Kawartha Lakes two-tiered approach to Digital Main Street
Kawartha Lakes is a city in name only. Geographically, it’s the size of a county and mostly made up of a collection of lakes and rural areas and towns and communities like Lindsay, Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls and Omemee.
Take Lindsay for example, the largest community under the Kawartha Lakes umbrella. The town of around 20,000 is facing a major street reconstruction. “In a couple of weeks, a good part of our downtown is going to be ripped up,” says Arbour. Small businesses along the main drag are trying to figure out what that looks like for them, and how they can offset the impacts of a less navigable street and reduced parking.
Enter Digital Main Street, a program combining grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities. Arbour heard about it at the Ontario BIA conference and knew it could benefit the collection of communities where she works.
“A lot of our businesses in the downtowns (are) owner-operated and those who run them have to be experts in so many different things,” she says. Having a digital presence is slowly moving up the list, even for places with an ingrained sense of shopping local. But “being online” can quickly slip into abstraction. “(It) can be different things depending on who you're trying to attract or what you're trying to be… there are so many different social platforms and directions you can go,” says Arbour. “I think it can be overwhelming.”
She points out that social media has been a particular point of interest for Kawartha Lakes businesses. The small business and entrepreneurial centre offers some training opportunities, but Arbour says she likes how the Digital Transformation grant calls on business owners to make a plan in order to receive the grant.
“It really is that two-tiered approach where those who are eager have the chance to take ownership and do the work and move forward,” she says. “But then for those who are maybe a little bit more hesitant, the city has the opportunity to apply and get some funding and get a consultant to help move them along.”
Kawartha Lakes has had about 25 businesses apply for the grant of the 400 businesses across the region. Their goal is to get to 120 in the coming weeks, a milestone she’s confident she’ll hit. Especially with the number of businesses affected by the construction in Lindsay looking for ways to get fresh eyes on their businesses. “I think the 360-degree pictures that come as part of this program have really whet the appetites of some who may be a little bit more hesitant to typically participate in something like this,” she says referring to the photos for Google My Business.
And they should, says Arbour. Social media and photos on Google My Business – these are the sorts of things that put a face to a business. And businesses, in turn, put a face to the community.
“It’s what the city is built around… historically, that is the hub of activity where people come and you get to see your neighbour and see what local wares are on the shelf,” says Arbour. “And I think that this program has the capacity to bring that awareness back (and) remind people of all of the active things that are happening in a downtown core.”
Written by Andrew Seale