The Ontario government is teaming up with the federal government to launch a $57.6 million program aimed at helping approximately 30,000 small businesses in the province boost their online sales during the pandemic.
The new program was unveiled today by Prabmeet Sarkaria, associate minister of small business and red tape reduction. Sarkaria was joined by Mélanie Joly, minister of economic development and official languages and minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The multi-million-dollar program, wherein $50 million is coming from the federal government and the remaining amount from the Ontario government, will allow small Ontario businesses to take advantage of three new programs to support their digital transformation. Those programs are the ShopHERE program, the Digital Main Street Grant, and the Future-Proofing Main Street.
ShopHERE powered by Google will help hire skilled and trained students to build and support the launch of online stores for businesses that previously did not have the capacity to do so themselves. This new investment is also expected to generate jobs for more than 1,400 students, according to the program.
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“The core goal will be to help small businesses compete and grow, in a world that is increasingly online, to help them recover as quickly as possible following COVID-19,” government officials noted in a press release.
Digital Main Street Grant is aimed at helping main street small businesses become digitally more effective. Through a $2,500 grant administered by the Ontario Business Improvement Areas Association (OBIAA), small businesses can start to adopt new technologies and embrace digital marketing. Municipalities, Chambers of Commerces, and BIAs can apply for a Digital Service Squad grant, which will allow them to establish teams to provide personalized, one-on-one support.
Future-Proofing Main Street aims to provide specialized and in-depth digital transformation services and support to help existing main-street firms adapt to changes in their sector and thrive in the new economy.
In addition, the Recovery Activation Program, operated through the Toronto Region Board of Trade, will help businesses grow and digitize their operations with custom business planning, learning webcasts, online resource sharing and consulting sessions. As a result of the investment announced today, the program will be offered across Ontario and at no cost to businesses, according to the press release.
“The global marketplace is rapidly changing, and in order to compete and succeed Ontario must adapt,” said Vic Fedeli, minister of economic development, job creation and trade. “By using innovative tools and technologies, Digital Main Street will help our businesses in expanding their reach to meet new markets and adjust to the new realities of doing business during the pandemic and into the next phase of economic recovery.”
Representing 42 per cent of Canada’s GDP and 48 per cent of new jobs, small businesses are crucial to the country’s economy. Unfortunately, they’re also at great risk in this unique recession.
“Ontario’s small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and their recovery is critical to Ontario’s recovery,” said Minister Sarkaria in a press release.
The altered economy as a result of the ongoing pandemic includes more digital delivery, and with provinces in Canada finally reopening after months of lockdown, small businesses will need substantial relief from the government throughout the recovery phase in order to survive.
“As thousands of small businesses across the province closed their doors and halted business during the COVID-19 outbreak, many struggled to shift sales or services online,” said Sarkaria.
Tending to be “digital novices”, a significant number are without a website, or the ability to facilitate online payments – small firms were ill-prepared for the rapid economic shift that has emerged in the pandemic’s wake, an abrupt lurch to a virtual marketplace that has caught many off guard, noted a report from RBC Economics.
Most small and medium businesses in Canada continue to struggle to develop a digital footprint, according to a study conducted by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) in 2019. About 60 per cent of Ontario’s small enterprises have a website, and only seven per cent have an online payment solution. Digitally, Canadian businesses are estimated to be two years behind their U.S. counterparts.
The provincial and federal governments noted in the press release that when it comes to digital commerce, Canadian businesses are two years behind their American competitors.
This crisis may be the moment for these companies to reboot and reposition themselves for a new economy that will be more digital, more virtual and more mobile than ever, according to a recent RBC Economics report.
“As local economies across Ontario reopen, we’re focused on ensuring that our main streets don’t just survive, but thrive,” said Joly.
Ontario has been in a state of emergency since mid of March.