In St. Catharines’ downtown and Merritton areas, a spike in infrastructure investment and brownfield development has piqued the interest of new entrepreneurs and is bringing fresh businesses to the area.
“We’ve got an influx of younger and more diverse businesses popping up in those neighbourhoods,” says Brian York, Director of Economic Development and Government Relations for the City of St. Catharines. But that sense of vibrancy needs support to flourish.
For the city, the My Main Street initiative couldn’t have come at a better time to help stoke that growth and support its diversity, equity and inclusivity agenda. Funded with a $23.25-million Government of Canada investment, through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), and delivered by the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) and Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO), My Main Street supports the revitalization of business communities through hands-on support and grants.
As part of the program, St. Catharines will receive a non-repayable contribution of $50,000 toward the 12-month salary of a Main Street Ambassador and up to ten $10,000 contributions to support new and existing businesses for each community. The program also offers extensive research drawn from thousands of data points to advise the business communities on the unique makeup of their trade areas, who their customers are and how they could better attract business.
The My Main Street Local Business Accelerator program focuses on creating and maintaining vibrant and inclusive local main streets while providing residents, new entrepreneurs, and existing businesses with economic opportunities in their main street community.
Collectively, Merritton and downtown St. Catharines are home to approximately 1,000 businesses, and York plans to take advantage of My Main Street’s offerings to help support the diverse communities represented within those areas.
“One of the overarching objectives of our organization is to help unite all members of the business community,” says York, adding that last year the city hired its first diversity, equity and inclusion manager. “During the continued recovery and in the wake of this pandemic, we feel growth is going to happen and it’s going to be the result of a stronger, more diversified economy.”
The combination of grants and the ambassador program will help support the businesses and entrepreneurs that want to be in those communities and serve those areas. Additionally, York says reaching those diverse communities within the neighbourhoods will be bolstered by pre-existing partnerships with groups including the Niagara Regional Native Centre, Matter of Black, Black Owned 905, Women In Niagara, Pride Niagara, Niagara Folk Arts, Venture Niagara and Niagara Economic Development. “We think we’re going to be able to deliver one of the most successful ambassador programs in Ontario.”
York envisions the ambassador helping to unite those interests while also being able to break down the specific needs of each diverse community within those areas to see where the support is needed most. Just like hiring a designated diversity, equity and inclusion manager was a priority, getting this right is also front of mind for the city, says York.
“Recovery and propping businesses up and helping them become more successful in a post-COVID-19 world is important to every community,” says York. “But we were intentional to say, this is an area of the community that we want to lend more support.”