Small-business webinar series organizers are optimistic that the online events are inspiring added topics and will a positive impact on Eastern Sierra economy.
The first three of 22 webinars in the 2013 series, which started Feb. 6 and is free to Inyo, Mono and Kern residents, showed strong interest and vigorous participation, according to key series organizers Julie Langou, project manager for the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium, and Kelly Bearden, director of the California State University Small Business Development Center, which serves Kern, Inyo and Mono counties.
There are still openings, online and on-site, for the March 20 “Creatively Funding Small Business,” to be held from 12:05-1 p.m. in the Bishop City Hall executive conference room at 377 W. Line St. Go to http://escrbconsortium.org/business_webinars/  for online registration and for additional on-site group locations in Mammoth Lakes and Bridgeport.
Langou said she and Bearden were surprised by the “early success,” a clear indicator that “local businesses are sending us a message – they need support, they need guidance, they need maybe a better channel of information.”
As a result of this positive turnout, the CSUB SBDC team will attend the May 1 “Business Plan session in person to engage local businesses,” Bearden said, “which have a lot of experience to share. We would like to focus more on facilitation and generate more interaction and less lecture.”
So far, webinars have been attended by people from “all branches of business,” Langou said, including potential business owners, those “looking at opportunities” and those who were “just curious.” Mono, Inyo, eastern Kern attendance may have numbered 80 persons, half attending online and half on-site, Langou said. “We are expecting the trend to stay the same. It seems each (venue) has its advantage. On-site definitely adds opportunity for interaction, a chance to share business experience.”
Group site attendance averaged 20-40 at the seven locations. The March 6 Bishop group site “filled up its room,” Langou said, thanking “the great” people of Bishop “for their amazing work and the different media especially The Inyo Register, that very quickly advertised the potential in those webinars.”
Attendees had very specific questions, Langou said, and “the number of questions reflects, pretty well, the level of interest.” During the March 6 webinar, for example, “we had to stop answering questions due to time constraints. As a result, another more-detailed webinar on the same topic “may be added before the end of the year.”
Many questions were answered online though some had to be taken offline as they weren’t simple yeses or noes, Bearden said. “There are some gray areas to explore. This is where CSUB SBDC can help.”
Langou said that as ESCRBC and SBDC strive to bring relevant topics, suggestions are welcome. There is a “pre-established schedule for the whole year but we publish topics monthly so that we can include recommendations.”
Though it’s too early to determine any evidence of local economic impact of the webinars, “just the fact that local business owners are taking the time to learn about new opportunities is very encouraging,” Langou said. “Our goal is to engage small businesses to explore new ways to enhance their business and increase their revenue.” For on-site groups, the goal is to encourage networking among business owners and awareness of “all the great resources they have available,” Langou said, like the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, the City of Bishop, and CSUB SDBC, which are “sometimes overlooked by small struggling business.” CSUB SBDC consultants are available for no-cost, one-to-one consulting.
“So let’s say the webinars are just an appetizer, said Langou, who hopes to begin an online training project for small businesses in start this fall. The increase in connectivity with the arrival of Digital 395 this summer, the grassroots work of ESCRBC and the resources of CSUB SBDC are really the perfect mix to encourage this kind of effort. It seems that there is a significant demand for it.”
Future locations are expected in Big Pine, Bishop, Independence, Lone Pine and Tecopa. “We are also looking for new partners who want to bring on-site webinars to their communities. We encourage you to contact us,” Langou said, at firstname.lastname@example.org  or KBearden@CSUB.EDU .
For relevant online reports about the recent Broadband Consortia Learning Summit in Sacramento are on https://www.facebook.com/ESCRBConsortium  and http://escrbconsortium.org/blog/  and a ESCRBR article at http://escrbconsortium.org/official-selection-for-online-presence-initia... .