How to jump start small business job creation in Florida? Google is teaming with Intuit and the Gov. Rick Scott to offer a free website design, a free domain name and free server hosting for a year.
While 97 percent of consumers go online to look for local products and services, 68 percent of small businesses in Florida lack an online presence, according to Google. Free web hosting and a domain name could save a sole proprietor $84 or more a year.
Florida businesses can go to http://www.floridagetonline.com get the free website as well as free tools, training and resources to help their business succeed online.
"The perception that getting online is complex, costly and time-consuming has prevented many Florida small businesses from taking the first step," said Scott Levitan, director of small business engagement at Google. "This program makes it fast, easy and free for businesses to get online."
About 95 percent of the businesses in Florida and the region are considered a "small business," which can be up to 500 employees. Google is targeting business with 25 or fewer employees for the offer.
As part of the program, Google is providing free workshops to small businesses in Miami on April 3 and April 4 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard. Businesses can register for the free workshops at www.floridagetonline.com.
Still, the free website is a basic, three-page model. It doesn't give small businesses the ability to do transactions online.
To do transactions, businesses needed a more sophisticated website that can safely house data, said Lenny Chesal, president of Host.net in Fort Lauderdale and the South Florida Technology Alliance.
But, "anything that helps small businesses leverage technology is a good thing. Free is beautiful," Chesal said.
Host.net only works with larger companies and organizations, but small firms often useGoDaddy.comto buy a domain name and set up a basic website, Chesal said.
Rafael Cruz, regional director of Broward County's Small Business Development Center, said a website should be part of a small-business owner's marketing, but a three-page website isn't likely to give the professional presentation most businesses want.
"When is the last time you visited a website that has three pages? That's a project that kids do in second grade," he said.
Small firms first need to consider whether they really need a website and whether they can generate business online, he said.
"That's nice of Google, but Google is in business of collecting data and doing things with that data," Cruz said. "That's how they make their money."
Small businesses that sign up for the free website and hosting can continue it in the following year for $4.99 a month with a domain cost of $2 a month, which is Intuit's standard price for basic website and service, said spokeswoman Elisabeth Gettelman. That's about $84 a year.
An e-commerce package starts at an additional $34.98 a month, she said.
On competitor GoDaddy, a "dot-com" domain can cost $120 to $155 a year, according to prices quoted on the website. Hosting is extra, ranging from $36 to $70 a year, depending on security certificate and e-mail storage, according to the site.
Google has been holding similar workshops in other states and plans to offer the program in all 50 states, said spokeswoman Becca Ginsberg.
Business expansion and startups are keys to creating jobs in Florida. Gov. Scott campaigned for office on creating 700,000 jobs in seven years. The state has added about 77,100 jobs since Scott took office in 2011, but 36,000 jobs were lost in January.
A report on Florida's corporate tax breaks says the hundreds of millions in tax dollars given to businesses to create jobs in recent years have been largely successful.
Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic-development arm, was directed by lawmakers last spring to produce a detailed study of the return on investment for the tax refunds, credits and grants awarded every year to companies that relocate to Florida or pledge to expand.
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