New program offers grants to build online stores

·3 min read

The British Columbia government is introducing a new grant program to support small and medium-sized businesses in expanding or pivoting to online sales.

Ravi Kahlon, minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, says the government is investing $12 million to help about 1,500 businesses launch or upgrade online stores.

A quarter of the funding will be reserved for Indigenous businesses and those outside the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria.

"It's a small fraction and I would challenge that rural and remote businesses are maybe more in need of online tools and accessing wider markets than potentially Lower Mainland-Greater Victoria businesses that have larger population densities at their doorstep," Prince George and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Corrigall said.

Nonetheless, he encouraged local businesses to apply and made note of the Digital Economy: Rapid Response + Resiliency Program (DER3) program offered through Hubspace in Prince George.

"If they've gone through the DER3 program, I suspect they have a pretty good chance of being approved for it because I do see these as partner-based programs," Corrigall said. "But I think every business, if they're not considering moving to e-commerce, they should now consider it and see how much of that work they can offset through these funds."

Applications for the new e-commerce grant are open online at launchonline.ca.

In a press release, B.C. Liberals jobs critic Todd Stone said only $12 million of the $300 million in grant money approved for small and medium-size businesses has been distributed as part of the province's COVID-19 recovery plan.

Kahlon acknowledged there have been delays in getting some previously announced support funding out the door.

He says the recovery grant program, which, for example, requires a two-step process that takes time, but there has been strong interest in the program with the province receiving about 4,000 new applications in the past few weeks.

In December, the eligibility requirements for the grant program were loosened so that businesses must show a revenue drop of 30 per cent instead of 50 per cent since March and have been operating for 18 months, down from three years.

Kahlon has said that means businesses only need to have been in operation for nine months before the pandemic to apply for a grant.

Qualifying businesses can receive grants from $10,000 to $30,000 through that program.

Both programs end on March 31 - the same date the province is to begin offering vaccinations against COVID-19 to the general population.

Regardless of how well that campaign goes, Corrigall said businesses will still need support beyond that date.

"I don't think we can look at recovery as a very short-term, expeditious process," Corrigall said and added that he expects some health orders will remain in place past the end of September, such as limits around the number of customers allowed in a store.

- with files from The Canadian Press

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen