MONROE, CT — Pop up market places, shop local events and workshops on social media are all ways economic development commissions can give local businesses more exposure and the skills needed to reach out to clients.
Sadie Colcord, associate director of partnerships for AdvanceCT, brainstormed ideas with members of the Monroe Economic Development Commission during a virtual meeting Thursday.
“AdvanceCT is a statewide economic development organization,” Colcord said. “We’re partnered very closely with the State Department of Economic and Community Development. We work to recruit, retain and expand businesses here.”
Colcord, who was the featured speaker at the meeting, said she works primarily on the retention and expansion side, staying in constant contact with business owners in Connecticut.
“I think I have a good understanding of, obviously, the challenges they face now with COVID,” she said.
Colcord also works with municipal economic development offices and commissions, chambers of commerce and councils of governments.
“The end goal is that we all are moving in the same direction and working to coordinate our efforts to support the businesses in our state,” she said. “We want to see businesses growth.”
Though a number of towns have community and economic development coordinators like William Holsworth in Monroe, Colcord said towns have limited staffing and EDC members can enhance the assistance businesses receive by serving as key ambassadors between their town and the business community.
Whether it’s visiting a business in person or making a phone call, Colcord said commission members should always be asking business owners what challenges they face and how the town can help, while connecting them to the resources they need.
“The lack of knowledge is a big issue and the EDC can come in and fill that gap,” she said.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic she said EDC members can direct business owners to programs they may be eligible for, like PPP (the Paycheck Protection Program).
Other resources include the U.S. Small Business Association, which will soon be offering the Shuttered Venues program, according to Colcord.
The Connecticut Small Business Development Center and the Women’s Business Development Council can provide technical assistance for businesses looking to apply for programs, as well as helping with the development of marketing and business plans, Colcord said.
Christine Wittenauer, a commissioner, noted how many business owners have difficulty keeping their social media pages active with new photos, videos and posts. While that is ultimately their responsibility, Colcord said the EDC can point business owners to workshops to brush up on their online skills.
“If you don’t have a Facebook page or some sort of social media, that can be a great way to communicate en masse for the community,” she said of ways the EDC can share information on its programs and events.
Colcord spoke of the importance of building up the base of businesses following the EDC’s social media accounts.
She also said EDCs should take on the time consuming and challenging task of building an extensive contact list of local businesses. Chairman Ray Giovanni said his commission is currently working to significantly expand its list.
Outreach, scarecrows …
Holsworth asked Colcord what social media platform businesses use most.
She said most use Facebook and, though Instagram appeals to a younger audience, Facebook appeals to a broader cross section of age groups.
Mary Hall, a commissioner, asked how to reach the older population of residents who may not be as attuned to social media.
Colcord said she has often seen EDCs put together mailers, though that requires a budget. She said another option is to ask businesses to contribute money to be included in a mailer.
“If you go to a diner, you may see ads on the placemats,” Colcord said. “Work with the local diner if that’s an option.”
Some EDC members agreed that printing can be expensive and communicating with all of the businesses to get the information, logos and right colors can be a tremendous undertaking.
Holsworth shared a creative way the town promoted local businesses last year by partnering with the Monroe Parks and Recreation Department on a scarecrow contest/fundraiser at Wolfe Park. Businesses sponsored a space and decorated a scarecrow in a way to show off their wares and residents snapped photos and voted on their favorite ones.
Colcord said sidewalk sales, concerts and other community events can be effective venues to promote local businesses, especially when the pandemic is over.
Lawren Hubal, a commissioner, asked about any unique things Colcord has seen EDCs do in other towns.
Colcord said shop local, win local events, in which businesses donate $20 gift certificates that are raffled off for residents, who shop locally and share a photo of their receipts, are popular.
The EDC and the Monroe CT Residents Facebook page have often run these types of events in town.
Other, more challenging events, according to Colcord, are organizing pop up marketplaces.
Before the pandemic, Wittenauer said local businesses have had booths at events like the annual Strawberry Festival hosted by Monroe Congregational Church.
Holsworth said he wonders if the Monroe Farmers’ Market, which is starting a new season soon, can allow local businesses to have tables, adding it would not necessarily have to be food businesses.
Hall suggested pop up store displays outside restaurants during Restaurant Week.
When doing larger community events, Colcord said to keep communication open with businesses to make sure it is a positive event for them, rather than something that creates issues like difficulty finding places nearby.