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MIS Students Develop Networking Tool
For Use By Local Companies
MAILED: March 22, 2002
EAU CLAIRE — Help may be just a "click" away for Eau Claire businesses, thanks to a new business-to-business Web site developed by students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for the city's Economic Development Division.
LocaLinks, the brainchild of students in an electronic business class, is an online tool for local businesses to share transportation, machinery and other specialized expertise within the Eau Claire area, said Carey Howard, a city of Eau Claire business assistance specialist.
Eau Claire businesses have many resources such as manpower, production capabilities, available space and international contacts, Howard said. Sometimes situations arise when a business doesn't have the available capital or workforce to complete a project, and that's when LocaLinks enables companies to share their resources and partner with one another.
"If a company needs to move parts by tomorrow and has a truck break down, they can go to the site to find out if someone has a truck with space going to that location," said Dale Johnson, UW-Eau Claire professor of management information systems. "If they need warehouse space, they can find it through LocaLinks."
Johnson taught the class of senior MIS students who came up with the idea of an electronic link for Eau Claire companies. Each semester the students in Electronic Business work with local companies to design an electronic component into their business. In the past five years Johnson's students have worked with 50 businesses, developing Web sites, new systems and other ways of getting full value from the Internet.
Last spring three students were assigned to work with the city's economic development administrator Mike Schatz. They met with Schatz and talked about his goal of strengthening companies already located in Eau Claire.
"The students started to think about how to best connect businesses in Eau Claire. They knew if you connect with another local company to solve a need, you strengthen two local companies," Johnson said. "They came up with a Web-driven meeting place where local businesses could post their resources and their immediate needs."
Shannon Collett, a UW-Eau Claire December MIS graduate, was hired to work with the city to build the database and develop the LocaLinks site. The site came online in early March. Businesses can sign up for the cost of $30 a year, Howard said. The launch date for searching the site is June 3. By then Howard hopes as many as 100 businesses will sign up for the service.
"A strong network of businesses will help our local economy. By helping them to partner with each other, we are helping build this network," Howard said. The site should be particularly useful for newer companies who may not know what's in the area and what other companies do, she added.
A 30-day limit for site postings will help it remain focused on meeting immediate needs, Howard said. "We want it to be more than an advertising site. We're hoping that companies who need something for tomorrow will be able to go out and find what they're looking for."
Doug Richardson from Parco Windows has signed up for the service. The manufacturer of vinyl replacement windows delivers to a three-state area. "Currently we have 16-foot vans coming back empty each night. We could help save someone some transportation costs," he said.
Richardson also has a specialized piece of machinery that applies wood foil to vinyl. "There could be other uses for this machine by other businesses that make plastic extrusions," he said.
UW-Eau Claire's College of Business also intends to register on the site, Johnson said. "Very few businesses in the Chippewa Valley have research capabilities. We have 50 faculty members who are very capable researchers. If a faculty member has time to do a research project for a local company, we'll put them in the system," he said. "I'd like the College to play a role in this business community. We are an applied research College, and I'd like to see us helping local businesses more than working on purely theoretical projects."
The university's Continuing Education unit also will register its services on the site, Johnson said. "Training and research are our roles in this community. The site provides us with a simple and inexpensive way of linking with local companies in these two important areas."
The LocaLinks Web site is www.eclocalinks.com.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: March 22, 2002