Ontario’s Digital Main Street Program Expands Across the Province

Adapting a business for the digital age can be an intensive process, whether it be the price or the time spent learning how to implement new strategies.

Ontario has supported thousands of main street businesses in Toronto become more digital, and now the province is expanding the Main Street Digital Initiative outside of Toronto and around Ontario. This will happen via a $12 million investment, administered by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA). This $12 million is part of a total $40 million investment in the Main Street Enhancement project.

Businesses can apply for grants up to $2,500 to help meet their digital goals.

“We are excited to support small businesses as they seek to enhance their digital capabilities,” said Jeff Leal, the Minister Responsible for Small Business and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “The Main Street Digital Initiative will provide access to tools and expertise in order to capitalize on the new opportunities that can be realized through technology.”

The Digital Main Street program launched in 2016 to help Toronto’s main street businesses adopt new technology and grow their digital presence. So far, over 5,000 businesses have taken advantage of that program, which was funded partly by Google, Mastercard, Rogers, Shopify and Microsoft.

In addition to grants, this newly expanded program will offer a web platform that offers basic access to services like vetted lists of digital vendors that help take any business into the digital economy. Digital training will also be offered, and a service squad that offers one-on-one assistance and assessments will be available as well.

“Ontario’s main street businesses know the importance of being online,” said Kay Matthews, executive director of the OBIAA. “The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association is pleased to work with the Ontario government to help ensure main street businesses succeed by improving their digital skills and ability to tap into the latest trends of today’s digital economy.”

The idea of a main street project involves bringing digital resources to the many small brick-and-mortar businesses that dot the main streets of every town in Ontario. These towns are supported by SMEs, as one-third of Ontarians are employed by small businesses.

In the past, the Digital Main Street project has worked with companies like UrbanLogiq to gather economic data and analyze financial activity for small businesses, but right now it is unclear if this expanded program will mimic what Ontario did with Toronto.