City Encourages Businesses to Go Online for Free

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- While 97% of Internet users look online for information about local products and services, 58% of businesses don’t have an online presence, a statistic Mayor John McNally wants to improve for companies based in the city.

Toward that goal, McNally announced Tuesday the city’s participation, along with several local partners, in Google’s Get Your Business Online program. “This program is going to enable people to go online through a system Google setup, and create their own website that they can have access to -- for free -- for one year,” he said.

McNally learned about the initiative during a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in January, where he participated in a discussion with Google executives and was able to prepare a public service announcement for the campaign.

“We want to encourage our small business owners -- especially in our main corridors and small businesses that are located in homes -- to get online,” McNally said. “More and more, either through your workplace computer or through your smartphone, you’re looking to determine whether a business has an online presence, to get information about them online, to see the products online, and that’s something businesses need to improve on.”

Some businesses have been hesitant to go online due to cost or simply out of “a little bit of fear,” he said. “Not everybody is tech savvy or computer savvy,” he remarked. To date, more than 300,000 businesses nationwide have taken part in Google’s initiative, the mayor noted.          

A page on the city’s website (CLICK HERE) outlines the step-by-step process for a business to establish a web presence, including registering a domain name and adding information about the business. The city also is offering a $5,000 technical assistance grant, which will be awarded to one business that establishes a site through the challenge and shares its story on social media over the next 60 days. “This is something unique to us,” he remarked.

“The technical assistance grant will be in place to help you sustain your online presence beyond the year that Google will offer for free,” said T. Sharon Woodberry, city economic development director.

Partners in the program include the Youngstown Business Incubator, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Mahoning Youngstown Community Action Partnership, the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, Empyra and the Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University. Other organizations are also coming forward to pledge their assistance, McNally said.

“We believe in supporting the community businesses as well as city initiatives,” said Heidi Daniel, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County. In additional to making information about the program available, the library can provide assistance through available technology “or if they’re looking for research, our business investment center can help businesses do everything from market research and demographic research to writing a business plan,” she said. Online courses on topics such as website development also are, she said.

“MYCAP usually helps people who are low-income or middle-income. They don’t have the services and income that most people have,” said Al Stabilito, director of outreach and communications. “Once they go online, they can find some other services that are available to them other than what we offer at MYCAP. If we can get businesses in the Mahoning Valley to do this [and] people in Youngstown to go online, it’s going to expand the opportunity for individuals to find the things that they need.”

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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