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Mar 30,2005 - Tri City News


By Diane Strandberg
The Tri-City News
Mar 30 2005
The provincial government will contribute $400,000 to help market an interactive web portal that was developed with $9 million in taxpayers' money from two other levels of government to ensure the investment pays off, a local MLA said yesterday in announcing the funding.
"This is about taking the project outside the boundaries of this community to the province," Christy Clark, MLA for Port Moody-Westwood, told a group of media, Smart Choices board members, Port Moody and Coquitlam politicians and bureaucrats Tuesday at the Innovation Centre.
Clark, who is not running in the May 17 provincial election, said Premier Gordon Campbell wants to make B.C. one of Canada's most internet-friendly provinces and the web portal will help by connecting smaller communities via the internet.
In an interview after the press conference, Clark also said the provincial money will be used to ensure the initial investment from the federal government and the cities of Coquitlam and PoMO won't be lost.
"We have an obligation to make sure that $5 million is actualized," she said. "It would be a shame if that investment ended here."
The grant, which has been in the works since October, will allow the Smart Choices Society to develop marketing tools for trade shows and DVD presentations to cities across B.C., Clark said. She said she expects small communities will benefit from services developed for the portal, such as online library services and websites for schools and community groups.
"They can do it at basically no cost at all," Clark said.
Smart Choices director and former chair Bill Brown credited mayors Jon Kingsbury of Coquitlam and Joe Trasolini of PoMo for their unwavering support for the project, and thanked Clark for the province's decision to become a "full partner in the Smart Choices Society."
Coquitlam has contributed $1.79 million in cash and $1.5 million in in-kind services to the project since in began with a $4.5-million Industry Canada grant in 2001.
Port Moody has spent $353,000 in cash and $911,000 in staff time for the project.
School District 43 put $12,000 into the pot, down from its initial $1.5-million pledge, and Smart Choices' other partner, Douglas College, put in $50,000 before pulling out last year.
The web portal allows citizens to pay city bills online and register for community programs as well as find out about local events and groups. It is maintained by Coquitlam parks and leisure staff. Internet training, online library services, website hosting and creation for groups and businesses, free computer internet access, and business and web broadcasting centres were also part of the project.
Mayor Trasolini said achieved its goals and the proof is in the awards and kudos received from places as far away as the U.K. for services such as online library programs. The project has also garnered interest from the private sector and the provincial government, according to Trasolini, who said, "When that happens you know you have achieved success."
Kingsbury, meanwhile, credited city staff, including Jennifer Wilkie, manager of corporate planning and Smart Choices board chair, for seeing the project through.
Wilkie said smaller communities will be able to choose from a menu of services offered by and will pay according to their population. "We learned from our marketing survey that the services have to be affordable," she said.
Smart Choices is also negotiating with a Vancouver company to market to U.S. cities and more details will be available on that deal in the next month, Wilkie said.
One aspect of the negotiations is whether the cities should get a portion of the revenue for taxpayers' contributions to the project. "Our focus is to maximize local communities' return based on future success," Wilkie said.

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