E-commerce program opposed down

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Efforts to jumpstart e-commerce in Suffolk were delayed Wednesday by the Industrial Development Authority.

The IDA voted 4-2 against investing $30,000 into a grant program that local business owners could tap into through the Virginia Electronic Commerce Technology Center, a business incubator for e-commerce.

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The group, affiliated with Christopher Newport University and the Virginia Center for Industry and Technology, specializes in helping small- to medium-sized businesses, local governments and other agencies with e-commerce services, including Web site design, search optimization and database development.

Under the proposal, Suffolk businesses interested in the technology would have had access to VECTEC’s services at about half the costs. Eligible businesses would have been able to apply for grants to help fund part of the expenses through the IDA, up to a maximum amount. The business owners would have picked up the rest of the tab.

Several other localities in Hampton Roads have jumped on VECTEC’s bandwagon since spring 2003, said Michelle Carpenter, a VECTEC spokeswoman. The industrial development authorities in Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News have each committed $30,000 to the program and Gloucester has set aside $10,000, available once the project gets the final nod from the county’s Board of Supervisors, she said.

A couple of IDA members, including Chairman John Harrell, questioned whether the authority should be involved in helping fund the project.

&uot;We don’t help with those (referring to costs a company might spend on color brochures),&uot; he said. &uot;I’m on the Internet a lot …all the time. Is that really what the IDA is supposed to be doing?

&uot;I need to think about this before I vote on it.&uot;

Harrell also questioned the effectiveness of web pages as marketing tools for businesses.

&uot;How many web sites really do people really look at – three out of 100?&uot; Harrell said. &uot;I imagine 99 percent of all web pages will lie there and not be looked at.&uot;

Although Harrell indicated he would like to see the vote delayed until next month, IDA member Isaac Baker urged fellow board members to call for a vote Wednesday.

Baker said had received calls from several board members interested in VECTEC’s services.

&uot;Every other city is a part of it already,&uot; he said. &uot;Suffolk will be the last one again.&uot;

Carpenter, after the meeting, said Suffolk is the IDA to&uot;This is something they have to be ready for and they didn’t sound quite ready,&uot; she said.

She is hopeful the authority will view things differently after further study of the proposal, reviewing web sites of local businesses already involved in the program and getting answers to any of their questions over the next 30 days.