Old Town Kemptville takes new school approach to main street
The Eastern Ontario community of Kemptville’s roots stretch back to the early 1800s, owing its lineage to an entrepreneurial sawmill owner. More than a century and a half since Kemptville incorporated, the entrepreneurial spirit lingers. And while the town is proud of its heritage, main street businesses are focusing on the future with the introduction of Digital Main Street.
The program, which leverages grants and support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association, helps small, main street businesses across Ontario strengthen their digital and online capabilities.
“Some of these businesses have been around since the 1800s,” says Megan McDonald, digital service squad team member. “They had still been operating in the same sort of sense, they still only do cash, they don’t have any sort of website – no social media, not even a POS system.”
But in a time when a lack of digital presence can push you towards obsolescence, the Old Town Kemptville BIA felt it was a critical time to take action and offer support and resources to its 77 members.
“Even within a small footprint like ours it's definitely challenging at times to share that information that will be meaningful to each business,” says Deron Johnston, executive director of the BIA. So he and McDonald connected with the individual entrepreneurs to introduce them to the program, what it is and how it works.
“I think it was maybe intimidating initially,” says Johnston. “Once people realized that there are not 50 pages to fill out, there's no blood sample necessary, you don't need to trace your family tree, they got a little more comfortable.”
Since launching this summer, 54 businesses in the community have engaged with McDonald, and she’s helped them get more than $17,500 in support through the Digital Transformation Grant, a one-time grant of up to $2,500 of help with the cost of adopting new technologies.
“The tipping point was once people started to receive their grants,” says McDonald. “It became an obtainable thing.” In order to access the Digital Transformation Grant, businesses must complete a series of training videos that introduce them to the different digital concepts, coalescing in the design of a Digital Transformation Plan.
“It sets up the roadmap for them,” says McDonald.
She says she’s confident going forward that the program will have a positive impact on the Old Town Kemptville business community.
“Because it's generally an older demographic – it was something they weren't comfortable with (and) they always felt so helpless about having to pay people for these things,” says McDonald. “but giving them the tools to succeed… they felt super empowered by it.”
Written by Andrew Seale