MILLEDGEVILLE — Since 2010, Digital Bridges provided resources for Milledgeville and Baldwin County citizens in an effort to increase digital literacy and promote innovative uses of technology.
Due to a dry funding source, the tech center at 127 W. Hancock St. received official word the current physical operation would end. Digital Bridges will remain open and operational through Nov. 29.
“We’ve held tech training courses, hosted educational classes, provided online resume workshops, a lot of different things to help bridge the digital divide in our community,” Digital Bridges Director Tommy Cook said. “The goal set in front of us four years ago was to make the project self-sustainable. We weren’t able to completely achieve that.”
Digital Bridges is a venture of Georgia College with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Dr. Dale Young, interim dean of the J. Whitney Bunting College of Business, stated that GC, like other community higher learning institutions, continues investing in economic development initiatives that directly benefit all residents of Milledgeville and Baldwin County. The college wants to realign the downtown center’s mission.
“For several years Digital Bridges has been an active and successful participant in extending digital literacy across Milledgeville and in providing a location for public service events,” Young said. “It is now appropriate that those services to area residents be provided by our community partners, enabling the university to focus limited resources directly toward economic development.”
Digital Bridges was awarded $1.5 million in 2009.
Originally, the grant money bought all of the computers and equipment to retrofit the digital facility. The full grant went through the Digital Innovation Group at Georgia College.
“Over the next few years, we worked doing everything from digital literacy to helping people apply for jobs online. General economic development through workforce development was kind of the focus we went toward trying to help people use computers to be more effective in the workplace,” Cook said.
Digital Bridges leadership understood the Knight grant wouldn’t last forever. The center searched long and hard for a sustainability plan.
The organization needed a revenue stream to keep it alive after the grant funds expired, according to Cook.
“We quickly found the expenses of providing a public service like that are much higher than you can cover by charging for the types of things we were doing. If we were going to maintain our mission, we would have had to do non-related service items to make money,” the director said. “That would have gone against the spirit of what the grant was about in the first place.”
Digital Bridges tried small business incubation and charging for classes but nothing earned meaningful dollars.
The Georgia College J. Whitney Bunting College of Business currently pays the bill until closure.
The building lease runs through the end of December. It’s up to Georgia College to renew or terminate the lease.
The future of all the computers and other useful equipment is an unknown. Georgia College controls that property.
Several local entities could use the computers.
“(Georgia College) is exploring the legality of even doing a transfer. They aren’t sure what process they need to go through to do that,” Cook said.
Several groups are working to continue the project and are looking for help from the local community.
“Rather than blame the Knight Foundation or anybody for it not continuing I think it’s in the community’s hands now. If you want to see this continue going, we need to see someone donate time, resources and volunteers wherever it may be to get that mission going again,” Cook said.
The director said current staff, Nonprofit Specialist Colin Moore and Information Systems Specialist Daniel Pittman, would be “happy to lead a volunteer effort to keep (Digital Bridges) going.”
Cook said guaranteed space inside the Shaw Building when it morphs into the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Communiversity could fill the void.
Bringing the next version straight to the southside might turn out better anyway.
Over the years, staff noticed a visible Milledgeville technology gap.
A large group has never integrated a computer into their daily lives.
Cooks said the community is “more than willing to embrace technology” but needs someone “to guide them and weed through all the confusion.”
Milledgeville won’t necessarily see Digital Bridges go away.
“I and the rest of the employees intend to continue serving the community. It gave us the opportunity to fall in love with this place,” Cook said. “It let us know how we may be able to help as the next generation coming up in reimagining the future of this town. Digital Bridges will live on. Just not in the same place.”
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