Kelsey Barton has massage therapy training from Capri College in Dubuque, a Wisconsin state license for massage therapy and her bachelor's in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. What she doesn't have is a computer. But, in December 2011, thanks in part to a federally-funded project operating in Platteville, Barton was able to launch her small business, Massages by Kelsey, in the Platteville Business Incubator.
Platteville is one of five communities benefiting from the Building Community Capacity through Broadband (BCCB) project, a federal grant-funded project led by the University of Wisconsin-Extension. The project connects communities to free loaner computers and trainings. April Fuhr, BCCB outreach trainer, explained, "The whole point is to get technology into peoples' hands. The economic ‘domino' effect of connecting people with technology is hugely important. With this project, we can find out what things people like, don't like, and how we can interest them in technology and being online. The end goal is to increase subscribership for private telecom businesses statewide by residents and businesses like Kelsey's."
Platteville currently has five iPads for use in training or to be lent out on a trial basis as opportunities become available, and six Dell Latitude laptops available for check out. Each is equipped with a wireless card. If anyone has his or her own laptop but no Internet connection, they can check wireless cards out separately.
"This is a great program. It's really helped me launch and build my business," said Barton. "I like that I can check it out, see how I like it, and not risk wasting money on the wrong choice. I'm thinking now I'll buy a laptop for my office, now that I know I'll use it. I use it for Quickbooks [accounting software] and for my website-and now that the website's up, someone from Ireland contacted me the other day to make appointments. They will be visiting for a few months and found me online. How great is that?"
Platteville's laptop loaner program is one of several grant-funded laptop loaner programs around the state. Wausau has six iPads and teaches a free "Intro to iPads" class; Chippewa Valley currently has five iPads used for training and by UW- Extension community development agents for 4-H programs, family living, Supplemental Nutrition (SNAP) programs and in the Boys & Girls Club.
The Platteville Senior Center has one laptop available. Anyone interested in the laptop can call and reserve it. They can use it on site or check it out. Patrons will need a photo ID or driver's license. Contact Jill or Connie at 348-9934. There is no cost.
The Platteville Business Incubator has two laptops and five iPads. Contact Fuhr at 558-0367 to reserve a machine. There is no cost.
The Platteville Public Library has 16 computers (three available for checkout). Patrons must be 18 or older with a library card and driver's license or state/photo ID in order to check out a machine. For more information, call 348-7441 or visit http://plattevillepubliclibrary.org/. There is no cost.
For information on free, hands-on trainings and open lab time, contact Fuhr.