How Digital Tools Can Help Localize Support for Small Businesses

Written by: Calvin Beaton

Small businesses are well acquainted with the unpredictable nature of being on the frontlines. Seasonal fluctuations in foot traffic, regular changes in supply chain prices, and the dynamic nature of operating in an urban landscape are all factors that entrepreneurs and business owners must be prepared for. However, when paired with a devastating pandemic prompting an abrupt halt in tourism, orders to (physically) close shop, and a severe downturn in retail spending, the local business environment gets overwhelmingly complex to navigate.  

In the midst of these headwinds, and perhaps those most affected, are Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). Representing large catchments of commercial business and property owners, BIAs work collectively to create thriving, economically vibrant business districts. Through collective action under a BIA framework, local businesses have the capacity to launch civic improvement projects and ultimately act as a catalyst for enhancing local quality of life and driving economic returns within their communities. 

The ramifications of COVID-19 have put unprecedented strain on BIAs and frontline businesses. United States-based surveys have cited as many as 75% of small business respondents stating their businesses have been adversely impacted by fewer sales in the month of March, while McKinsey & Company projections have estimated a 40 to 50 percent drop in discretionary spending, with the brunt of these spending cuts affecting not only travel but also restaurants and retail. The escalation of recent events begs the question, what can further be done to more intimately understand BIAs and tailor support at the local level? 

Data into insights

Data in and of itself does not support local businesses and get them through economic turmoil. However, data provides the foundation through which public officials and commercial property owners make decisions upon to help businesses endure and recover. Now more than ever, up to date and accurate data on business improvement areas will help public officials best provide support for them, and relay service information back to the general public.

With an increasing number of diverse data sources coming into the mainstream, alongside open data becoming more accessible, significant opportunities become available to further support urban main street businesses. Information such as neighbourhood demographics data, spending trends, business closures, or service model changes, when studied in unison, can help public officials and business owners better understand the dynamic environment in which frontline businesses operate and understand who is most affected.

Modern analytics tools and data modelling techniques can help us make sense of large and/or complicated datasets, and reveal how diverse datasets may correlate with one another. These tools can help us answer such questions as how changes to transit routes will impact surrounding neighbourhoods, or how far certain populations will need to travel to access services amid closures. As a result, BIA members and those institutions supporting them are able to realize a range of insights that either might not have previously been available or were traditionally difficult to obtain. This can include not only tracking detailed market patterns and trends but also helping to articulate a story about the local businesses and economies that public officials serve and support. 

Insights into action

When it comes to supporting business improvement areas, digital tools can help to quantify fluctuations in spending within BIA catchments, uncover comprehensive market details, and ultimately assess the local impacts of economic upticks and downturns on frontline businesses. Although these insights provide useful to property and business owners alike, the latter proves invaluable to inform public officials making policy decisions.

With government’s inherent responsibility to provide stimulus measures and financial reassurance, especially when communities are going through economic turbulence, having a data-driven understanding of the local economies they serve and support is essential. Not only does this allow for public officials to better support communities through effective policy measures but also allows officials to ensure the intended outcomes of their policies are being realized.  

The spread of COVID-19 has underscored the degree to which small frontline businesses are fundamental to vibrant urban spaces, yet suffer from being disproportionately vulnerable to economic turmoil. As a result, ensuring public officials directly responsible for supporting small businesses and business improvement areas have the right tools to drive data-driven decision-making is paramount. This not only allows governments to better understand frontline businesses but also facilitates the implementation of effective policy measures during crucial times. 

Interested to learn more?

UrbanLogiq is a cloud-based software solution that empowers users to access more actionable and accurate insights from data. Email us at or visit us at if you have any questions or want to learn more.