September 7, 2010 By Russell Nichols
In the past if residents in Boone County, Ill., wanted to get updates about local events or find the latest news, the county website would've been a bad place to look.
During the past 10 years, the county website had become incompatible with modern browsers and could only be updated by users who knew HTML code. That technology job was left in the hands of only two people, and it was a pain.
"The old website was definitely showing its age," said Mike Wrenn, GIS coordinator for Boone County. "We had an out-of-date browser and Java scripts that didn't work anymore. Rarely did any news or upcoming events make it to the website."
In August, Boone County officially launched an improved website built in-house at no additional cost to the county. The long-overdue makeover enables departments to upload board agendas, news, announcements and vital emergency information to the public.
Now that county workers can do updates without IT help, county officials expect to reflect a user-friendly government with a site that's easy to navigate, up to date and free from clutter. Employees now have log-ins and passwords, and for the first time, Wrenn said, the county can actually keep track of site visitors. Since launching Aug. 27, he said, nearly 4,000 users have checked out the website.
"I had no idea the presence was that large," he said. "We can be a relevant place for people to check out news in Boone County."
In years past, the county received complaints from residents unaware of crucial information, such as a tax bill due date. If specific county information wasn't newsworthy enough to make the local newspaper, residents easily could have missed it.
When the former IT manager left, Wrenn said, he took over maintenance duties for the site and saw an opportunity for a makeover. He said he started developing the new version about 10 months ago. He built it little by little during work hours when he had no other projects due. The county switched hosting services to a cheaper hosting service and, Wrenn said, there was no additional cash outlay.
The biggest changes include the news column on the right side, department home pages and an emergency announcement section. But work still needs to be done. In the next few weeks, Wrenn plans to train county workers on how to use the live site.
"It might be a challenge," he said. "There are some that aren't technologically literate. But I just want to get department heads to realize that we have a website and we need to use it."
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.