City's creativity brings in revenue

Workers at the new Apalachee Ridge Estates technology house in Tallahassee,

Fla., will never worry about running out of classroom content, thanks to

the city's Learnitnow.net program, an online training institute with more

than 1,000 courses.

Although created to provide online training for city employees, the

program has quickly turned into a revenue-producing engine for the city.

The program was created a few years ago, when officials realized that

the government was spending $20 million a year in stand-up training. In

looking for a less costly, online alternative, city officials decided to

work in partnership with the McGraw-Hill Companies, which at the time needed

to convert thousands of textbooks to digital format.

The city performed that service for McGraw-Hill in exchange for access

to the content and royalties. Then they worked out a no-money-upfront deal

with LearnSomething.com, a local application service provider that now hosts

the content and performs all of the requisite tracking, monitoring and billing

for the city and earns its money from subscriber fees.

"We've just started marketing to other cities in Florida, but we expect

to offer the service to cities across the country in due course," said Mick

Everall, manager of new business and product development for Tallahassee.

Officials from the nearby city of St. Petersburg recently signed on.

Program subscribers get access to the entire training package by paying

a fixed licensing fee per employee per year. Courses range from basic and

advanced computing to stress management, plumbing certification and ornamental

horticulture.

Everall said city officials who will woo customers by way of contacts

they developed through membership in associations such the Florida League

of Cities and the U.S. League of Cities hope to develop a niche expertise

in government training. Among the coursework not likely to be found elsewhere:

the basics of being a city commissioner.

"Nobody comes into the job knowing all about the rules of order or how

to write an agenda," Everall said. "That stuff typically has to be learned

on the job during the first year. The same thing goes [for] appointed officials,

all the way down to the staff level. This would give them an edge when they

start that new position."

Everall said cities could save money and time by using another city's

tried and true training. "Basically, we can offer them the coursework at

a price that they probably couldn't negotiate for themselves," Everall said.

"Plus, they don't have to do any of the hand-holding and the legwork. They

just sign up for the service. It's easy and ready to go."

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