IDA members are deeply focused on how the storefront economy and small businesses in their districts will survive, sustain and hopefully thrive as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses are an integral part of the economy, offering job opportunities, financial growth and unique services or services all while fostering innovation and community connections.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that one in five small businesses had to temporarily close since the pandemic started. We are all too aware of how difficult the pandemic has been for small and medium-sized business, especially urban storefront retail. According to research firm eMarketer, sales at physical stores will drop 14 percent this year, and it could take five years for the industry to bounce back completely. Online sales, while up, are not enough to make up the loss.
What is even more important for IDA members are these small businesses help define our districts and communities. Andres Dau, senior partner at the McKinsey consultancy, describes it well saying that small businesses provide the “tapestry of people and communities.” Think about the experiences you have when traveling or when you visit your favorite city. Where do you go? What do you do? At IDA’s 2017 Annual Conference in Winnipeg, retail strategist Michael Berne spoke of his love affair of finding the most local dish and restaurant to truly experience a community and its culture. The economic imperative to support the storefront businesses is clear, but it is the threat to our people and communities that is truly at risk.
The road to recovery for small businesses means embracing digitization. Prior to the pandemic, wonderful efforts first in the City of Toronto and later throughout Ontario to deploy the Digital Mainstreet program through local BIAs assisted several thousand businesses. Work continued through the pandemic with financial support from the government, however, we know the need across North America is enormous. A recent Boston Consulting Group analysis shows that only 10% of COVID-19 response technology use cases were geared towards small and medium-sized businesses. Recently Cisco research identified almost half of all small and medium-sized businesses are becoming more digital or plan on developing a digital strategy this year. There is both a need and a demand for more support and IDA is here to help.
I hope you’ve seen the recent launch of Digital Readiness Series in partnership with Grow with Google and SCORE. This new program is designed to support IDA organizations of any size by delivering training direct to your local businesses. Alternatively, we’ve established a “train the trainer” program to equip a district staff member to deliver the digital readiness program directly. Together, IDA and its members will be even more essential in supporting local business and rebuilding more resilient communities.