How did Stokes County develop 120 websites for small business? One out-of-the-box economic developer, a grant, and lots of creativity.
Alan Wood is the economic developer in Stokes County, NC. Soon after arriving in this small, rural, foothills community, Alan realized that his economic development strategy would have to be different. Stokes County is home to small businesses, some involved in tourism, but many did not have a web presence. It is hard to grow your business, especially in the tourism and hospitality industry, without a website. Thanks to Alan, 120 businesses now have websites.
With an initial Incumbent Worker Training Grant of $20,000, Stokes County EDC contracted with a web designer to create five basic templates. The website developer next worked with small businesses to input their information into one of the templates. Voila – many more websites. Businesses have an annual $60 maintenance fee, that’s all. They even offer classes if business owners want to learn how to update in-house. The program has grown to 120 websites with only $12,000 additional funding beyond the grant. The EDC is now working to add more templates.
Alan Wood estimates that 15-20 businesses continue to update, add to, and improve their sites. Some have expanded to include online sales and online reservations. The Inn at Singletree is one example. It began adding online reservations. An offshoot is that tourism businesses are starting to work toward a central reservations system where visitors can book lodging, outdoor recreation, and other activities on one site. Others have caught the Internet bug and have been inspired to branch out to Etsy to boost sales of local handmade goods.
Creative EDC likes the website program because it is a direct response to a local market need. It is creative, low cost, impactful, scalable, and sustainable. And, it’s just plain cool.
Stokes County didn’t stop with one innovative idea. They are now working on the Dan Art Center development project. I can see another best practice blog post forming.