Digital Main Street Program Helps Local Small Businesses in Niagara

Published on January 21, 2021

Ontario's Digital Main Street Program and Student Digital Service Squads, launched as a $57 million partnership between the Ontario and federal governments, are helping connect tech-savvy students, $2,500 in government grants and online training with local small businesses who need help launching and expanding their online stores - while government closures remain in place.

Throughout 2020, 49 local small businesses in Niagara received Digital Transformation Grants, while many others accessed help from hired local students to go digital and increase their e-commerce sales. A total of $314,730.00 in funding was provided by Ontario to help local Niagara businesses transform digitally.

Students working in the squad program assess a business’s digital literacy and provide:

  • Information on how to access the Digital Main Street digital transformation training program,
  • Help in creating a Digital Transformation Plan and applying for and spending the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant,
  • Support to create or update a website and adopt best practices,
  • Advice on social media promotion and advertising,
  • Technological support and recommendations on tools for specific business needs and,
  • Advice on additional digital transformation support including loyalty programs, point-of-sale systems, ecommerce and back-end business operations support.
  • Digital Service Squads across the province are already on track to help thousands of small businesses across Ontario develop their online offerings. This is meeting a critical need for many Ontario businesses as they transition to online storefronts.

"Confronting the economic impacts from COVID-19 is a team effort, and through the Ontario Digital Main Street program and Digital Service Squads, we are enlisting our students to help our local small businesses get up and running online," said Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.

"I encourage all Ontarians to use their purchasing power to Support Local - by buying their goods virtually from local small businesses today and into the
future."

"Local small businesses are the engine of our economy and vital to our recovery from COVID-19 and future prosperity," said Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West.

"The Digital Main Street Program is just one example of how our government is supporting job creators in Niagara and across the province."

The program is administered by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association, which works with participating municipalities, Chambers of Commerce and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). The Digital Service Squads are an important part of the Digital Main Street platform that is expected to help up to 22,900 Ontario businesses create and enhance their online presence and generate jobs for more than 1,400 students.

"Digital Service Squads are the true heart of the Digital Main Street initiative," said Kay Matthews, Executive Director of the Ontario BIA Association.

"By working directly with main street small businesses, the passionate students that do work on squads bring local business owners the knowledge, tools and hands-on support they need to transform to brick-and-click operations. In this way, our downtown cores can continue to be strong and vibrant while also giving local businesses
the online presence to thrive through the pandemic and beyond."

Currently, only about 60 percent of Ontario's small enterprises have a website, and only 7 percent accept online payment. Through Digital Main Street, Ontario businesses are adopting new tools that will allow them to reach a wider customer base and help them weather the economic impacts of COVID-19.