WEB-IT program snares rave reviews

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

Ironton's fledgling WEB-IT program may have just earned its wings - and some financial support.

"It's good stuff," said WEB-IT coordinator Jim Crawford, director of Ohio University Southern's Center for Innovation and Leadership.

Crawford said the program, which offers affordable high-speed wireless Internet access along with e-commerce to Ironton businesses, just received an additional $10,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

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WEB-IT, an acronym for Wireless, E-commerce, Broadband, Ironton and Technology, is a partnership between Motorola, Ohio University Southern, ConnectLink of Chesapeake, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Governor's Office of Appalachia.

The program started with an equipment donation from Motorola and $10,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

With approximately a dozen WEB-IT participants, Crawford says the program is well on its way.

"I would say it's in its second generation," Crawford said. "It's made it through birth and now it's a tool that the community is using."

In addition to the ARC grant, Crawford said an additional $66,000 in grant funding through the Huntington-Ironton Empowerment Zone is available to help WEB-IT users with additional, larger hardware needs.

"It will really help us," he said. "Not only with WEB-IT."

Crawford said the additional funding sources will easily allow the program, once struggling to get off the ground initially, to more than double in size.

One of the businesses currently utilizing the program is Ohio Valley Properties.

Owner Mike McDaniels said he's been more than happy with the project.

"They hooked me up with free wireless Internet for one year and designed my Web site for me," he said. "I'm fairly computer illiterate, except for turning it on and checking my e-mail. It's worked out really well. "

More important, McDaniels said he has already finalized two property transactions using the site.

"It was quick, it was easy and I didn't have a lot of legwork because they'd already seen the house," he said. "Both had specific houses that they wanted to see when they came to town."

And not only are Ironton businesses using the program, folks nationally are taking notice of Ironton's WEB-IT program, too.

Mark DeFalco , manager of the Appalachian Regional Commission's Telecommunications initiative, said the program has become a model ARC plans to use elsewhere.

"It definitely will be (used elsewhere)," DeFalco said. "It's been successful, every time we've approached it. Success breeds success."

DeFalco said ARC federal co-chair Anne Pope is "solidly behind the effort."

"She is a very, very strong supporter of trying to bring broadband to Appalachia," he said.

Although efforts to bring broadband to Appalachia are nothing new, such efforts have been under way for several years, WEB-IT takes that a step further, DeFalco said.

By adding in both e-commerce development and implementation, the program ties two critical pieces together.

"Creating e-commerce sites and Web pages, that's a nice way to be able to put those two together. It's a real nice marriage," DeFalco said. "It's about not just bringing the technology, but also how to use that technology.

"What we've found in other communities is that it's not just enough to bring in broadband," he said. "If they've never had it before, they don't know what to do with it.

"Having it isn't enough," DeFalco said. "You have to have training and education. To a degree, that's a little bit of what (Ohio University) Southern is doing here."

DeFalco said the WEB-IT program may ultimately help spark more economic development in the area in two ways.

First, existing businesses can utilize the Internet and e-commerce to expand their markets.

Secondly, implementing more broadband connections will make the area more attractive for outsiders looking to relocate.

"They need broadband," he said. "And they won't even consider coming there if broadband isn't there. (Businesses) can't really do anything if you don't have broadband.

"Everything we do is trying to strive for improved economic conditions and economic development," DeFalco said. "In short, creating jobs. That's what it's all about."