Locallinx - Surviving To Thriving
Kitchener-Waterloo Innovative Transit Upgrade: An example of regional technological adaptation

SURVIVING TO THRIVING

Two local business case studies that shine a spotlight on the big and small things that your business can do to overcome severe challenges.

By DAVID McCONNACHIE

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I live and work in Kitchener-Waterloo, a former manufacturing dynamo. This region, home to more than half a million people, needed to evolve its economic development strategy to avoid the fate of too many communities as older industry withered and rusted. It bet on technology. It worked.

Today, as I type this a block away from Google Canada’s engineering HQ and two blocks from the innovative Communitech hub, the Kitchener-Waterloo community is busily growing to meet tomorrow’s needs.

 

The smart students from region’s three post-secondary school’s tech-centric programs are staying close to home upon graduation, fueling expansion. Firms are growing, start-ups are popping up every day, all of it empowered by the region’s decision to prioritize technology as a key economic development pillar. Heck, the mayors of both Kitchener and Waterloo have stints in technology on their resumes

 

Locallinx - Surviving To Thriving
Kitchener historic buildings are re-purposed for the Tech Industry

Old factories are being transformed into offices and co-working spaces. New condos and housing developments are keeping those well-paid knowledge workers close to the downtown core — and, with that, property taxes are increasing, and increasingly are re-allocated to support important social and cultural programs.

Oh, and to keep people on the move in a region on the rise, there was a strategic and significant investment in public transit, specifically a light-rail-train (LRT) system. The LRT — dubbed the ION by transit planners — required a prolonged and occasionally protracted infrastructure construction effort.

In my opinion as a (then) relative newcomer to the region, an ‘exile’ from the construction quagmire that is the GTA, LRT construction was well-planned and communicated. Public consultations and information sessions were organized to ensure that citizens, commuters and business owners had time to prepare for the considerable disruption that would ensue once construction commenced.

 

In the always fragile retail sector, the disruption had an oversized impact on all businesses, and became the insurmountable obstacle (and nail-in-coffin) for many. But not all. In fact, due to some shrewd decisions borne out of desperate necessity — and ample and agile use of technology — some retailers weathered the storm better than most.

The Central Fresh Case Study

Central Fresh Markets is a culinary institution in mid-town Kitchener, bringing fresh food and fresh food ideas to the region’s tables for over 55 years. The flagship store is located on King Street, a region of heavy LRT construction and disruption. Knowing that customer traffic, even from the most loyal of patrons, would diminish as the dust flew, Central Fresh management invested heavily in tradition and digital marketing to keep the lights on the bills paid. Lots of local area marketing — posters, newspaper ads, directional signage to the ‘back route’ — was combined with savvy customer engagement via social media, e-newsletters and e-flyers. Supporting Central Fresh through the time of LRT turbulence became a ‘thing’ to the region’s citizens. People would go out of their way to navigate unfamiliar back streets to reach the location, and would share their YOU SHOULD SHOP THERE, TOO messages with friends on Facebook and Instagram. 

 

Today, if you can find a spot in the parking lot (yeah right….good luck!), you’ll see that the store is busier than it was before LRT construction. And technology played a key role in helping this small business survive — and now thrive!

The Vincenzo’s Case Study

Locallinx - Surviving To Thriving
Vincenzo’s: A thriving business that has remained resilient in the face of external challenges

Central Fresh Markets is a culinary institution in mid-town Kitchener, bringing fresh food and fresh food ideas to the region’s tables for over 55 years. The flagship store is located on King Street, a region of heavy LRT construction and disruption. Knowing that customer traffic, even from the most loyal of patrons, would diminish as the dust flew, Central Fresh management invested heavily in tradition and digital marketing to keep the lights on the bills paid. Lots of local area marketing — posters, newspaper ads, directional signage to the ‘back route’ — was combined with savvy customer engagement via social media, e-newsletters and e-flyers. Supporting Central Fresh through the time of LRT turbulence became a ‘thing’ to the region’s citizens. People would go out of their way to navigate unfamiliar back streets to reach the location, and would share their YOU SHOULD SHOP THERE, TOO messages with friends on Facebook and Instagram. 

 

Today, if you can find a spot in the parking lot (yeah right….good luck!), you’ll see that the store is busier than it was before LRT construction. And technology played a key role in helping this small business survive — and now thrive!

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