Cape Ann Regional Pilot Grant funds tools that help local businesses for a strong Cape Ann Comeback
We recently had the pleasure to speak with Peter Webber, the Executive Vice President of the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. Bludot was funded by a grant that was a collaboration between the Chamber and the four Cape Ann municipalities of Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Rockport. Their collaboration allowed the communities to implement Bludot Open and Bludot CRM app to help their residents and local businesses during the pandemic. Their unique approach is laid out below as well as some tips for launch and their plans for continued business engagement.
I’d love to learn a little bit more about Cape Ann and your work. What’s the business climate like? Tourism is obviously a big part of it but I’d love to jump in and hear an overview of the whole Cape:
Cape Ann has a diverse geography and unique topography that has attracted industry and many people to settle here. Our Chamber is unique in that we focus on supporting local businesses but also promote the area as a tourism destination directly catering to visitors. The Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce is made up of the municipalities of Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport.
It’s great to get a full scope of the business community, thanks for the explanation. I’d love to learn more about your role and how long you’ve been with the chamber:
I’ve been part of this organization for 15+ years now. I started in 2005 part time, my initial job was to be the Rockport manager for the Chamber. At the time, the Rockport Chamber was merged into the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and I was part of the initial team to help integrate the Rockport businesses. My position has grown from that focus exclusively on Rockport to Senior Vice President for the Chamber. My job includes being the Rockport manager, doing government affairs, helping with scholarships and assisting the tourism council.
Bludot is funded by a grant written by your team at the Chamber. What goals were you trying to achieve with this grant?
We had originally conceived an “online marketplace” supporting e-commerce, our plan evolved over the course of our project and through working with Bludot to what we now call the “Cape Ann online business directory”, for our residents to be able to search and showcase what local businesses in our area provide. We wanted to provide this to our local businesses to give them free advertising and help increase their digital footprint. Additionally, a state agency was working on a similar project focused on tourism and the impact of the pandemic, so we wanted to focus solely on how we can help local residents and our community.
So how did Bludot come into the equation?
Luckily, a member of our steering committee found Bludot and when we were putting together the grant we realized we didn’t have to build something from scratch. Bludot could provide the online marketplace of local businesses in Cape Ann that we were looking for. We loved that Bludot has a great track record in the economic development space but is also small enough of a company that the team could help us customize and create unique solutions. So after a couple conversations with the team, we realized Bludot could be a great partner for this initiative that we had already started working on.
What was your steering team looking for when you were discussing this online marketplace? What prompted now as the time to act?
During the pandemic we were trying to find creative ways to support our local community and help businesses come back strongly. With the grant, the state was looking for proposals to encourage some innovative ways to help and support business in Massachusetts. We thought our online marketplace idea could really help our local businesses and Bludot ended up being the right fit for that marketplace.
Could you tell me more about the steering committee and how rollout's been going:
The grant was a collaboration between the Chamber and the four Cape Ann municipalities of Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Rockport. The grant application was collaboratively written by Mechelle Brown from Rockport and me, with valuable input from steering committee members from our other three partner communities. The Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce served the role of grant administrator.
It was critical in the early phases to get together as a full group with a regular cadence. We can get so busy working in our individual organization projects, that it’s important to connect as the entire Cape to work together and use our expertise and resources.
Rollout has been positive so far; it’s encouraging that business owners have heard of the platform and are eager to use it. We want to make sure that we do it right, as we have taken time to make sure that the information is correct and that businesses list their information. We want it to be as easy to find for residents as possible and we want them to come back to the directory time and time again.
The final element of our grant-funded work, a seven-week “It’s All in Cape Ann'' advertising campaign in our local newspaper, began this week with the attached ad. The “call the action” in these ads will be to check out the Cape Ann online business directory at www.capeannbusinessdirectory.com.
I'd love to hear more about the street team:
A portion of the grant funded hiring a group of summer interns that worked for us to help us update our business database. We knew that a tool like Bludot would only be as good as the data we had in it and our spreadsheets were outdated so we saw this as the perfect time to focus on updating this database before a rollout.
The interns we had with us for 10 weeks were primarily college students that worked as a team but also each focused on individual communities. Their job was to do both online research and physically visit locations to check and verify the database of business information that the Chamber had. The team put in a lot of work conducting online research and walking the streets representing the Chamber and visiting businesses.
They got to have face to face time with business owners telling them about a new and free way that the Chamber would be promoting local businesses, on Bludot Open. So before we even started to advertise to businesses about Open, many of them were already familiar and looking forward to using the tool to increase their digital presence.
What advice do you have for other organizations that are trying to collaborate in a similar way:
The most important thing is the team you have. Without our steering committee, we wouldn’t have been able to get the grant finished and many people contributed their skill sets in different ways for us to be able to really make a difference for Cape Ann residents. I recommend that in your community, get the Chamber of Commerce and the municipal government together in your community for one of these projects, especially with the dual benefit that it has as each one of these groups have years of knowledge and experience working with businesses listening to their needs. By bringing all our ideas together, we were able to collaborate and find solutions for business owners and residents.
I would love to hear about what initiatives you’re going to be working on in the upcoming year:
2022 is our 100th anniversary year for the Chamber, so we’re calling ourselves 100 years young. We’re going to have a lot of events and we’d love to use Bludot to promote these events to business owners. We’re working on our strategic five year plan that's nearly completed that we're going to use to guide our decision making. The pandemic has overshadowed a lot over the past years so we’re really looking forward to getting out of that and having some more face to face time.