On-line Businesses Boosted by E-Com Ohio

Mike West- "E-Com Ohio" is the short name for dozens of government agencies, non-profit research groups, business managers and state education leaders whose goal is to pool resources to bring all sectors of the state up to speed when cultivating new E-Combusiness and industries. The E-Com Ohio Project just released it's first status report. Dorothy Baunach, who helped compile this report, works for Cleveland Tomorrow, an organization funded by 55 of the largest companies in northeast Ohio.

Dorothy Baunach- We learned that we are okay. We are about at the national average in several of the indicators, maybe a bit below in some regards. And that's good - at least we're not far behind. However, I think that e-commerce and this whole knowledge economy is moving so fast that just being okay isn't good enough, that we need to make sure that we're making the appropriate investments in doing the kinds of things that will keep us competitive and hopefully put us ahead of the pack.

MW- The study looked at high tech areas including infrastructure, or access to getting wired, affordability and the quality of on-line services, as well as business and government web sites and internet services. Baunach says one of the statistics amazed her.

DB- The one place I was shocked actually that we were below the curve was that only 15 percent of the companies statewide had web sites. And I would have thought that more companies would have web sites.

MW- Apparently finding on-line customers in Ohio isn't easy either, because only 16 percent of Ohioans buy on-line. Fear is blamed for at least part of the problem. According to the study, 45 percent of Ohioans say they won't shop on-line because they're afraid of putting personal and financial information into cyberspace.

Another reason Ohio businesses are slow to embrace the new technology could be tradition. While 70 percent of all companies in the area use computers, most don't even have an internet presence. Terry Uhl is a spokesman for Cleveland Today, an organization that promotes expanding business interests in the city. He says many companies are trapped in an industrial mentality.

Terry Uhl- People in the Greater Cleveland area know that we are experts at art manufacturing, we are experts at healthcare, we are experts at a number of things but probably don't realize, recognize, and appreciate that we do have a lot of attributes in the high tech area that we need to be able to brag about.

MW- Uhl believes promoting the state's high tech capabilities to others will go a long way in helping spark more development.

TU- We probably haven't been as aggressive as we need to be. So the best news was we've recognized it, we've got a plan in place, and we've got some specific goals and objectives we can follow. And that should at least help people get started down this path.

MW- The study gives the region high marks for the number, quality and availability of on-line services. But even though this part of the state is adequately wired, the "so called" digital divide is widening. Larry Ledebur runs the Urban Research Center at Cleveland State University. He says that expected access to the net by people living in isolated areas is limited because of the lack of wiring. He compares the situation with the first efforts to string electric, telephone and cable lines. If you don't have enough customers it doesn't pay to install them.

But at the other end of the spectrum is the inner city. Ledebur says there are plenty of places to get plugged in if you have the money. But still only 37 percent of Ohio's African Americans own computers, compared to 54 percent of whites and 63 percent of Asians.

Larry Ledebur- It's not so much that the infrastructure isn't there, it's the lack of computers and family cultures that include that sort of thing. So I think there may be a public policy role in addition, addressing that digital divide and what we're seeing about divide in terms of income and class and race, and the issue of rural areas where the market is not working well.

MW- Other recommendations made in the study include boosting Cleveland's image in an effort to attract more information technology workers and companies. Another proposal is to give discounts to small business owners for internet access and services.

Now that a yardstick has been created, E-Com Ohio will have to work fast if the state is to catch up with others for a slice of the information economy. In Cleveland, I'm Mike West for 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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