Chamber works to bring businesses online through Limelight grants


Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Brooke Curley

Businesses in Graham and Greenlee counties can get a boost marketing themselves online thanks to a grant and training opportunities.

The Graham County Chamber of Commerce unveiled its Limelight grant program on Monday. Limelight is hosted by the chamber for local businesses to sign up to receive an overall online and website analysis and grants for online media advertising. By visiting online any business owner or nonprofit organizer in Graham and Greenlee can apply.

“I’m super excited to be able to help small businesses with their Google Maps, Facebook and websites, just to be sure their correct information is out there,” said Vance Bryce, executive director of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of times we’re so busy running our businesses that we forget that there are all these tools online that we aren’t keeping up with. So we as a chamber, and this Limelight team and program are happy to provide support.”

The program itself is in person. The applicant will apply for the Limelight program online, and someone from the Limelight program will set up a time to go over the business owner’s online presence. After reviewing the online presence, the Limelight program assistant will help the applicant delve into various forms of online marketing, which will be paid for through the Limelight grant.

The money that pays for the Limelight program is part of a $45,000 Chamber of Commerce grant Gov. Doug Ducey assigned to the Graham County Chamber in December. Although the part of the funding went to paying chamber employees, a lot of the funding from this allocation has been assigned to the Limelight program, Bryce said.

One of Bryce’s goals is to help local businesses update their hours of operation online. Updating these listings and will be one of the easiest ways to help their businesses, he said.

The chamber has partnered with the Safford Downtown Association, Eastern Arizona College Small Business Development Center and the United Way of Graham and Greenlee counties for this project.

Danny Smith, Safford Downtown Association president, has been working with the chamber on the Limelight program. To Smith, the fact that each business owner will receive a unique experience based on their business and needs is one of the best elements of the program. Teaching local business owners how to go online was a different challenge, he said.

“They don’t need a workshop and a new program,” Smith said. “They need more hours in the day. I think the coolest thing about this is that we’re going to come sit down, show them how to use it, and follow up with them.”

Some local businesses need assistance with graphic design, others may benefit from an online marketplace, he said. Almost all local businesses will probably benefit from being shown how to market on social media and use social media, he said. Although Graham and Greenlee counties have internet access and are online, some business owners can’t find the time to learn how to adapt their business presence online.

“Business owners are busy and they’re experts in their fields. Some of our small business owners, they know how to bake stuff, and they know how to fix your car and make tacos. They know how to buy and sell cute clothes. But that doesn’t make them an expert in technology or social media,” he said.

Dorsha Frye, Greenlee County Chamber of Commerce president, said she is excited about the Limelight grant opportunity.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for Greenlee County and Graham County businesses, and nonprofits,” she said.

Due to the fluctuating hours, many stores changed their hours of operation online. However, now business has gone back to normal but the listed hours online haven’t changed. Having someone from the Limelight program come and visit each business owner and help them update their hours online and websites would be an asset, she said.

Jared Wallace, Greenlee County Chamber of Commerce board member, said he is hopeful that the Limelight program will help provide some additional rural business resources. He said he hopes the program will help Greenlee County businesses with social media advertising and Google search engine optimization.

“COVID has hit many businesses hard, but more specifically, small businesses. The bigger companies are able to make layoffs, and cutbacks but they have the resources and manpower to be able to deal with these types of events. Unfortunately, the local rural businesses, they don’t have those kinds of resources,” he said. “What we’re trying to do with this grant is to provide additional resources.”

Wallace is an information technology business owner, and he said he has seen the way business has shifted online due to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, for a lot of the mom-and-pop shops around here, they rely heavily on word of mouth and in-person visits. They don’t have very much in the way of websites and online advertising,” he said. “This grant is designed to jump-start that them to have an online presence to be able to compete and survive in today’s economy.”

This Limelight program is specifically designed to help older-generation business owners who may be missing out on internet advertising and other online possibilities, he said.

“The rate of communication is blazing fast online, and all these businesses are essentially just missing this entire part of the economy,” Wallace said. “The Greenlee County Chamber of Commerce has not forgotten local businesses and we’re getting back up and running and we’re doing this as part of a renewed effort to help our local businesses.”

Weston Wiltbank, the owner of WBNK Media, is one of the people who will be helping local business owners optimize their online presence. There are multiple reasons why so many business owners haven’t made the leap to online optimization and advertising, he said.

“It’s hard to change but they don’t know how, and they haven’t had a guide to help them before,” he said.

Wiltbank said having a social media presence is one of the best things a small business can do for itself. Through his experience, after a business puts itself online through social media, it boosts business exponentially.

“We’re excited to work with a lot of the local businesses to help them get to the next step and next level and create more income for their business and in turn create more jobs for the community,” Wiltbank said.

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