Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

CHS seniors take a crack at webpage designing for the town

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Chesterton Town Manager Bernie Doyle is right now working to update and revamp the Town of Chesterton’s municipal website, with a particular view to fostering economic development.

The Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce, for its part, has tentatively scheduled the launch of its vastly improved, exceptionally robust website for July 1.

So it’s a propitious moment for the seniors in the Chesterton High School Honors Economics course to take a whack at devising for the Town of Chesterton a brand-new website the whole point of which is to spur economic development.

At a special meeting of the Town Council at the CHS auditorium on Thursday, the three blocks of the Honors Economics course each presented their recommendations in the form of mock-up websites and written reports.

They did so as the third annual edition of The Future of Chesterton Foundation, whose goal is to partner on a long-term basis the town and the local business community with CHS and its students, the latter of whom not only are exposed in their research to the real-life issues and dynamics of a municipality but are actively involved in the strategic planning process. Two years ago the Honors Econ seniors crafted economic development plans for the town. Last year they created hiring protocols for the position of town manager (since filled by Doyle).

This year: a municipal economic-development website.

In general, the three blocks agreed that the town’s current municipal website--especially its page dedicated to economic development--is badly in need of a re-tune, that its information needs to be updated, and that on the whole it’s unfriendly and unnavigable.

But none of those critiques means much unless companies considering re-location can find the website in the first place. So all three blocks recommended the use of search engine optimizers and of a specialized site selection search service called ZoomProspector, which would not only create a interactive GIS map with demographic and zoning information but would make the Town of Chesterton a sponsored listing, getting it into the pool of other municipalities searched by companies specifically looking for places to re-locate to.

Two blocks also recommended the translation of the English webpages into foreign languages for international corporations on the hunt for hot spots in the U.S. to set up shop.

Other recommendations:

*A comprehensive listing of available incentives like tax increment financing, tax abatements, low-interest loans, and grants.

*A similar listing of the most recent demographic data available on residents’ income, education, consumption, and ages.

*A page describing the transportation infrastructure, with attention to I-80/94 and the Indiana Toll Road, the South Shore Commuter Railroad, the Gary/Chicago International Airport, and the proximity of Chesterton to Chicago.

*A page promoting the amenities of Chesterton and Duneland, including Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Sand Creek Country Club, the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, the Duneland Harvest Festival, and the Wizard of Oz Festival.

*A “green” page demonstrating the town’s commitment to environmentally friendly development.

*Making the economic-development website autonomous, that is, separated from but linkable to the main municipal website.

*The inclusion of all relevant contact information, beginning with Doyle’s numbers and addresses and listing too those of relevant elected and appointed officials.

*An auto-scheduling feature which would allow a prospective company to arrange a telephone or personal interview with Doyle electronically.

*On-line permitting.

*A listing of available property for sale or lease.

*Job listings.

*Small-business success stories and profiles.

*A blog or forum (although one block advised against such a feature, on the ground that a blog can become unprofessional, contentious, and off--point).

On one issue the three blocks proved wildly divergent: their estimated costs for developing and maintaining the website:

*One group pegged the one-time set-up costs at up to $5,500, with another $5,500 for a video, and annual maintenance costs at up to $10,500.

*Another group was roughly comparable, with the one-time investment in a dynamic website at up to $15,000, with on-going annual costs of several thousand dollars.

*The third group ballparked the first-year cost at $150,000 and the on-going annual cost at $100,000.

After the meeting Doyle told the Chesterton Tribune that he found the presentations educational and valuable and that he intends to invite the students to help the town incorporate their best features into its economic-development website.

Chamber Executive Director Heather Ennis was equally impressed and said that she wants to take a closer look at a number of the features, including multiple languages, for incorporation into the Chamber’s website.

The Future of Chesterton Foundation--the brain child of local businessmen Eric Kroeger and Gerard Pannekoek--is hoping to find 25 six-week paid internships this summer for select students at businesses in Northwest Indiana. It is also hoping to make the initiative a self-sustaining entity in the Duneland School Corporation, complete with a paid administrator.



Posted 4/10/2009




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