1. Increased participation by a broad cross section of the community in decision making and consensus building

    The proposed outcome of increasing public participation at public meetings had to be amended because we learned that there were few public meetings in the counties where head count information was collected. Thus, no attendance history existed that could serve as a baseline measurement prior to the commencement of the project. Though this is unfortunate, the spirit of the measure is to determine if this project caused more citizens to become involved in the community decision making process and other indicators of increased involvement are available.

    Technology Leadership Team (TLT) members were selected from a broad cross section of residents in each county. They went through the Take Charge (or equivalent) planning process in each county. Of the 176 individuals who went through the Take Charge process 44% indicated that they had never participated in a community planning process before. This represents a significant number of first timers willing to get involved and discuss key issues faced by their communities.

    Leadership teams have been meeting regularly and have been advising government leaders on issues related to the use of technology for economic development and building community. Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) agents, who coordinated the efforts at the local level, updated Boards of Supervisors on ongoing activities in the county. Leadership team members in each county continue to inform residents about public meetings held in the county through the calendar on their Electronic Village Web sites.

    Two counties (Cumberland and King and Queen) have live online discussion boards which are being used by residents to ask questions, seek clarification from and provide responses to community leaders on various issues that face their communities. As of September 15, 2004, Cumberland's discussion board, first used in January of that same year, had 58 messages in 13 different threads posted by 16 unique authors. King and Queen's board which went live in July 2004 had 37 messages, in 11 different threads from 7 unique authors. Other counties have been provided online discussion boards on their sites as well. However, their Technology Leadership Teams want to be sure they have in place proper policies and personnel to manage their online discussion forums before they go 'live.'

    Another measure of increasing involvement on key issues is the level at which counties are sustaining project related activities now that the project is over. In addition to meetings by leadership teams in various counties, spin off activities resulting from this project continue to occur These are described in more detail in the 'Spin Off' section of this report.

    Leadership team members, through the calendars on their Electronic Village Web sites, continue to inform residents about public meetings held in the county. As use of the county Web site for such communications increases, we expect turn out and involvement at public meetings to grow accordingly.

  2. Technology assessment and master plan for each community

    Each county has the results of the technology assessment conducted by John Nichols of Virginia Tech. Nichols is an Information Technology Manager at Virginia Tech and a veteran in the planning and deployment of telecommunications infrastructure. He has spent over a year working on this component of this project: evaluating available assessment instruments suitable for this purpose, using them to design a questionnaire appropriate for this project, conducting technology assessments, and using that data to develop a technology master plan for each county.

  3. Increased Internet usage in each county

    There were no baseline data for Internet usage at the start of the project and they are not available now. However, we do have data pertaining to the growth in hits on Web sites developed as part of this project which we analyzed using a software package called Wusage.

    The average number of unique visits per county Web site in the month in which they were launched was 63.51. In June 2004, when this project ended, that average had climbed to 335.65, a five fold increase in twelve months. Though it may be unrealistic to assume that growth at this level can be sustained, the data do indicate that the sites have been well received and quickly adopted by many residents of counties. We have every reason to believe this trend will continue due to the activities described in the "Spin Off" section below.

    Another measure of Internet use is the number of businesses who listed themselves in the Village Mall section of their respective Electronic Village Web sites. This number went from zero when the project began to a total of 295 businesses on August 31, 2004.

    Of course, we recognize that simply listing businesses online has no value if visitors don't access those listings. We therefore analyzed data on visits to the Village Mall. In the first month that the county Web sites were deployed, we had an average of 58.652 visits to the Village Mall listings. In June, 2004, when the project ended, the average monthly visits to the Village Mall had grown to 159.472, an increase by a factor of 2.71. These numbers indicate that residents of these counties and others are both using the Internet and looking at local businesses for their needs, an encouraging indicator for the small business economy in these counties.

    We also measured the use of the community organizations Web sites set up as part of this project. These listings went from zero per month when the project began to 113. Hits on community organization listings rose from an average of 48.618 hits per site in the first month to 112.686 in the last month of the project, an increase by a factor of 2.3178. This indicates that community organizations in these counties are enjoying a growth in Internet use similar to that of small businesses.

  4. Increased opportunities for home based and micro businesses to establish a presence on the Web

    The Virtual Business Incubator (VBI) package was designed specifically to help home and micro businesses (five employees or less) establish a Web presence and promote their businesses online. By the end of the project, we had set up a total of 39 VBI accounts in the seven participating counties with each county (with the exception of Dickenson) having at least five accounts. Dickenson County held the public launch of their offerings in June 2004, just before the end of this project. While only one person signed up for a Virtual Business Incubator account at that time, the county Chamber of Commerce sponsored the launch and is actively promoting the Dickenson County Electronic Village to local businesses. We won?t be surprised to see them catch up, if not exceed, the number of accounts in other counties.

  5. Increased opportunities for community organizations to use the Internet to provide publicity for themselves

    In addition to home and micro-business owners signing up to use the Web, we also had 25 faith based and community organizations sign up for the Community Connections packages that allow them to use the Internet to provide information to existing members and to promote their mission to potential new ones. In their 2002 article 'Building Sustainable Communities through Network Building' (, Valdis Krebs and June Holley state 'Communities are built on connections. Better connections usually provide better opportunities.' Since community organizations play this significant role in connecting residents within communities, they undoubtedly are contributing not only to social well being but to economic opportunity as well.

  6. Fully functional community network using local members to manage content

    Each county now has a presence in cyberspace facilitated through the creation of an electronic village. Since counties on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (Accomack and Northampton) had theEastern Shore Virginia Portal, they chose to use the portal as their community network. Team members in all counties received training on BEV in a Box services provided with their electronic village sites to ensure they could manage and administer their electronic villages.

    These services include
    1. A professionally designed and maintained Web site infrastructure
    2. Online directories for individuals (also know as villagers), businesses (the village mall) and community organizations.
    3. Online calendar of events
    4. Online discussion forum
    5. Virtual Business Incubator (VBI) - offered under the grant at no cost to home and micro businesses (five employees or less) in each county through June 30, 2005.
    6. Community Connections (CC) - offered under the grant at no cost to community organizations in each county through June 30, 2005.

    Virtual Business Incubator and Community Connections packages provide 20 MB of web hosting, 3 email addresses and an online mailing list of up to 100 subscribers. Individuals signing up for these packages attended a community workshop that provided basic training, ideas and guidelines on using these services effectively to promote their businesses or organizations. As of August 26, 2004, two months after official close of the project, total signups already had increased to 44 VBI accounts and 32 CC accounts.

    Electronic village sites for the five counties using these services are as follows:

    These sites have been well received in their communities. As of August 31, 2004, a total of 295 local businesses had listed themselves on Village Malls and were finding customers among the residents of participating and nearby counties. A total of 113 community organizations were listed online to promote themselves to community residents.

  7. Internship opportunities for individuals that grow and publicize their skills

    The BEV internship program which was launched during this project gives interns and volunteers real world experience working on Web sites for community organizations and businesses. While wondering how to provide more Web site development assistance to counties in need, the BEV received requests from both the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC) in Staunton, VA and the New River Community College to place interns. So far, BEV has interviewed and accepted three interns and matched them with multiple businesses and community organizations to establish their initial Web page at no cost to them. In return, the interns have been given the option of placing on the pages they produce a link to a site provided by BEV where the intern may place a resume and online portfolio.

    In addition, the WWRC interns are performing their work over the Internet from Staunton, VA, even though the server is in Blacksburg, and their customers are dispersed across the state. These interns, should they choose to do so, can continue to do the same work from anywhere in the Commonwealth where they can find appropriate connectivity.

    Furthermore, we were particularly impressed with highly successful personnel screening and self-training techniques developed through Project Train IT at Woodrow Wilson. This model, developed under a grant from the U. S. Department of Labor, can scale and could be used to create online entrepreneurial and economic opportunities ?virtually? for anyone. The BEV hopes that program will be able to continue and be a partner in the future.

  8. Web authoring system for novices and first time creators of Web sites

    In working with individuals who had signed up for the Virtual Business Incubator and Community Connections packages, we found that some of them were daunted by the prospect of putting up their first Web site despite the training provided. One way to overcome this obstacle was the BEV internship program described earlier. At the same time, we launched an effort to locate an easy to use, low (or no) cost package that we could add on to the BEV in Box offering without too much effort. We found software that offered the basic functionality we were looking for and adapted it for use with Virtual Business and Community connection accounts.

    The interface to the software is similar to the one on Microsoft Word with which many individuals are familiar. We've developed a tutorial for non technical people to use to create their "bill board" site, i.e. a one page site that contains a description of the business or community organization, other salient information (address, hours, contact information etc.), and appropriate graphics to attract visitors. Since the software runs on the server, an advantage of this approach is that individuals do not have to learn to upload their files from their local machines using FTP, a source of confusion and a stumbling block for a lot of novices learning how to put up Web pages for the first time.

  9. Alliances with community colleges to promote economic and workforce development activities

    The Eastern Shore Community College and Southside Community College have held Web design workshops and business development courses that have benefited residents of the Eastern Shore (Accomack and Northampton) and Cumberland counties, respectively. We anticipate and encourage affiliations of this nature with such institutions capable of delivering classes and training on a variety of topics such as business development, work force training, and Web design.

  10. Agritourism workshops aimed at attracting tourists and increasing revenue for farmers and rural land owners

    A noteworthy outcome of the work on this project in King and Queen County was the organization of a regional Agritourism Business Opportunities Conference held in King and Queen Courthouse on May 9, 2003. This regional conference was supported by the VCE programs in (Virginia) Planning District 18 which includes King and Queen, King William, Essex, Gloucester, and Middlesex counties. More than 60 persons registered for the conference, including the Director and Associate Director of Virginia Cooperative Extension, a staff member of Congresswoman J.A. Davis from Virginia Congressional District 1, and economic development officers from surrounding counties. Conference speakers included Dr. Ann Lastovica and Andy Hankins, Associate Professors at Virginia State University in Petersburg, VA. A panel of entrepreneurs currently engaged in agritourism and direct marketing ventures shared their experiences with the audience. Evaluation survey results described below indicate that the conference met a perceived need and that additional community readiness workshops of this nature are needed. As a result of this workshop:

    1. 72% learned ways to determine the opportunity that best suits their situation;
    2. 60% learned of resources available for beginning an agritourism business;
    3. 52% gained some new ideas for their agritourism business;
    4. 48% plan to begin the start of their agritourism business;
    5. 12% plan to expand a current business;

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