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New grant program gives free support to St. Albert-area businesses

Digital Economy Program to help small business get online
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A new grant program is offering free online marketing support to local small businesses with up to 49 employees, such as the many shops that line St. Albert's downtown streets. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert and Sturgeon County-area business owners can now get a free trip into the world of online marketing through a new grant program.

The Alberta Digital Economy Program officially opened for applicants on Jan. 12.

The province announced this $10-million, two-year program in October. It aims to help Alberta businesses start marketing themselves online.

Thirteen Edmonton-area communities have signed onto the program, including St. Albert, Morinville, and Sturgeon County, said Heather Thomson, executive director of the University of Alberta’s Centre for Cities and Communities (which is running the program in this region).

The program lets anyone who owns an Alberta business with up to 49 employees sign up for digital marketing support from a U of A graduate, who will help them set up online stores and create digital marketing plans, Thomson said. The program is aimed at digital novices, she emphasized, not people who are already web-savvy. Some 700 Edmonton businesses received similar support during a trial run of the program.

Morinville economic development officer Troy Grainger said area governments hope to use this program to gauge the extent of digital literacy in the region and craft further business supports.

Important service

Online marketing has become essential for small businesses, especially during the pandemic, Thompson said.

“If you don’t have a digital presence, you don’t exist.”

But many business owners don’t know how to set up an online store and can’t afford to hire someone who does, Thompson said. This program aims to teach those owners the basics of online marketing so they can build their own digital strategies.

“We want these businesses to make more money,” she said.

St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce chair Garry Wetsch said there is great appetite among local businesses for online marketing support, and that the chamber itself is thinking about bringing in more of it later this year. He has visited the openings of four area businesses in recent weeks, and all four made extensive use of online marketing.

Wetsch said this new program can help local companies find more international customers and aid in economic development.

“5G (Internet access) is now mandatory and essential for business,” he said, citing a November 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, and the pandemic has made user-friendly online service vital for any company, especially restaurants.

In a press release, Morinville Mayor Simon Boersma described this program as a game-changer for many small businesses.

“We all know the importance of adopting new technology to grow and support businesses, but many small business owners can’t afford the cost to do so,” he said.

“The free resources offered through [this program] resolves this issue and provides the support needed by the small business community.”

Thompson said about a hundred applicants signed up for this program within 10 hours of its launch. She hope to enrol 2,400 in the next 15 months.

Visit www.yourdep.ca for details on the program.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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