President Dave Myhr's customers were asking him for e-mail and Internet access, but Specialty Engineering, in St. Paul, Minn., was not wired. The $7-million sheet-metal fabricator didn't have the resources even to research different Internet options. Paying his engineers to surf online would have been a huge salary drain, and hiring a consultant would have cost at least $75 an hour, not including Internet connection costs. He solved his problem by hiring an intern.

Myhr interviewed and hired a $10-an-hour student intern who had learned about the Internet by using it in college. The intern researched Internet accounts and determined which would be the best for Specialty. Myhr described his goals to the student and regularly checked on the progress of the intern's research. Myhr was prepared to take the project in-house if the intern didn't progress as fast as Myhr wanted.

Within three weeks, however, the intern had recommended an Internet account with a local service provider. The total cost: $1,280 for the intern and $25 a month for unlimited full Internet service, including an in-house connection, a company e-mail account, and Netscape's Web browser.

"Even if I'd hired a consultant and the learning curve were cut in half, it still would have cost me two to three times as much," Myhr says. "And the consultant might have recommended a more expensive solution."