Google Program Visits Casper, Wyo., to Get Residents Online

Dubbed Grow with Google, the program has touched more than 3,000 participants nationwide since its creation in 2017. This year alone the Grow with Google tour has been to 22 states including Wyoming.

by Morgan Hughes, Casper Star Tribune / August 27, 2019

(TNS) — Katherine Williams has been traveling the country, helping people get online.

“I got to help someone send their first email to their grandkids,” Williams said.

The Google spokesperson has been traveling with a team of Google employees — “Googlers,” as she affectionately refers to them — on a tour to bring Grow with Google to communities around the country.

On Monday, that team came to Casper. They transformed the Natrona County Public Library, bringing rows of Chromebooks, branded swag and an outfit of experts to train Casper residents on the variety of free tools the company has to offer.

Grow with Google started in 2017, when the company pledged to spend $1 billion over the next five years on economic development and outreach programs. Since 2017, the program has touched more than 3,000 participants. This year alone the Grow with Google tour has been to 22 states including Wyoming.

Monday’s event was twofold. Small business owners and individuals were able to come and learn how to use a variety of web-based tools to either grow their businesses or job skills, while nonprofit community groups registered as “Grow with Google partners” were given resources to teach those same classes without direct help from Google employees.

The day’s events drew marketing firms, librarians, state and local workforce leaders and individuals hoping to leverage the lessons for personal growth.

Google hosted four workshops over the course of the day, ranging from training tools for community groups to direct lessons for small businesses hoping to utilize the company’s range of digital tools, to lessons on how to build a resume and format spreadsheets using Google Docs and Google Sheets.

Williams said the workshops help people understand how they can succeed in an ever-growing digital economy — a sector of the economy that made up nearly 7 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis but that touches nearly every other industry as well.

Google already claims its tools have immense economic impact. In a 2018 report, the company estimated spurring $203 million of economic activity in Wyoming.

That figure, according to the report, comes from Google analytic and advertising data. The report estimates a business will make $2 for every $1 spent on advertising with Google. It also claims that businesses that use the advanced advertising and analytical tools saw four times as much revenue growth as “less digitally advanced” businesses.

But it’s a reciprocal relationship. The more people who see the benefits of the company’s business tools, the more people will want to use them.

“We succeed when the small businesses that can benefit from our tools know how to use them,” Williams said.

These workshops are a tool for economic development, Williams said, but they can also drive traffic to Google’s lesser-known tools. But as ubiquitous and mandatory as these technologies are, access to them is unequal.

Among households making $20,000 or less per year, only about 60 percent have home broadband access. For households making more than $20,000 annually, the proportion is closer to 90 percent, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

The gap is substantial when comparing rural and urban households as well.

“Rural Americans are now 12 percentage points less likely than Americans overall to have home broadband,” reads a separate report from the Pew Research Center.

And in Wyoming the difference is just as stark. The state ranks 49th in broadband connectivity and 27 percent of the population lacks access or is underserved, according to the advocacy group Broadband Now.

Grow with Google addresses some of these concerns by partnering with libraries, which typically offer free internet access and often have technology and job skills workshops of their own.

The Natrona County library is a Grow with Google partner and has free internet access, access to computers and job trainings. The library’s executive director, Lisa Scroggins, said she has been working with Google on the partnership for about a month.

The program can’t solve all of the connectivity issues, but “it’s another tool in the toolbox” to build businesses and get people connected to job skills resources, Scroggins said.

“They realize how powerful libraries are, that’s humbling to me,” Scroggins said.

Kyouhee Choi Burger, a reference librarian at the Campbell County Public Library, said they know how crucial it is to ensure everybody is on an equal playing field, and she hopes the tools presented during Monday’s event will help.

“It’s so hard keeping up with technology to offer to our patrons. ... We thought this could help us set the tone,” she said. “This could be a good way to increase digital literacy” because the tools are free and accessible regardless of hardware. All you need is an internet connection.

The program has other ancillary perks as well. Small business owners who attended Monday said the process for a business to be verified on Google can be arduous and drawn-out.

Businesses need to request a postcard from the company, fill the postcard out and send it back. If they lose the postcard or it gets lost in the mail, they need to request another one. They also need to have a physical address for the business, and that address can’t be a post office box. This is a problem for rural and reservation-based businesses that don’t have a physical address.

Grow with Google allows its partners — the nonprofit community groups — to expedite the verification process and forgo including a physical business address.

The Casper Area Chamber of Commerce is now a Grow with Google partner, so businesses can reach out to that entity and request to be verified on Google, instead of having to go through the process on their own.

Representatives from the Wyoming Contractors Association regional training center who attended Monday’s workshop said they’re excited not only about the analytical tools but also the tools for individual learning.

“We work with a lot of adult learners,” said Traci Young, who works for the training center. “The resume stuff is going to be key.”

The Grow with Google team will be in Cheyenne on Wednesday before continuing with their national tour, but a second Grow with Google event focusing on job seekers will be held at the Natrona County Public Library next month.

©2019 Casper Star Tribune, Wyo. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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