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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
To help businesses recover from the pandemic, four communities south of Boston are unveiling digital apps to highlight local services, restaurants and activities for residents and visitors.
Avon, Brockton, Easton and Stoughton have been working with the Old Colony Planning Council this year to develop apps promoting local businesses. Old Colony, which includes 17 communities, secured a $71,000 grant through the Massachusetts Office of Business Development’s Local Pilot Project to pay for the development of the four apps, the first-year subscription costs and marketing.
Local officials see the project as a technology-based tool for pandemic recovery. To promote its new Discover Avon MA app, Avon has been hanging “Avon is Open for Business” banners around town, and plans to give businesses flyers to distribute, said Town Administrator Gregory Enos.
“We felt that it was a great opportunity to expand on some of our recent social media presence while assisting our struggling local businesses that may not have much online presence,” Enos said. “Being such a small town, it is also harder to put some of these items together due to staffing levels. [The app] pulls community events, meetings, business specials all in one place with little effort.”
The app project has been spearheaded by Dottie Fulginiti, who is Easton’s Select Board chair and Old Colony’s economic recovery planner. She applied for the grant, and worked with the four communities and Texas software developer Tyler Technologies to build the apps.
“We’re getting a lot of great feedback as it’s being rolled out in the different communities,” Fulginiti said.
Easton’s app, called Discover Easton MA, launched in August. Fulginiti recently helped promote it at a harvest festival, with a banner and QR code for downloading. The app received 60 to 70 downloads from that event alone, she said.
“If you’re new to the community, and if you’re looking for child care, or what bank to use, or for a house of worship — it has really everything you can imagine about your town or your city,” Fulginiti said.
While the apps include basic listings, business owners can create logins to “claim” their businesses and personalize listings by updating hours, or by adding photos, logos and announcements about specials.
The city of Brockton launched its Brockton MA City of Champions app in September, and has been promoting it on its website and social media platforms, and by hanging banners, dispersing lawn signs and distributing flyers. The city views the app as the first technological tool in its ongoing Brockton Open for Business Initiative to support businesses.
Mayor Robert Sullivan said he believes Brockton’s app will help businesses market themselves; give people more exposure to the city’s events calendar; and help the city communicate with the public, alerting them to downed wires, or helping them prepare for storms.
“By the end of this year-long grant, we hope that business owners and residents are actively using this app to stay abreast of everything the City of Champions has to offer,” Sullivan said. “We also hope it becomes a permanent part of the city’s efforts to support and promote local businesses.”
The apps allow the communities to collect data on usage, so they can decide whether to continue the apps after the grant ends and they have to pay the annual subscription fees themselves. The annual subscription cost would range from $4,000 to $7,500, depending on the community’s size.
Fulginiti said she hopes the apps help strengthen relationships with businesses, and that the data collected will help inform grant writing and other economic development work.
The town of Stoughton plans to release its Discover Stoughton MA app before the end of 2021, said Pamela McCarthy, Stoughton’s economic development director.
“This app will allow the community to be better connected to town government,” McCarthy said. “One of the most challenging aspects of working for local government is public outreach. This tool will allow businesses and residents to connect simply by picking up their phone and clicking on the app.”