Reopening downtowns remains a slow process, one we all hope will not be interrupted by additional restrictions. And while vaccine distribution continues to provide hope, many small businesses are still in survival mode. Support from IDA member districts has never been so important and I continue to learn of great efforts underway.
Local small business grant programs continue to roll out in many districts, some as extensions of existing programs and others beginning brand new this year. Nineteen IDA members participated in IDA’s first Grow with Google Train the Trainer session so they could teach their small and medium-sized businesses how to improve their digital presence. Others are adapting programs to respond to more equitable and inclusive economic development such as The Downtown BOOST program in Baltimore and demonstrating the power of innovative programs to support equitable opportunity in support of COVID-19 like the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. Simply stated, recovery efforts across North America are wide-ranging and the volume is unprecedented.
The City of Calgary has shown enormous leadership in recent weeks with two bold moves. Most recently the City announced fee waivers for small and medium-sized businesses extending for two additional years at a cost of $17.6 million. This announcement followed an announcement by the Mayor whereby the City will spend $4.2 million to cover the district assessment costs for all 6000+ businesses that typically pay the BIZ levy. It’s one thing for municipal leadership to proclaim the vital importance of BIDs, BIAs and other forms of place management, but it’s quite a different thing to pay the BID assessment or waive millions in small business fees.
With federal stimulus programs approved and plans for additional federal investment looming on the horizon, IDA members are actively advocating local authorities – like the City of Calgary – to reallocate those federal resources to support challenges in downtown and adjacent neighborhoods and provide a lifeline to the economic heart of the city. In the U.S., Bruce Katz and Colin Higgins do a great job of outlining the importance of advocating locally to leverage funding from the American Rescue Plan. In Canada, a recent study by PwC on the impacts of COVID-19 on downtown areas of Canada’s major cities, and this example from the Montreal report, set forth new ideas for how the federal government can support local downtowns.
The time is now to advocate for your local district. The time is now to be heard!