Leon Worden

City, COC: Big steps in right direction

By Leon Worden
Friday, November 5, 1999

fficial Santa Clarita took a bold step forward last week when it unveiled “Connecting Communities,” a valleywide effort to help local businesses, residents and government take full advantage of the Internet.
    It's a bolder step than you might think. Most municipalities are still too busy harping about electronic commerce, and its supposed drain on sales tax coffers, to see the forest for the trees— and frankly, it wasn't all that long ago that Santa Clarita was among them.
    Last Friday, the city of Santa Clarita formally abandoned its policy of resistance and publicly embraced the Internet as a tool for building a networked economy.
    Let's face it. Resistance was futile. As the 20th Century draws to a close, the way people work, shop, communicate and recreate has changed, and there's no turning back. As long as it's easy for people to shop online, people are going to shop online.
    Sales tax issues still need to be resolved, probably on a federal level, but thankfully, official Santa Clarita isn't waiting.
    To paraphrase something a successful Valencia computer business owner said last week, those who have recognized trends in the high-tech industry first have generally benefited the most. By uniting Santa Clarita's business, government, technology and education leaders behind a comprehensive plan to make the Internet work for them, Santa Clarita joins a surprisingly small handful of communities— the Silicon Valley comes to mind— that have developed a formal strategy to prosper in the New Economy.
    For Santa Clarita businesses that participate in Connecting Communities, it means getting help to break into the exploding online marketplace and start generating revenue from it. This holiday season, worldwide sales over the Internet are expected to increase from $3.1 billion last year to $6 billion or more.
    The effort isn't restricted to local retailers who'd like to find new customers for their flowers or car stereos. It's for the local pizza parlor and beauty salon that realize the Internet is becoming an integral part of their customers' lives, and that customer retention might soon depend on whether they let people place an order through a website or make an appointment by e-mail.
    For the folks at City Hall, getting on board means beefing up the city's online services so residents don't have to get in their cars and queue up at a counter every time they want to register their kids in a parks and rec program or voice their opinions to city officials. Performing those functions online saves on more than just nerves: Traffic is reduced, and city staff time management improves.
    For people who can't afford computers, Connecting Communities means more online activities at the local libraries, where anyone can already access the Internet at no charge, establish a free e-mail account through Hotmail and be just as “connected” as the person with the priciest hardware on earth.
    For local workers, it means keeping abreast of the latest technological developments so their skills remain marketable.
    To that end, what's going on at College of the Canyons is no less exciting than the dramatic policy shift at City Hall.
    The chasm between business and the halls of academe is often vast, but not at COC under Superintendent-President Dianne Van Hook.
    For the last couple of years, Van Hook's school has blazed trails in terms of providing the real-world training Santa Clarita's businesses have asked for— particularly in the area of manufacturing technology, which COC teaches both on campus and at facilities in the Valencia Industrial Center. In fact, in April, the local Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, run by COC instructors at a Valencia aerospace firm, was named the best public-private partnership project in the California Community College system.
    Now, at the same time COC moves to augment its traditional offerings with four-year university programs, one COC instructor will be training students not for a degree, but for a certificate from a computer company. COC recently formed a partnership with Cisco Systems, a major computer networking firm, to deliver Cisco's curriculum, beginning in January. The school has a similar arrangement with Microsoft and 3Com.
    As Phil Hartley, COC's vice president of instruction and student services, said last week, the big technology companies aren't interested in whether a job applicant holds an old-fashioned sheepskin. They want technicians who can wire their systems properly.
    And next fall, COC is adding e-commerce to its schedule of classes.
    The business community is defining its needs, and COC is stepping up to the plate with solutions.
    It's a brave new world, and suddenly Santa Clarita seems to be in pretty good shape.
    To get on board with Connecting Communities, call Paul Zaengle, the city of Santa Clarita's information technology manager, at 255-4336.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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