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OzNet offers variety of Internet-related services

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From his high school days on, Rick Thompson, owner of Ozark Network Communications, or OzNet, knew he would be in the computer business.

"It's the only thing I really excelled at in school," Thompson said.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thompson considers himself a Springfield native because his family moved here when he was only 5 years old.

He became interested in computer technology at Parkview High School and continued studies in communications and graphic design at Southwest Missouri State University. He started his business as a video graphics designer in 1990. In those early days he designed video logos for several local businesses, including KY3 and IMAX, though he doesn't do as many anymore.

"With current technology, most companies have the staff and equipment to design their own now," he said.

Along with Office Manager Tara Fortner, Thompson focuses on creating Web presences for his commercial customers to give their businesses exposure to the Internet's millions of users.

Fortner has been office manager for the company since she started with OzNet in early 1996. She helps with Internet design and development, keeps the books and is site manager for the OzNet Web site

www.Springfield.net.

"We are continuously updating and adding new sections to the site," Fortner said.

Springfield.net has everything from the current movie schedules to special events around town.

It has a sports section with links to SMSU and Drury, a music section, a free classified section and a life section, which is a compilation of many areas of interest to locals and visitors.

Advertisers not only get primary exposure on the Web site, but gain access to more than 475 search engines on the Internet, maximizing their opportunities to be seen by Web surfers.

OzNet is the host of Web sites for commercial customers. Included in the lineup are Truck.net, for the trucking industry, and Branson.net, an information site aimed at entertainment seekers.

Along with its primary business, Thompson said, OzNet resells dial-up Internet service through Panther Creek for 125 individual customers.

The charge for unlimited time online is $19.95, which includes up to three e-mail addresses.

Thompson began his business in the middle of the strip center at the southeast corner of Glenwood and Holland. When the end space at the center became available in 1996, he moved into the larger quarters, which allows 1,800 square feet of space to house the furniture and equipment accumulated in his first years of operation.

Fortner and Thompson customized the interior, dividing the space into offices and computer rooms. The process is an ongoing project, but Thompson is in no hurry to finish it.

"We plan to stay here. We have plenty of room to grow," he said.

The computer room looks like a database for the Star Trek Enterprise. Several of the operating units are housed in a tall glassed-in cabinet Thompson calls the Tower of Power.

Inside the tower, a row of busy machines purr through the various tasks they've been assigned. Each computer is named after a character on either the "Xena" or "Hercules" shows.

Thompson and Fortner treat the machines like members of the office staff.

"We like to enjoy our work. We're fun," Thompson said, "Not just boring computer guys."

Thompson plans to continue OzNet's growth by expanding the services offered to his commercial customers and adding new customers.

Fortner envisions Springfield.net as the one-stop information center on all types of subjects of interest to Springfieldians and area visitors.

The site provides schedules of events for local residents and for people traveling to the area, offering a way for students away at college and businesspeople away on trips to keep up with local activities.

Thompson said he feels the best way for a business to promote itself today is to develop a Web presence and cross promote it by making sure the Web address appears on all printed material, including advertisements, letterheads and business cards.

An online brochure about a company can give the business instant exposure, and can be updated in minutes without waste, Thompson said.

The information can also be downloaded by the user, cutting out printing and mailing costs altogether.

OzNet stores the number of hits on customers' sites and reports activity to each customer monthly. It is impossible to receive this kind of feedback on direct mail or handouts, Thompson said.

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