Blueprint Easthampton Resource Navigator tool

Undeterred by the pandemic – perhaps even emboldened by it – the city of Easthampton has been working to provide more fertile ground for entrepreneurship and economic development.

For more than two years, the city has been developing projects under the Blueprint Easthampton initiative, to build a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem locally. The work has continued through the pandemic, and has been adapted as economic needs have changed in recent months.

On Nov. 20, the city unveiled its Blueprint Easthampton Resource Navigator, an online tool that helps local entrepreneurs find resources such as mentors, financing and marketing. During a virtual launch event, featuring U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said the navigator tool will help the city tap its economic potential.

“While talent is universal, opportunity is not,” LaChapelle said. “Blueprint Easthampton looks at the opportunities that have strong barriers around them and takes those barriers down with a series of programs and resources.”

Kasey Corsello, Blueprint Easthampton’s project coordinator and a local business owner, said the new online tool will give busy entrepreneurs an official source of information so they don’t have to rely on word of mouth or conduct time-consuming research.

“What the Resource Navigator does is that it pulls in all of the partners in the area,” Corsello said.

For business owners, she said, having resource partners to help them with aspects of their businesses is “an invaluable part of survival.”

The Resource Navigator is just one result of the city’s collaborations with organizations such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the National League of Cities’ City Innovation Ecosystems program.

An initial grant of $25,000 helped the city start building its resource map to help entrepreneurs find resources. SourceLink, a Missouri-based nonprofit, helped create the navigator tool and a print resource guide, and evaluated Easthampton’s entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses.

LaChapelle told the MMA that Easthampton is full of innovation and ideas, with 53 patents registered in the city, but the lack of seed funding is a significant obstacle to entrepreneurship. She said the city’s self evaluation is critical in determining which initiatives will and won’t work.

“We understand who we are,” LaChapelle said. “We are not Springfield, and we’re not even Northampton. We’re Whoville, and we own it. We have no problem being Whoville.”

After the pandemic hit, the city pivoted to set up a COVID-19 reopening task group to gauge the business community’s needs. Over the summer, the city worked with the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce to award small business grants in Easthampton, Westhampton and Southampton. Funded with a $30,000 grant from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, the program awarded grants of up to $1,500 to help 31 local businesses with expenses such as personal protective equipment, rent and utilities.

In addition, Easthampton, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and six neighboring communities recently won a $900,000 Community Development Block Grant, allowing local microbusinesses (businesses with five or fewer employees) to receive up to $10,000 in pandemic aid. Easthampton was the lead applicant for the grant, whose recipients include Southampton, Westhampton, Granby, Hadley, South Hadley and Hatfield.

“I find this work so urgent and so appropriate during a pandemic,” LaChapelle said. “We’ve got to get this done. We’ve got to help these people because they have ideas, and that’s going to keep us going.”

Within the next few months, the city will begin helping informal entrepreneurs enter the formal economy, and hold what LaChapelle called “community business school.” With this project, the city is aiming to get four new businesses registered in the greater Easthampton area.

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