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Dr. Timothy Collins, Assistant Director, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, Western Illinois University
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Rural Illinois Perspectives: Rural Communities Can Benefit from a Strong Web Presence

September 15, 2008

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By Timothy Collins, Assistant Director, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, Western Illinois University

The Internet has become the dominant communication tool in the global "information economy" of the 21st century, according to a recent Rural Research Report from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA).

The report, by Paul Schuytema, IIRA consultant and educational technology specialist with University of Illinois Extension, notes the World Wide Web (along with e-mail) is the dominant form of information exchange across the Internet.

Rural communities of fewer than 4,000 residents are at a strong advantage if they have a solid Web presence. The report explores how rural communities with limited financial resources and technical expertise can have a useful Web presence that community and business leaders can maintain. It outlines a flexible but powerful model to assist rural communities in creating a dynamic community website presence. The tools used are not new to the Web, but they can certainly be called "cutting edge" when it comes to a rural community's Web presence.

The Web has reached such a level of ubiquity it is now the primary "first stop" for individuals and businesses seeking information on any specific topic, such as site selectors who evaluate communities for potential business expansion or relocation. If a community's website is not professional and informative, it will be overlooked or dismissed in the first step of the site-selection process. A well-prepared Web presence, on the other hand, helps to create the potential for a community to be "lucky" in attracting new businesses.

In addition, as residents demand more responsiveness and action from elected officials, a solid community website can become a cost-effective means for local administrators to provide vital, up-to-date information to constituents while also creating an accurate impression the community is forward thinking and responsive.

A community website is a primary means of communicating community assets or characteristics -- as well as available goods and services -- to the outside world. While small rural communities are at a disadvantage in this age of large companies relocating offshore, they nevertheless provide valuable assets -- namely, a quiet, safe, peaceful lifestyle or quality of life and recreation opportunities that celebrate a shrinking great outdoors.

A website is the perfect tool to promote a community's quality of life and its personality to those knowledge and creative class workers with flexible lifestyles or who are independently employed. The Web also is a great vehicle for promoting a community to weekend adventurers or those people seeking to escape for longer periods of time. These advantages of a community website justify why a strong Web presence is vital for small rural communities.

You can obtain a copy of the report by contacting IIRA at the phone number below or from our website at

Western Illinois University is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity institution. For more information about the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, see our web site: If you care to comment about this column, please contact Timothy Collins at 800-526-9943 or

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