Technology for Rural Areas: How Broadband Benefits Businesses

The Phelps Chamber of Commerce strives to provide education and resources to our business members with the goal of ensuring a sustainable, thriving economy through the success of local businesses. With this purpose in mind, we have put together a series of articles to explain broadband internet, the differences in internet connections, and how broadband can affect small businesses.

Did you know that the town of Phelps was originally established due to our proximity to the trade routes of the 1800’s? The Military Road and river ways allowed goods to be transported easily from the area. Today, these commerce routes have moved into the digital age, with the World Wide Web being the virtual highway for goods, services, and information. National and state-wide studies are showing that access to high-speed, affordable broadband internet can have tremendous benefits for small businesses in rural areas. We all know the challenges – small customer bases, high advertising costs, and a failing economy. Adoption of broadband technology can increase all of these areas. Let’s take a look at the 3 C’s of Broadband for businesses: connectivity, commerce, and community.

Connectivity: Growing Your Customer Base

The fact is that your customers are online and that’s where they want to hear about you. Having a high speed broadband connection is crucial for effective internet marketing strategies. Many companies are realizing this vast potential to reach new and repeat customers with little cost. With an online presence through a company website or social media efforts, rural businesses can grow their brand awareness and increase leads.

Internet marketing can be significantly cheaper than print, television or radio advertising. It is also proven to reach more people faster. Not only can new customers learn about your unique offerings, but the internet allows you to stay in touch with past clients and help to form repeat business. With the use of a Facebook page or a company blog, you can establish open communication with your customers, both reminding them of your services and responding to their inquiries.

Commerce: Growing Your Bottom Line

Studies show that a quality broadband connection improves productivity and increases revenue. Accessible internet means that employees can keep up on work and projects, even when they are at home. With a high-speed internet, employees can solve every day work challenges, easily communicate with customers and co-workers, and complete tasks quickly. It also opens up the possibility of finding new employees faster by using online job centers and listings – some businesses even accept applications and perform interviews electronically.

With broadband access, your business has the opportunity to compete in regional, national and even world-wide markets. Opening up a larger sales market gives you a chance to bring in more business, and e-commerce can help sustain you through down times in the local economy. 1 in 3 businesses are earning revenue from online sales, and increasing their bottom line.

E-Commerce is not applicable for every business but you would be surprised by the potential. An example is an Upper Michigan Pasty shop that takes orders for their specialty dish online and distributes their product throughout the country, with long-distance orders averaging in the hundreds per purchase as opposed to two or three per local transaction. You can’t know the full demand for your unique offerings without sharing your brand with a larger audience.

Community: Growing Our Local Economy

Did you know that the Best Jobs of 2014 (US News) list is dominated by tech jobs? Software development, computer systems analyst, web content writing, web developing – these jobs are some of the highest paying and can be done from anywhere. Which makes the beautiful communities of the Northwoods a great place for telecommuters and home-based business owners. These professionals can surround themselves with our peaceful, stimulating environment while earning a high wage in the field they love. But this is only possible with access to adequate broadband.

By attracting and retaining people like this, broadband allows a communities economy to thrive. This economic revitalization attracts new industries to an area, and creates new jobs for current residents. By having adequate internet connections available, small towns can become ideal spots for skilled and educated professionals to relocate. Without it, an area can see businesses be forced to move elsewhere.

A negative example of this happened in Lac Du Flambeau. After purchasing a building in the area, with the potential for 30 new jobs, the business realized that adequate broadband was not available. This led to relocation outside of the area. Three Lakes, however, met the broadband challenge head-on and was successful – the town currently has access to up to 12 Mbps speeds, with average prices under $70. This was prompted by the realization that one successful executive relocating to Three Lakes could mean an entire salary of $100,000 being spent in the local area, changing hands eight or nine times in a year – bringing the urban money to a rural town.

Broadband also allows for expansions in education. Not only do most schools use online textbooks and assignments to teach our young students, but distance learning opens up many doors for rural communities. Today, anyone can earn their college degree from home with just the use of a broadband connection and computer. This gives businesses access to more educated workers, while allowing for current employees to gain knowledge and keep up with technology for their industry through affordable online classes.

In a community, we are constantly thriving for the greater good. And, in the case of broadband, the greater good is great for business. Broadband is proven to be useful for the growth of a small business but the effects on rural economies can be even more important. To learn more about the benefits of broadband, check out the following links:

–          Daily Yonder article on the success of Three Lakes

–          Small Business Administration resources

–          U.S. Chamber Broadband and Education

–          LinkWisconsins Broadband Reference Guide

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