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NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service To Promote E-Commerce in Rural New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service received a $250,000 grant to offer seminars that will teach business and community leaders in rural New Mexico how to harness the Internet for local prosperity.


US WEST's New Mexico Economic Development Opportunity Fund awarded $250,000 for an 18-month Teleliteracy Assistance for Businesses and Communities or Teleliteracy ABC's project. The project team will work with six rural communities yet to be chosen.

NMSU Extension will develop seminar content and materials, and coordinate a coalition of participating academic and technical institutions.

The project aims to raise awareness among local businesses and governments about the growing "digital divide" between urban and rural areas and the need to bridge that gap. It will offer participants basic tools to independently take advantage of e-commerce and e-government opportunities, said Bob Coppedge, an Extension rural economic development specialist.

"We're in the midst of an 'information revolution' that is of the same magnitude as the agricultural and industrial revolutions," Coppedge said. "But unlike the prior revolutions, which had negative consequences for some rural communities, the current revolution can be harnessed by rural decision makers to their advantage. These seminars will help local leaders and businesses to know the issues facing them, get on the bandwagon and prosper in the information age."

The seminars will emphasize Internet use as the only viable method to effectively integrate rural communities into the emerging global economy, and they will stress the urgency of acting immediately.

"If rural communities don't recognize the importance of acting now, the negative impact could be substantial since later on they will be scrambling to catch up," Coppedge said.

In addition to marketing goods through e-commerce, the seminars will also emphasize consumer use of the Internet, both by businesses and local governments.

"This is not just about selling products. It's also about increasing the purchasing power of county governments and small rural businesses," said Jeanne Gleason, executive producer of electronic media for Extension in Las Cruces, who will co-direct the project with Coppedge.

A team of 10 NMSU professionals will contribute to the project, including six Extension specialists and faculty from NMSU's colleges of Business Administration and Arts and Sciences.

In addition to NMSU Extension and US WEST, three other organizations have agreed to participate: the Center for the New West, NMSU's Center for Business Research and Services and the Tri-Area Association for Economic Development--a nonprofit corporation that covers Arriba, Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties, plus adjacent pueblos. The groups will contribute to seminar content and logistical organization of the workshops. Extension is also seeking participation by other universities and colleges, as well as telephone and Internet service providers.

Extension's agricultural communications department will design multimedia tools for the seminars, including an interactive World Wide Web site for those online, plus a special CD for those without web access. The team will also produce videos, print materials and workbooks, all of which will be provided to seminar participants free of charge.

"We will produce a wide range of materials so that everybody can tap into the information they need to start doing business on the web, whether they're online yet or not," said Gleason.

The free seminars, to be presented in the targeted communities in early 2001, will include two introductory sessions that emphasize the need for teleliteracy in rural areas and the growing importance of the Internet as a medium for business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions.

Two other in-depth seminars will be offered, one for entrepreneurs to learn more about e-commerce and general business applications of the Internet, and the other for community leaders to take a proactive role in the development of infrastructure and government policy that encourage web access and use.

A "train-the-trainer" seminar will also be offered for business and civic leaders who are interested in drawing more people in their communities into the information revolution.

"We will provide more training and materials for all potential local trainers," said Gleason. "We want to empower people to go out and share this information with others in their communities, be they business groups, civic groups, or others."