ASHLAND – In a bid to spark creation of technology-based businesses and jobs in a largely rural part of the state, the Wisconsin Technology Council voted this week to support efforts to build an “E-Learning” industry cluster in Northern Wisconsin.

A resolution supporting creation of a task force to push for the cluster was unanimously supported by the directors of the Tech Council, which is the independent, non-profit science and technology adviser to the Governor and the Legislature.

One of the goals of the task force will be to develop a “regional, diversified” group of at least 50 new tech-based businesses over 10 years that will employ 3,000 people at salaries “equal to or exceeding the national average for such jobs.”

The task force will also look at ways of exporting “technology-based products and services for education and training” while working with educational institutions and state and local governments.

Bayfield resident Jerry Johnson, a member of the Tech Council and the founder of the Ten Rivers Corporation, introduced the resolution with the support of the local economic development corporation and other community leaders.

“There is a growing market for E-Learning products and services, whether for continuing education credits, completion of online degrees or personal improvement. Wisconsin has the educational ‘content’ to sell to a global marketplace – what it needs is an infrastructure for doing so,” said Tom Still, president of the Tech Council.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, which can effectively take geographic location out of the equation, companies providing such services can be located anywhere. Northern Wisconsin, which has premier educational institutions and a history of “firsts” when it comes to distance learning, is a natural place to locate such companies, Still said.

Johnson noted that education has the potential to become a global “export industry” for Wisconsin. During a recent trade mission to China, he said, members of Gov. Jim Doyle’s delegation were asked by the Chinese about how to tap into Wisconsin’s educational programs.

“Northern Wisconsin also has an attractive quality of life, an educated work force and a commitment to growing a new economy. In time, the creation of an E-Learning cluster could lure back natives of Northern Wisconsin who left for technology jobs in larger cities but who wish they could return home to work,” Johnson said.

The state of Wisconsin has emphasized development of economic clusters in recent years, beginning with the work of the Wisconsin Economic Summits and continuing with efforts by the state Department of Commerce, the Tech Council and other groups. Examples of prominent clusters in Wisconsin include papermaking, printing, agriculture, tourism, biotechnology and financial services.

Here is a definition of a cluster from Dr. Robert Breault, a leader in Arizona’s photonics cluster: “A cluster is a concentration of firms across several industries that creates quality jobs, exports goods and services, shares common economic foundational needs, and unites the public sectors of economic development, legislatures at all levels, universities, community colleges, the K-12 educational community, workforce development, support foundations, and all community economic stakeholders.”

For more information about the Wisconsin Technology Council and its work, go to