HAYS, KS -- Loup County, NE, Public School's seventh-grade geography class, a gym owner in Colby, KS, the Nebraska Network for Children and Families, and Sedgwick County, CO, Rural Technology Academy were announced Sept. 13 as winners of this year's Telecommunications Success Story awards from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University.
The awards were presented at the Tri-State Initiative 2000 Economic Development Conference and Governor's Summit in Curtis, NE.
The Docking Institute began its annual recognition of successes in the field of telecommunications enterprises success stories from Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska in 1993.
Case studies developed from these success stories are published and distributed nationally. The awards honor innovative businesses and community/public organizations for their implementation of telecommunications and information technologies.
The Success Stories:
Loup County Public School -- Seventh-grade geography class
The Community Award goes to the seventh-grade geography class of Loup County, NE, Public School in Taylor. Loup County is a rural, isolated area of the Nebraska sandhills; its total population is less than 700 people, with only 186 living in Taylor, the only community in the county. It is a "dying community" typical of many found within the rural Great Plains, according to one resident. After reading a disturbing article about the community in the Omaha World Herald on April 10, 2000, the seventh-grade geography class in Taylor developed a web business, Welcome to Taylor, .
The Herald article noted that Loup County was the third poorest county in the United States, ranking second in the state of Nebraska for loss of retail sales.
"We began to brainstorm about all of the good that could be found in our community," said seventh-grade teacher Susan McNeil. "The students then decided to create a business to let the world know that this community was worth saving."
The web site promotes the community through local history, current events, geography, statistics compiled by the students and paid advertisements showcasing local businesses.
The 13 students in the geography class relied on local resources to create the web site, interviewing elderly residents and local business people, as well as researching at the local museum, school and public library. A local bank helped the students secure a start-up loan for their business.
"The students have gained valuable knowledge about their own community and how to run a web site business," said McNeil.
Affordable Supplements Inc.
David Gray is the winner of the Lone Eagle/Private Business Award. Gray opened a gym in Colby, KS, population 5,522, in February 1998 following his graduation from Fort Hays State University in Hays, KS. After a successful first year, he decided to go on line with the gym's sports supplement sales, which became Affordable Supplements Inc. .
Today, since opening the web site, online sales account for more than 90 percent of the company's gross revenue.
"We currently outsell the largest sports nutrition store in Wichita," said Gray. Since going on line in March 1999, Affordable Supplements has doubled its original workforce from two (Gray and his wife) to four full-time employees.
"Locally, no one is really aware of what we do. You couldn't make a living selling sports supplements over the counter in Colby, Kansas," said Gray. He noted one advantage of his location, however.
"The Midwest is an ideal location for a web business -- or at least a fulfillment plant. We are only three days away from a majority of the U.S. with UPS ground." Originally, the company hosted its site with Geocities but has since moved to a regional provider, Nex-Tech of Hays.
Nebraska Network for Children and Families
The Nebraska Network for Children and Families was named the winner of the Public Entity Award. NNCF provides Internet-based information and support for Nebraskans with special needs . Targeted groups include families with special needs children, foster families, caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's and other memory disorders and caregivers of the elderly. Services coordinators and school nurses are also served.
"Since Nebraska is primarily rural, it is often difficult for families to participate in traditional support groups," said Connie Hayek, project manager for NNCF.
"Professionals also may have limited access to others in their field," she said.
E-mail discussion groups (or listservs) offered through the web site "provide an opportunity for families and professionals across the state to share ideas, frustrations and successes as well as ask questions of others," said Hayek.
One user commented on the service: "I'm essentially homebound with my little people, so to be able to attend other meetings or anything of that nature is very difficult. I [must] have nursing staff here when I leave. Being able to communicate -- whether it be verbal or whatnot -- just being able to reach out and get other people who are in the same situation or have undergone a lot of the same trials and tribulations that you have, it's great."
Besides discussion groups, the web site features links to government resources and other web sites that may be of interest to targeted groups, as well as events of potential interest to each group and stories written by and for NNCF users.
The site also features "Ask RX" for registered users, which provides, within a few hours, a confidential e-mail response from a registered pharmacist regarding e-mailed questions about prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Plans for 2000 include expanding this to include an "Ask the Expert" service, with a different topic featured each month.
Sedgwick County Rural Technology Academy
Julesburg (population 1,300) in northeastern Colorado's Sedgwick County (population 2,700) is partnering with Denver-based EduQuest to train a local workforce, create local jobs, and provide an incentive for youth to remain in the community. The Sedgwick County Rural Technology Academy is the winner of the Telecommunications Company/Community Partner Award.
The city of Julesburg has purchased a building to serve as a business incubator and learning lab that will be connected to the Higher Education and Advanced Technology Center, which is an advanced data networking, Internet, and video communications technologies center in Denver. The project has many objectives.
"Just a few" of the objectives, according to Anna Scott, local resident and promoter, are "maintaining a store front to sell equipment, incubating businesses out of the many offices in this building, becoming our own Internet providers, teaching people whatever course they want to take at the learning lab, and doing business through e-commerce."
EduQuest has hired two students from each of the county's high schools (at Julesburg and Revere) as interns to promote the county on a web site. The project has widespread community support with many partners, including the city of Julesburg, Sedgwick County, the Sedgwick County Telecommunications Board, the Julesburg and Revere School Districts, the Sedgwick County Health Center, the Colorado Rural Technology Academy, the Sedgwick County Economic Development Corp. and the Agriculture Extension Agency.
"Everyone clearly understood this project is critical to our community," said Scott.