website maker $8.7 million in additional funding to help 4,100 more businesses recover from the pandemic and keep 150 students employed
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an immense strain on retail-oriented main street businesses and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over the past 16 months. In order to survive, many of these businesses had to pivot their operations from brick-and-mortar locations to the digital marketplace.
That is why in June 2020, the Government of Canada, in partnership with the Government of Ontario, the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA), Invest Ottawa, Communitech and the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT), expanded the existing Digital Main Street (DMS) platform and launched the Recovery Activation Program (RAP).
Since the launch of these programs, it is estimated that over 30,000 businesses have been engaged to pivot and digitize their operations, helping them generate new revenue channels throughout the course of the pandemic and build their resiliency. In addition, DMS has provided over 1,000 meaningful work opportunities for students who have been hired to guide main street businesses along the digital adoption journey.
Given the strong demand that remains for access to these services from businesses across southern Ontario, today, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), announced an investment of $8.7 million to extend some key elements of these programs for an additional three months—bringing the total federal investment to over $70 million.
Specifically, this three-month extension of federal funding will provide continued support for 70 digital service squads in communities across southern Ontario, enable an additional 1,000 companies to access the Digital Transformation Grant program to support digital adoption, and allow an additional 2,800 companies to participate in the ShopHERE initiative. Under the Recovery Activation Program, an additional 300 businesses will have the opportunity to participate in training to digitize all aspects of their operations, with a focus on supporting small- to medium-sized manufacturers and those in the tourism sector.
Targeted support a game changer for many main street businesses and SMEs
Together, DMS and RAP have provided integral support to local businesses, resulting in measures that helped them navigate unprecedented conditions and discover new ways to generate additional customers.
Shortly after The Bridge Social opened its doors in Uxbridge, owners Rebecca Harman and Julia McDonald faced debilitating restrictions due to COVID-19. The partners quickly realized that their website, which had not been a priority, was their only hope to keep their organic neighbourhood café and clean body care store afloat. A Digital Transformation Grant through DMS provided access to a local Digital Service Squad that helped them set up an online storefront. “DMS saved our business and opened up so many opportunities we wouldn’t have had before to help keep our doors open,” says Harman. “With our Shopify website, we have been able to train new and returning staff on the online ordering and inventory process, as well the value of the online and instore cohesiveness. They have loved every step of the learning process, and we can all see the value in these transferrable skills. This has all resulted in being able to capitalize on online shopping and create more accessible experiences for our customers.”
For some businesses, COVID-19 sparked greater demand for their products. Take Ottawa Valley Grain Products (OVGP), for example. The fourth-generation, family-owned and operated business has been processing specialty grain products since 1929. With the number of people discovering pandemic baking, the company was swamped with orders that their outdated website and shipping processes couldn’t manage. OVGP owner, Kevin Stewart, says the help he received from the ShopHERE program helped his company build a more user-friendly website, and OVGP is now reaching customers it wasn’t able to reach before. “Working with our own eCommerce Coordinator was extremely helpful,” says Stewart. “I can’t say enough good things about the process to build the online store—it was great!”
In other instances, COVID-19 forced companies to completely re-think their operating models. This was the case with Kunst Solutions Corp., which provides enterprise solutions for improving organizations’ processes and performance. Prior to the pandemic, the company provided in-person training to its clients. By participating in RAP, Kunst Solutions’ owners learned how to pivot to a virtual training model and to grow their business digitally. “RAP solidified our training strategy and provided us with guidance so we and our customers feel comfortable and secure about our new virtual e-learning offerings,” says Richard Kunst, President and CEO. “This could not have been accomplished and implemented at this rapid rate without the advice and expertise we obtained through RAP.”
With the province moving toward increased re-opening and recovery efforts, FedDev Ontario’s extended support for DMS and RAP is continuing to help businesses build forward with the tools they need to succeed in a new, increasingly digital economy.