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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 13, 2005

GOV. BLAGOJEVICH ANNOUNCES OPPORTUNITY RETURNS GRANTS TO ELIMINATE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN SOUTHWEST ILLINOIS

CHICAGO – Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced today almost $115,000 in technology grants as part of his Opportunity Returns plan for job creation in Southwest Illinois.  These grants, from the Eliminate the Digital Divide program, fund technology centers in low-income communities to provide technology skills, training and access to computers and the Internet.  This program provides critical skills training that employees need to succeed in today's high-tech workplace.
 
"The Eliminate the Digital Divide program increases technology literacy to ensure that the Southwest Illinois workforce remains competitive in the global marketplace," Gov. Blagojevich said.  "It is Opportunity Returns grants like these that make sure local residents benefit from new technology and the opportunities it creates.  More people will now have access to computers to sharpen their skills, which are critical when competing for jobs in the new, technology-based economy.”
 
The Southwest region will receive $114,812 in Opportunity Returns funding that will impact more than 1,700 people.  Grant recipients that will administer and shape the Eliminate the Digital Divide program in Southwest Illinois include:
 
East St. Louis Community College Center (ESLCCC). ESLCCC is administered by the Southern Illinois Collegiate Common Market, a non-profit group of four community colleges and two universities.  With the $27,212 grant, the Center will provide special programming, including Computer Literacy Improves Community Knowledge (CLICK!), to address technological needs for more than 500 East St. Louis residents.  Twenty-eight state-of-the-art computers will be available to CLICK! participants.  (Contact: Anita Brandon, 618/874.8729)
 
Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE).  Serving as the grant fiscal agent for seven Community Technology Centers, SIUE will assist children and families residing in East St. Louis District #189.  The $48,000 grant will enhance computer training for 800 low-income children and provide basic technology literacy development for more than 300 adults seeking employment skills. (Contact: Dr. Donald Baden, 618/874.7901)
 
Prairienet Community Network.  The Prairienet Community Network is a non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Illinois that will provide training for the future staff of the community
technology centers in the East St. Louis area.  The $39,600 grant will support staff development in common office productivity applications and the Internet. (Contact: Paul Adams, 217/333.5218)
 
“Educating our local workers on new technology today ensures that the local workforce is prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.  Gov. Blagojevich has shown a tremendous commitment to providing this critical training in Southwest Illinois so businesses have an increasingly talented workforce,” State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) said.
 
"Thousands of local residents can have access to computers thanks to Gov. Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns program.  I am very pleased that a large number of citizens will benefit from this initiative, as it will
lead to better jobs and better futures," said State Representative Wyvetter Younge (D-East St. Louis). 
 
"While a portion of the population remains isolated from technology and its economic benefits, these Opportunity Returns grants help to bridge that technology gap," said Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.  "We are ensuring that additional people in the Southwest region will gain these necessary technology skills, which enhances the ability to pursue higher levels of education and compete for better-paying jobs."
 
In addition to providing basic technology skills training, grant recipients can provide a variety of technology-related services, including:
 
Access to career information, employment opportunities, and related Internet job searches
 
Computerized instruction in basic literacy skills, GED preparation, and English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, including distance-learning options
                             
Professional development opportunities related to technology for teachers
 
Before- and after-school technology programs for students
 
Promotion of home access to computers
 
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history.  Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges.  Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses.  It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs.  Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.


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