to successfully apply in collaboration with our neighbouring municipality, Central Manitoulin, just makes the whole initiative more appealing.”

Established in 2018, Digital Main Street Ontario was recently extended thanks to an investment of $42.5 million from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and $7.45 million from Ontario. The nearly $50 million investment will help small businesses across Ontario pivot their operations to include online business models, regain lost revenue and become more resilient and competitive as the economy recovers. The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) administers the program to Ontario’s main street small businesses.

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 the company’s social media presence and providing support for basic website and e-commerce set-up. The 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).

“The COVID-19 pandemic hit Ontario’s main streets hard, so Digital Main Street is needed more than ever,” said Kay Matthews, executive director of OBIAA. “We know that businesses that participated in Digital Main Street last year were better able to cope when the pandemic hit. We’re excited that MEDJCT and FedDev Ontario are providing the funding to extend this important program to help businesses in communities across Central Manitoulin.”

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 DSS 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.