Whanganui's leadership in the field of digital innovation has taken another step with two neighbouring councils joining a drive to get local businesses online.
Called #GetDigital, it was created by Whanganui District Council's economic arm Whanganui and Partners.
Now South Taranaki and Rangitikei councils have joined up and other councils are expected to follow.
Marianne Archibald, innovation leader at Whanganui and Partners, said the online innovation was making best possible use of the fibre network that had been run out across the city and is now into outlying areas.
"Studies in Australia have shown that businesses that are active online increase their business by 20 per cent, employ more people and earn more revenue per employee," she said.
"The next challenge is to increase uptake of ultrafast broadband, show people how they can use it for their businesses."
She said places like Whanganui as well as South Taranaki and Rangitikei were "far away from the rest of the world but this puts us back in the picture".
"The world really is on our doorstep if you know how to use this technology. Many small businesses are usually too busy to get involved. We thought how can we do something that makes it really easy for them," Ms Archibald said.
They worked with a digital innovation company in Auckland called Socialise which set up a website site called AboutUs. It was successfully trialled in Whanganui last year and is now being rolled out to Rangitikei and South Taranaki under the #GetDigital title.
The campaign, set to run over the next three years, provides businesses in the regions with tools, events and resources aimed at helping them get online and more digitally engaged. AboutUs provides them with a free web presence, digital resources and local coverage of success stories, all aimed at boosting their online profile.
Ms Archibald said with an estimated 60 per cent of small businesses having no web presence at all, AboutUs provides businesses with the crucial first step to going online.
Whanganui mayor Annette Main said digital engagement had the potential to be a massive driver of economic growth, particularly in the regions.
Ms Main said the Whanganui council had been at the forefront of digital engagement and had again been named as a Smart21 community for the fourth year in a row.
"The #GetDigital initiative is a part of the innovation that Whanganui has become renowned for," she said.
Rangitikei mayor Andy Watson said his region had businesses which understood the importance and were reaping the benefits of an online presence. "Our business community can reach a global audience online and we want to encourage more of our businesses to take full advantage of the opportunities that #Get Digital will deliver."
Ross Dunlop, South Taranaki's mayor, said businesses needed to think beyond their local horizons. "Anything that promotes digital literacy in our business community is a good thing, and we're excited to be involved in this cross-regional initiative."
-Go to www.aboutus.co.nz.