problem and opportunity side of it and acting on it, [Virginia] has been a leader."
Several of Virginia's major "digital opportunity" initiatives -- the state avoids the term "digital divide" -- will flow through the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), a non-profit, government-funded company responsible for creating a fertile environment for technology businesses.
For instance, CIT will help create the community e-government blueprints that form the cornerstone of Virginia's e-communities initiative. CIT and the newly formed E-communities Task Force are now confronting the task of assembling step-by-step guides for building Web-connected communities.
"We're making this up as we go along," admitted CIT President Anne Armstrong. "One of the challenges is being specific enough to be helpful, but not so specific that the blueprints don't scale or generalize well."
The organization also administers Virginia Link, a multivendor contract offering competitively priced broadband telecommunications services to businesses throughout the state. Under the program, CIT aggregates telecom demand from Virginia businesses, negotiates discount pricing from vendors and passes the savings on to participating local companies, according to Armstrong.
Armstrong expects Virginia Link to hold strong appeal for small firms. "If you're Newport News Shipbuilding, you can probably negotiate pretty aggressive telecom prices," she said. "But if you're Sam's Florist, you may not be in the same position. This is an effort to help smaller businesses take advantage of aggressive prices."
Virginia Link's contract offerings and marketing efforts just recently reached full strength. But the program already has reduced the cost of high-speed connectivity, despite the small number of current users. "Just the presence of this contract is bringing prices down in the competitive marketplace," said Armstrong. "We consider it a success if everybody gets lower prices. And it's having that effect."
Furthermore, CIT holds e-business seminars throughout the commonwealth designed to help local companies gain the knowledge they need to compete in the Internet marketplace. The organization conducted five seminars in 2000 -- covering wireless and XML technology, security and other topics -- under what is known as Virginia's Main Street to e-Street program.
The program's goal, said Armstrong, is to expose small businesses to new technology and to vendors that can show them how to use it -- all in a non-threatening environment. "You can get this information [elsewhere], but it usually comes with a sales pitch," she said.
Taking the Stage
Armstrong sees CIT's efforts as vital to retaining employers in an Internet economy that allows companies to operate from virtually anywhere. "We need to continue to offer businesses what they need to succeed because we want them to stay here," she said. "We are in a global marketplace, and we have to stay competitive. We need to realize that we can steal somebody's lunch, but they can also have us for lunch."
Indeed, one of the greatest impacts of Virginia's government IT initiatives -- everything from making state agencies easier for citizens and businesses to deal with, to giving local communities and companies a hand in connecting to the digital economy -- is being felt far from home. According to Upson, who regularly conducts international trade missions aimed at improving the competitiveness of Virginia-based firms, the aggressive technology agenda has helped boost the commonwealth's stature before a worldwide audience of investors, customers and potential employers.
"What's happened in very short order is Virginia has gotten quite a bit of attention, and it's paying off for us," he said. "People don't ask, 'Why Virginia?' anymore."
By Steve Towns, Features Editor