City mom and pops eligible for technology funding

The planned creation of an International Marketplace along Acushnet Avenue in the city could draw a whole new customer base to the neighborhood. But many area businesses aren’t yet ready to take advantage of the opportunity, according to one local nonprofit that would like to change that situation.
Corinn Williams, executive director of the Community Economic Development Center, estimates that less than 40 percent of Acushnet Avenue businesses have broadband access or use technology for customer transactions, paying vendors, or managing their finances. Their owners often arrive at CEDC offices carrying notebooks of hand-written information and financials, looking for help with tasks like writing invoices, paying sales taxes online, or creating promotional flyers, she said.
But technology can make both customer and vendor interactions faster, easier, and cheaper, she said.
“You look at different parts of the city and broadband adoption is limited,” said Williams. “It’s surprising because we take it so much for granted, but here on Acushnet Avenue a lot of mom-and-pop businesses, for whatever reason, haven’t really incorporated technology as much.”
Now the nonprofit is looking to help business owners make the transition to technology and is offering funding to make that happen. Through a partnership with the Mass Broadband Institute, the CEDC plans to distribute grant funds to 10-to-15 city small businesses in early 2013. Funding can be used for a variety of needs from developing a new technology plan, buying Quickbooks or upgrading a laptop, to creating a new website, the organization said.
Amounts will provide two years of CEDC support and will likely range from $1,000 to $7,500 per business, depending on need.
While not limited to Acushnet Avenue businesses, Williams is acutely aware of the potential benefit to this neighborhood and its many mom-and-pop operations in particular. The timing is important, she said, as the area undergoes a redesign process intended to draw more people to it.
The CEDC moved to the Avenue a year ago, she said, hoping to boost its effectiveness by addressing a more targeted geographic area.
“There’s so much anticipation around this neighborhood and Acushnet Avenue, with all the changes and redesign,” said Williams. “Businesses need to be thinking about how to draw more people into the neighborhood, into their restaurants and retail stores, thinking about social media and getting new customers.”
The city project to revamp Acushnet Avenue got under way earlier this year with plans to upgrade infrastructure and traffic patterns, promote pedestrian access, and beautify the area. The two-phase project is expected to wrap up in mid-2013.
Small business owners can learn about the funding and training process, including how to qualify and apply, at a free informational meeting at 10 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. on Dec. 11. The meeting will be held at the CEDC office at 1285 Acushnet Ave. To attend, call CEDC staff member Brian Pastori at 508-979-4684 or email Spanish interpretation is available if needed.
Original title: City mom and pops eligible for technology funding
By Beth Perdue
December 02, 2012 12:00 AM
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