Around the State- Northwest- Feb. 2001
Fast-growing e-learning is getting a boost from northwest Florida firms.
By Julie S. Bettinger
Distance learning is hot in the Panhandle. School systems, companies and associations based in the region are using technology to help keep training affordable and accessible. Meanwhile, three Tallahassee firms are making headway in the growing market for online training services, which is expected to double every year and reach about $11.5 billion by 2003.
In December, the Panhandle Area Educational Cooperative (PAEC) in Chipley launched a public television channel to deliver teacher training, workforce development and other public education courses. Courses on the Florida Educational Channel will be archived in digital form and available on a website. Instructional aids can also be downloaded from the site.
Rick Everitt, program coordinator for technology support at PAEC, says distance learning via TV and the internet is helping to level the playing field in public education. School districts receive funding from the state based on number of students, which means rural schools can't muster the same level of resources as bigger systems. An additional problem: Since technology costs are so high in rural counties, they need even more help than their metropolitan counterparts.
One school in rural Walton County was going to have to pay six times more than a metropolitan neighbor for a telecommunications network. PAEC and the Florida Learning Alliance secured a $10-million grant to fill the technological divide.
In Tallahassee, a small group of firms is finding some initial success in the distance-learning industry.
Ucompass.com, which develops e-learning software used by universities and K-12 educators, was started in 1999 and recorded $150,000 in sales that year. In 2000, sales jumped to $600,000.
LearnSomething.com serves the high number of associations based in Tallahassee. "The typical association is chartered to provide education to its members," explains Jon Crumpacker, chairman and CEO, "but for the vast majority, it's a break-even or losing proposition." Moving courses online means survival.
Continuingeducation.com has developed a niche by providing continuing education for professionals in pharmacy, nursing, dental, respiratory therapy and related health fields.
Promoters of distance learning say companies can save 50% to 70% over instructor-led training. And it may be more effective, they say. "The speed of (learning) in computer-based training is at least a third faster than in the classroom setting," Crumpacker says.
Julie Bettinger can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the News
Cantonment -- U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Pensacola, is credited with helping to persuade Congress to appropriate $1.7 million for development of utilities and roadwork at Escambia's new Central Commerce Park. Officials say the funding will accelerate development of the 352-acre business park and make up to 25 of an estimated 70 to 80 lots available by next fall.
Fort Walton Beach -- Okaloosa County ended its fiscal year with a 15.7% increase in bed-tax collections over the previous year. The taxes fund the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council, the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Okaloosa/TDC Film Commission. Officials credit the TDC's website -- www.destin-fwb.com -- and stepped-up advertising and public relations efforts.
Panhandle -- Voters in Calhoun County approved an ad valorem tax exemption for new and expanding businesses. The campaign on behalf of the exemption emphasized the need for more tools to influence economic development in the rural county. Residents in neighboring Washington County voted to renew their ad valorem tax exemption for 10 more years.
The new regional economic development organization, Florida's Great Northwest, has launched a website to stimulate interest in the Panhandle. The site, www.brandnewflorida.com, offers information on 16 counties, from rural Jefferson through Escambia, including the Tallahassee, Panama City, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola metropolitan areas.
International Paper Co. plans to sell its pine chemistry company, Arizona Chemical, which employs 2,000 worldwide. Three of the company's eight manufacturing plants are in Florida's Panhandle: 250 employees are in Panama City, 95 in Port St. Joe and 51 in Pensacola. The move is part of International Paper's $3-billion plan to sell non-core assets. Company officials haven't speculated about how a sale might affect Arizona Chemical's current operations.
Pensacola -- GE Power Systems has purchased the 421,000-sq.-ft. former Westinghouse building, which has been vacant for more than a year. GE is expected to use the facility to make electric generators. Chamber officials say more than 200 jobs paying an average of $19 an hour should be created. Westinghouse donated $25,000 to the Pensacola Chamber's Foundation for the Future in appreciation for the chamber's efforts in recruiting a buyer for its facility.
Tallahassee -- Seven Tallahassee businesses have been included in the University of Florida's list of the 100 fastest-growing private companies in Florida. They are Advanced Systems Design, Mainline Information Systems, Business Communications Inc., Cloud Consulting, DOCS Inc., Moore Bass Consulting and Moore Consulting Group. Advanced Systems Design and Mainline Information Systems were also named in last year's Inc. 500 listing.
Florida State University maintained its third-place ranking for faculty research in the latest poll by the Association of University Technology Managers. With $57.3 million in royalties, only Columbia University ($95.8 million) and the 10-member University of California System ($80.8 million) earned more. FSU's royalties were up 23% from the previous year, according to the survey.