Town embraces e-gov, high-tech neighbors

Hickory, N.C., long revered for its furniture and textile industries, is becoming home to several telecommunications manufacturers, and City Hall is keeping pace with the area's new economy.

City Manager Gary McGee said the presence of new corporate citizens such as Alcatel, Corning Cable Systems and CommScope Inc. has prompted Hickory to be proactive in electronic government.

McGee said 40 percent of the world's fiber-optic cable is manufactured in the Hickory area, and the companies have brought an influx of highly trained, computer-literate workers and their families to the area. There also are growing Hispanic and Asian communities, he said.

"I certainly think we're out there in front, especially for a city of our size in North Carolina," McGee said. Hickory has 35,000 residents, and there is a population of 300,000 within 30 miles of the city.

During the past five years, Hickory has posted hundreds of city documents and a citizen complaint form to its searchable Web site (www.ci.hickory.nc.us). The documents include City Council minutes; government policies and budgets; newsletters; an events calendar; and historical and statistical information. Posting such material online has saved time and money for the city for copying and distributing certain documents.

Additionally, with the help of federal, state and other grants, Hickory has built two new libraries in the past three years, offering a combined 125 computers with Internet access for citizens.

"We know that some folks in Hickory don't have computer access at home and they don't have any reason not to go to the libraries," McGee said. The city has plans to offer e-government and online transaction services to all residents. In March, the City Council will discuss converting the Web site to a portal, McGee said.

The portal would offer such services as applying and renewing licenses, permits and registrations; conducting auctions and bidding; procuring products and services; paying parking tickets; and submitting subdivision plats and building plans. The portal also would be made accessible to residents with disabilities.

The city will survey residents about their computer and Internet usage, government interaction and what type of e-government services they would like, McGee said. The survey will be presented to the City Council.

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