Google was in town last weekend to offer free classes and advice to Minnesota businesses. I actually attended part of the session. And I must admit that the statistic “60 Percent of Businesses Don’t Have a Web Site” caught my attention – as it apparently caught Minnesota Public Radio. (I remember that students working in rural Minnesota had reported more as anecdote that 30 percent of the businesses they searched weren’t on Google. So the percentage seems high – although small business could mean anyone down to one-person part-time businesses)
I suspect that few folks in the room – and MPR reports it was 900 people over two days – had a web site or knew how to build one. The sessions included many basic online marketing classes and the event was cosponsored by someone who has a Content Management System; it also included Google staff who were available for one-on-one questions.
I spoke to some of the Google folks and it seemed like they were most prepared to answer basic questions – but again that was, for the most part, their audience.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’ve just landed after a week of touring MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) projects in rural Minnesota. We toured a fraction of the projects that are underway – but got a good flavor of the offerings, including several of the training programs available:
- University of Minnesota Extension is working with MIRC demonstration communities to provide hands-on training to businesses on all aspects of online marketing.
- Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace has offered a range of webinars and some on-site training on online marketing and smart grid technologies – especially aimed at the renewable energy marketplace and businesses serving them.
In my limited exposure these local folks were offering information and tools to folks in rural areas at least as valuable as the Google training offered in the Twin Cities. For folks who take advantage of the opportunities, it can be a leg up on those 60 percent of businesses who aren’t online.
A nice addition to the rural areas is the training developed through MIRC for folks who aren’t ready to hear about web sites yet.
- DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) has created a series of online classes to help folks who are entirely new to computers and may have low English and/or literacy skills. The classes are self-paced designed and can be made accessible in places such as libraries and workforce centers where new computer users may be looking for help.
- The Learning Commons developed another series of classes that target folks who know how to use a computer – but not how to use programs such as word processing that might help them be more attractive to potential employers.
- Atomic Training has also joined the lineup by offering free access to a wide range of online computer training classes.
For someone who is normally behind a computer myself, it has been interesting to see folks who aren’t to tethered at Google and then the MIRC projects – but also heartening to learn about opportunities for digital inclusion and advancement in rural and urban settings.