By Dianne Gouliquer
Communities across the North are getting a crash course on the importance of a strong e-economy thanks to a series of workshops co-ordinated by the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce (NOACC).
In March of this year, Kenora-Rainy River MP Robert Nault, Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Joe Comuzzi and Thunder Bay-Atikokan MP Stan Dromisky announced $120,000 in FedNor funding to help the NOACC conduct the Northern Ontario Online Outreach Initiative (NOI), an e-commerce building exercise delivered through
workshops in nine northwestern Ontario communities.
The two-day, professionally conducted workshops are a means to build Internet awareness, outline the benefits of moving online, promote new e-tools, develop future technology, introduce Web marketing methods and demonstrate the advantages of a Northern network inclusive of electronic profiling.
The NOI tour began in Geraldton on March 28 and 29 and will wrap up May 9 and 10 in Thunder Bay.
It's the same session in each community," Jon Christianson, the NOACC president, says. "The overall goal is to educate businesses in northwestern Ontario about the need to be involved in e-commerce and to teach them about the basics of e-commerce."
Creating economic growth opportunities in northwestern Ontario, promoting the regional transition to an online economy, and helping the region to remain competitive in the future marketplace is at the heart of the NOI initiative, Christianson adds.
Christianson says NOI is just the first step in educating Northern Ontario about the crucial role the Internet plays in the modern business world.
NOACC is also planning a region-wide survey, similar to one conducted in Thunder Bay earlier this year by the local chamber of commerce, to gauge Internet usage in northwestern Ontario.
"I think there is a lot more Internet usage than people think there is, and it's going to be interesting to find out how much (business) people are actually doing on the Net," Christianson says. "Is it hyped, or is it not hyped? That's the question."
But despite his suspicion that most people are aware of the limitless marketing capabilities of the Internet, he says there are still businesses out there that haven't taken their products and services online yet.
"The advantage of the Internet is that you can sell anything anywhere and our geography is no longer a competitive disadvantage. The cost of transportation is irrelevant in the Internet age.
"I think our companies need to get moving ahead and many are, but we need to do more so that the North can grow and be strong."
He says perhaps one of the biggest challenges that still needs to be addressed in order to have a solid e-economy is the lack of modern technology throughout northwestern Ontario.
"I believe that people are becoming aware of the importance of the Internet," Christianson says. "We now have high-speed Internet in Thunder Bay, but the rest of the region still doesn't have high-speed access.