Examples from the Counties
Stories, comments, and examples submitted from the participating communities provide particular and personal insight into the effects of the project.
Cumberland County: Even though Van Petty retired from Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), he continued to lead the effort in Cumberland County. He is now on the Board of Supervisors. In an email message to the project director, this is what he has to say about the impact of this project in Cumberland County: 'Many volunteer hours have been worked by the Cumberland Technology Leadership Team to make this project a reality. The Cumberland TLT has been a pleasure to work with. The BEV and VCE staffs made it possible for the Cumberland Community Web Page to happen. As a county supervisor, I hear very positive comments about our web page. Several new citizens have commented that they found helpful information about the county and services available via the web page. I know that more local businesses will use web pages in the future to promote their businesses. We also discovered that Cumberland will need broadband to stay in touch with the rest of the world. I feel that this technology project has opened Cumberland's eyes to see the possibilities. I am excited about our future and look forward to working with the citizens of Cumberland, BEV and VCE to achieve our technology goals.'
Carol Eltzroth and George Costen own Ampthill Plantation Bed & Breakfast. Their business has increased since June of 2004 after signing up for a virtual Business Incubator account. Their Web site has helped them market their business and they are getting clientele from outside the county. To quote them, "We Love Our Site!'
Sarah Schember, who has a cake making business called Cake Kitchen, states that she is getting requests from people out of the county. For example, she thinks she received an order for a cake from some one whose child is a student at a nearby college. Ms. Schember said these customers were looking for professionals. The Virtual Business Incubator account web site distinguished her business from an average cake-maker.
Craig County: Marjorie Lewter, DVM and single parent, is using the Internet to publicize and build her veterinary practice. She offers in-home veterinary care locally by appointment and provides information nationally on holistic veterinary medicine involving acupuncture, botanicals, nutritional therapy, and conventional medicine. She had limited time, expertise, and resources to build her business while providing for her young daughter, so she signed up for a Virtual Business Incubator account through Craig County Electronic Village and got assistance putting up her Web site through the BEV POWER internship program.
Dickenson County: Kim Carrol owns Thirty-one Ten, a Web design business, and serves on the Dickenson County TLT. She wrote concerning the impact of the Dickenson County Electronic Village (DCEV). 'I have had this Web design business for almost 8 years but expanded and relocated to an office outside of my home this year. We have had great response from the community so far concerning DCEV and people are starting to see its benefit. I know that it is playing a key role in prompting more people to look to the internet for the future of their business. We are seeing a surge in the need for web design and maintenance. So I can confidently say that it has played a major role in raising the demand for my services. Until the last year most of my business was from out of the area and sometimes out of state. Local businesses had not seen the need to expand to the internet. Most even saw having a web site as a luxury, not a necessity. With the development of the DCEV and a few other projects at the same time, business owners finally see that without a web site they are being left behind. Also, people finally see how the internet "levels the playing field" for them.'
Ms. Carroll also reports that the county now has a team of three administrators who are more than capable of maintaining the site but whom she assists as time allows. 'We have lots of pictures now and better content that I hope to incorporate'as time allows,' she says. 'I can say this. [Extension agent] Phyllis Deel did a great job putting the TLT together. It was the first project that brought technology-savvy people together. I am already seeing how this has affected our community. Technology is coming to the forefront and the TLT has the opportunity to lead even in ways other than the DCEV.'
Under a parallel project to the TOP program, Dickenson County is deploying a municipally owned wireless broadband network (DCWIN). The combined effect of the two projects has been dramatic enough in the county that the Chamber of Commerce has taken a lead role in working with the TLT to promote their electronic village among area businesses. BEV Director Bill Sanders was able to attend the electronic village launch by video conference from Blacksburg over the Internet and a DCWIN wireless link. This coupling of a 'top down' public broadband infrastructure deployment (DCWIN) with a 'bottom-up' incubation of grassroots social and economic activity (like the electronic villages funded by TOP) simultaneously provides a community with access to, and prepares its people and businesses to participate in, e-commerce and the global market. The potential of this model'one that builds technology infrastructure while providing education and support 'in place' for personal, community, and small/micro-business development'should not be underestimated. What the Cooperative Extension model did for communities during the era of the family farm, this 'electronic extension' model might be able to do for communities in the age of e-commerce in which, hopefully, 'everyone can be a customer and everyone can be a producer.'
King and Queen County: Lawrence Simpkins serving on the Board of Supervisors in King and Queen County has consistently supported and been actively involved in the project in King and Queen County. He writes: 'Being a very rural county, we found most people are just starting to use the Internet as a source of information. We found most small businesses were interested in having a Web site but thought it would be too expensive and just had no idea about how to begin to get one. If we had not offered free Web sites and information on how to get started, most would not have gotten one.'
His wife, Cindy Simpkins, designs, makes, and sells custom handbags. Many potential customers who lived outside the county were asking for her Web site so they could see a sample of her offerings. She was frustrated because she didn't have a Web site and it was cost prohibitive for her to set one up to find out if it was worth doing. When she heard about the Virtual Business Incubator offering, she signed up for an account and became one of the first local business persons in King and Queen County to do so. Her site Cindy's Designs, was developed through the BEV internship program. As a result of this she is now able to reach a broader customer base and therefore expand her business.
Eddie Weindel, owner of Underground Graphixx, a sign company, has consistently participated in discussions on KQInfoTrail and attended one of the community meetings. He was so enthusiastic about the project's potential for the county that he is creating 25 political campaign-type signs publicizing KQInfoTrail. The signs will be posted across the county.
The owners of a King and Queen campground, Rainbow Acres, discovered the Mattaponi Queen river excursion when they logged in to the KQInfoTrail for the first time. Now campers looking for something to do in and around the area are referred to the Mattaponi Queen as well as to two museums and a variety of other "County Attractions" listed on KQInfoTrail.
The Mills family had talked about turning their 30-acre farm into a family business with each family member developing and managing a different component. Mr. Mills contacted the Extension agent to have the specialist come from the university to "walk the land" and make recommendations. Favor Farm & Nursery, now an up-and-coming regional agribusiness resource, signed up for a Virtual Business Incubator account and, with help from a BEV intern, created their site. It provides a great overview of the family, their philosophy, and current offerings: farm-grown honey, shiitake mushrooms, blueberries, and nursery stock. Future plans include handmade crafts (their own and others from across the county), archery lessons, pony rides, and a 3-hole golf course--things specifically designed to keep some people busy while others peruse sales or "pick their own."
The first community group Web page belonged to the Woman's Club of King & Queen. Alinda Uzel, county VCE agent and Unit Coordinator, found the enthusiasm displayed by this group of ladies, ages 60 and over, very refreshing. To her it seemed like the older generation was leading the younger into new and exciting adventures. Lenea England, the member who worked with the intern to develop the site, was excited and said she learned a lot by being involved in its creation. She volunteered to make a presentation to the Club on September 23, 2004 to promote the Web page and to encourage all members with access to the Internet to become Villagers. Ms. England visited KQInfoTrail the first week it was available to the public, learned about the Mattaponi Queen river boat cruise, and made reservations for her entire extended family to take a cruise that very next weekend. The president of the group has now shown an interest in learning how to set up an online mailing list to communicate with those members who have e-mail access.
The organizers for the yearly Community Pride Day celebration, created forms for vendors and parade participants as well as information flyers so that they could be printed directly from the KQInfoTrail Web site. One objective for The King and Queen Info Trail was to make more residents aware of issues facing local government and to get people more involved in the decision making process. Since the Discussion Board went "live", there have been several communications regarding the fact that the school system Web site which has a link on KQInfoTrail was outdated and therefore not useful. These "conversations" were shared with the Superintendent of Schools who responded that their Web site would be updated prior to the opening of school. Web administrators for KQInfoTrail relayed this reply to the individuals posting the comments. The administrators also were able to educate villagers about the KQInfoTrail, that it simply provides a link to the school system site and they encouraged concerned individuals to contact the superintendent at the school board office to discuss school-related concerns.
Another discussion dealt with the inactivity of the local Park and Recreation Department. This misconception was clarified by a KQInfoTrail villager who explained that the county does not have a Parks and Recreation Department but does have a Parks and Recreation Commission which is an advisory group to the Board of Supervisors. Individuals with concerns or ideas were encouraged to refer to the Web Calendar posted on KQInfoTrail and attend the regularly scheduled meetings of the Board of Supervisors to voice concerns and help propose some workable solutions.
At a presentation to the Upper King & Queen Ruritan Club, which is in the process of developing its Web site, a member indicated that he had lived in the county for over 30 years and this (the KQInfoTrail) was the best thing to happen to the county in all that time. He was excited about the potential economic impact this could have over time "...if we can get our local government officials and the public to embrace it completely and explore the possibilities."