Create Bridges Project Produces Resiliency in Retail Webinar Series

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As we inch closer to the holiday season, restaurants and retail businesses continue to struggle with the continued effects of COVID-19. Since March, over 163,735 US businesses have closed with 60% of those, totaling 97,966, closing permanently (YELP: Local Economic Impact Report, Sept 2020). Restaurants and retail lead all types of businesses that are closing permanently as the virus threat remains ongoing. Due to these stark numbers as well as the changing habits and interests of consumers, the ability of small businesses to adapt quickly is more important than ever. For those small businesses looking for more information and guidance when it comes to communication, digital marketing and adapting there is a fantastic webinar series available through the University of Arkansas Extension.

The Resiliency in Retail webinar series is designed to provide insights on how best to adapt and innovate and features author and Small Business Saturday Spokesperson, Nicole Leinbach Reyhle. Reyhle makes the important point “Don’t let change happen without adjusting your business.” The first webinar in the series assists business owners in assessing the current health of the business and provides a variety of road maps to drive their business viability. The second is dedicated to addressing your customers’ expectations and needs and converting sales online. The third and final webinar provides ten action steps to drive business success in the current climate.

Tree-lined Broad Street in Edenton.

Tree-lined Broad Street in Edenton.

The webinar series was developed as a resource for the CREATE BRIDGES program through the University of Arkansas Extension Service. CREATE BRIDGES stands for Celebrating REtail, Accommodations, Tourism, and Entertainment by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies. Create Bridges is a program designed to raise awareness of the role these important businesses play in the local economy, determine challenges and barriers negatively impacting those businesses, and develop and implement strategies to strengthen the retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment sectors within a region. The University of Arkansas was included in Phase One of the CREATE BRIDGES program.

NC State Extension recently launched a Phase II Pilot of the CREATE BRIDGES initiative along with the University of Illinois and New Mexico State University. The Western Mountain NC Region, including the Qualla Boundary with the counties of Jackson, Swain, Macon, and Graham, were selected for this phase in the program. Currently, stakeholders in each county are in the planning phases of the program. In December, each county will hold a community forum for residents to learn more about the process and provide their own input. The implementation of the project will begin in 2021 and run through 2023.

Shoppers peruse an antique store in Swansboro.

Visitors to Swansboro shop the eclectic offerings at The Poor Man’s Hole antique store in the historic Onslow County town.

Becky Bowen, who is managing the program in North Carolina, said in a statement, “We are excited to begin the hard work of community-engaged planning and implementation in the Mountain West NC region and hope that the processes and strategies used in the CREATE BRIDGES program there will become a successful template for recovery in the retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment sectors throughout the state of North Carolina. The next two years will be both a testament to the commitment of the people of the Mountain West NC region to collaborate and innovate and a test of their resolve to become even stronger post-pandemic.” She added that NC State Extension will also be developing a resource page, similar to that of the University of Arkansas Extension, that retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment businesses across the state can access. Expect an announcement on that resource in early 2021.

Other Phase I institutions along with the University of Arkansas are the University of Kentucky and Oklahoma State University. If you would like to learn more about the CREATE BRIDGES initiative, visit the NC State CREATE BRIDGES webpage.