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April 27, 1995

Bradford campus launches program to help rural businesses

A state-funded Digital Connection program at Pitt's Bradford campus (UPB) is helping businesses in rural northwestern Pennsylvania to compete in domestic and global markets through an interactive computer network.

According to Richard Nelson, chair of UPB's business management department, the program was created from funds designated for rural outreach and "brings the resources of the city, and in fact the world, to rural area businesses.

"We are making maximum use of the investment in infrastructure that's already in place at the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere," Nelson noted. "For a modest sum we can leverage tremendous benefit for rural businesses." Like much of the country, northwestern Pennsylvania has suffered economically in recent years because of manufacturing operations moving overseas.

"To compound the problem, rural businesses often don't take maximum advantage of the latest technology," Nelson said.

To help businesses become more competitive, Digital Connection uses the Internet and compressed video to access information world wide.

The three-part Digital Connection program, which is collaborative effort of UPB and the Katz Graduate School of Business, offers small to medium-sized companies manufacturing and engineering assistance; training and education that includes expert opinions on the latest business trends, and access to data bases for business research.

Interactive seminars featuring internationally known business experts also are part of the program. In April, Digital Connection brought "Privatizing Regulated Industries in the 1990s: Foreign Investment Tradeoffs in Argentina" to UPB. May will see a seminar on "Increasing Competitiveness in Today's Manufacturing Environment." In the future, Digital Connection will include a pilot project with Pitt's Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) in Harmarville. MAC provides small and medium-sized manufacturers access to state-of-the-art shared manufacturing facilities and selected engineering consultants. Businesses that would like to do prototype production or re-engineer a part, but don't have the resources, can draw on MAC's expertise.

Digital Connection's on-line research services also allows businesses to investigate everything from patent and copyright information to the prospects for product markets at locations around the world.

"For example," Nelson said, "someone manufacturing a certain wood product may want to know if it can be marketed in Germany. We can tell them if there is a market and research the latest domestic and international market trends in that particular industry. They don't have to spend hours surfing the Internet or incurring exorbitant charges for information."

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