Project boosts link between businesses and e-commerceWORTHINGTON — There is a study afoot in Nobles and Jackson counties to see how local small- to medium-sized businesses are embracing the World Wide Web of e-commerce, and identifying ways they can capitalize on Internet sales in a global marketplace.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — There is a study afoot in Nobles and Jackson counties to see how local small- to medium-sized businesses are embracing the World Wide Web of e-commerce, and identifying ways they can capitalize on Internet sales in a global marketplace.
Julie Foote began conducting surveys with businesses in late December as part of the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project spearheaded by the University of Minnesota Extension’s Center for Community Vitality.
The initial phase seeks to learn how often businesses use the Internet, to what extent they use it to sell products, and how effective the Internet is in promoting their business. Those who don’t use the Internet for business are also asked to explain why not.
During the initial phase of the project, Foote learned local businesses run the gamut — from those who do frequent business on the Internet to those who perhaps don’t use Internet at all.
“At least 70 percent of the businesses that have responded have a website,” said Foote of the work already completed. Some, she said, are “selling widgets out the front door and, out the back, they’re selling them globally.”
Through upcoming trainings offered to the business community, Foote said they will learn basic information like creating a website and search engine optimization, to more advanced, business-specific training on increasing traffic flow to their website.
“Studies have shown that in today’s retail world, for anyone 30 and below, if they can’t find you on their smart phone, you don’t exist,” Foote said.
She explained that the survey and trainings are not geared toward any specific broadband provider or fiber project currently under way in southwest Minnesota.
“With all this wonderful technology that is coming to our area, now is the time to embrace that and take advantage of it,” Foote said. “Our goal is to level the playing field for some of the smaller communities in Minnesota. If you’re up in Minneapolis or Mankato, you obviously have more organic traffic. We’re hoping to help our small to medium businesses bring traffic in using broadband.”
Already, MIRC has scheduled several classes catered to the local business community, from an introduction to doing business on the Internet to an introduction to e-commerce, online marketing and social networking.
The hour-long classes will be offered at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus.
Future classes will target more specific training, such as building and maintaining websites and blogs, mapping, e-commerce, roadside advertising in a digital age and taking advantage of business banking capabilities.
The programs, led by certified trainers through the U of M, are offered at no cost to businesses and their employees.
The sessions are made possible through a $4.86 million federal grant awarded in March 2010 to the Blandin Foundation of Grand Rapids. The program will continue through 2012.
U of M Extension is offering the trainings in 11 MIRC demonstration communities and seven communities that have participated in Extension’s Horizons program. Worthington was selected as one of the demonstration communities.
Business owners who have yet to complete the survey may do so online at http://z.umn.edu/mircsurve.
For more information, Foote can be reached at 360-9651 or via e-mail at Julie@rconnect.com.