Village launches savvy business directory

An Illinois village has found a way to make money and jump-start its business community at the same time.

The village of Villa Park, Ill., has created an online business and service directory (www.invillapark.com) that costs local businesses $100 a year for a listing. Businesses outside the village, which has a population of 23,000, can enlist for $175 annually, but only if their service is of "value" to village residents.

So far 22 businesses have signed up, but Karen Cooney, the village's Web site coordinator, said she's met with two or three interested businesses a week since the directory was unveiled in mid-February.

Each listing includes a photo of the business, the address, phone numbers, hours of operation, services provided, e-mail addresses and additional links. So a small thrift store such as Ruthie's Resale has the same exposure as the largest business in town, the Odeum Sports and Expo Center.

After the village launched its redesigned Web site a year ago — to make it more user-friendly and accessible for people with disabilities — Cooney said people began asking for information about local businesses.

Turned off by the idea of Web advertising, village officials decided that a partnership with businesses would be more effective.

"How do you make it fair and list a thousand businesses without employing more taxes?" Cooney asked. "We went to our business community and said, "Join us to provide an information resource.' I haven't found a municipality yet that went to the private sector and said, "Join with us.'"

Since last March, user visits to Villa Park's site have more than tripled to an average of about 140 visits daily, Cooney said. The site gets about 14,000 page views a month.

Revenues from the business directory will be placed in a technology account. Cooney said she hoped they could eventually generate enough to pay for the Web site.

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