Survey shows that digital technology can help rural businesses

The U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (commissioned by Amazon) recently did a survey of 5,300 small business owners in rural America about the economic impact of online tools and technology on their businesses. Below are the highlights of the report…

Digital technology boosts sales and reduces costs for rural small businesses: Online tools and technology help rural small businesses expand their customer base in their own community, neighboring states, and, in some cases, outside of the country as well. Online tools boost sales for nearly 55% of rural small businesses across America. In addition, online tools reduce purchasing costs of products and materials for nearly 29% of rural small businesses.

Small businesses in rural areas are slowly adopting digital tools and technology: Nearly 20% of rural small businesses in America generate the vast majority of their revenue (at least 80%) by selling their products and services online. A slightly larger share of rural small businesses, 22%, purchased at least 80% of their goods and services online.

Rural small businesses utilize digital tools and technology for sales, marketing, and operations: About one-third of rural small businesses sell their products and services through their own websites and nearly 13% sell their products and services through third-party websites. Over 58% of rural small businesses have social media accounts and nearly 36% use online advertising services. Rural small businesses also use online tools for operational tasks such as business banking, accounting, virtual meetings and conference calls, and cloud computing.
Greater use of digital tools and technology could unlock potential in rural small businesses across the country.

Digital technology created opportunities for rural small businesses in the past three years: Digital tools and technology boosted gross sales of rural small businesses by 17.2% during the past three years, the equivalent of $69.8 billion per year. The additional gross sales contributed $38.7 billion to U.S. GDP per year and created 296,288 jobs (full-time equivalent) with $12.1 billion in wages per year. The magnitude of the economic benefits is equivalent to the size of the economy of Vermont or Wyoming.

The economic benefits of digital technologies have not been fully realized in rural areas: If rural small businesses had better adopted online tools and technology, their gross sales would have increased by an additional 18.3% in the past three years, the equivalent of $74.4 billion per year. Consequently, rural small businesses would have added another $41.3 billion to U.S. GDP per year and created an additional 316,605 jobs with $13.0 billion wages per year. These unrealized economic benefits are equivalent to 0.2% of GDP and over 5% of the number of unemployed people in the U.S. labor force.

With greater adoption of digital tools and technology, the potential economic benefits in rural areas are far reaching: If rural small businesses better adopt online tools and technology, their gross sales could increase by an additional 20.8% during the next three years, the equivalent of $84.5 billion per year. This increase in sales could contribute an additional $46.9 billion value added to U.S. GDP per year and create 360,054 jobs with $14.8 billion wages per year. By unlocking the digital potential of rural small businesses, the U.S. GDP would gain an additional 0.2% per year and reduce the number of unemployed people by nearly 6%.

Klobuchar introduces improving broadband act

The Brainerd Dispatch reports…

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Joe Manchin D-W.Va., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband coverage maps.

The Improving Broadband Mapping Accuracy Act directs the FCC to initiate rulemaking to consider using consumer-reported data and state and local data from government entities to improve broadband mapping accuracy, while also considering ways that both fixed and mobile coverage data can be challenged if telecommunications are not upholding their services as advertised. The bill would seek to help close the digital divide by giving policymakers more accurate data on broadband coverage nationwide.

“In order to deploy broadband nationwide, we need reliable data on where service exists and where it does not,” Klobuchar stated in a news release. “Our bipartisan legislation will help ensure we are closing the digital divide with accurate mapping and bringing high-speed internet to every family, regardless of their ZIP code.”

Rep Layman advocates for broadband

The Grand Rapids Herald Review posts a letter from Representative Sandy Layman about her work in the Legislature including her focus on improving broadband access for all…

One of the most significant issues this committee addresses is the need for broadband expansion in greater Minnesota. Last week, we heard legislation I’m championing to provide increased funding for our state’s border-to-border broadband program, which funds broadband expansion to unserved or underserved parts of the state.

This bipartisan bill would provide $70 million over the next two years for critical broadband infrastructure in rural Minnesota. I successfully amended this bill last week to ensure it would also provide more immediate funding by allocating $15 million for broadband improvements in 2019. This $15 million is now a part of this bill, which the House majority and governor indicate is a priority.

Although I hoped legislators could agree on a much larger number, the broadband legislation I authored last year that passed and was sent to the governor would have provided this $15 million for 2019. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by then Governor Dayton – and this funding was lost. By pursuing this extra $15 million again this year, I’m looking to restore that lost funding.

Broadband’s importance to our area cannot be overstated. Access to quality broadband is a critical infrastructure need for rural communities across the state. Put simply, broadband allows us to be connected to the world. Its expansion will help small businesses grow, allow folks to work from home, and expand educational opportunities in rural schools. The countless constituents I’ve heard from and the energized groups visiting the Capitol clearly demonstrate the strong grassroots support for this issue.

Making broadband more accessible and affordable to communities like ours isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a rural issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the governor on it in the months ahead.

Gov Walz’s Budget is Rural Focused and that includes broadband

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on Governor Walz’s budget..

The $49.5 billion two-year spending proposal contains a number of pieces rural and greater Minnesota advocates have demanded. It would invest $70 million in rural broadband expansion. Local governments and counties would get $30 million more each year. Farmers would get $50 an acre in tax credits to help offset the expense of adding buffer strips along waterways.

Senator Draheim talks about his broadband funding bill proposed in MN

Faribault Daily News reports…

The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development estimates that about 90 percent of rural Minnesota households have access to non-mobile broadband (an internet connection other than that from a cell phone). State Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, who represents Northfield, Le Sueur County and surrounding areas, has drafted bills this session to continue efforts to combat the problem.

“It’s a pretty bipartisan issue,” he said. “There is a little disconnect between metro and outstate, but overall it’s bipartisan.”

One of Draheim’s bills, a proposal to fund the Border to Border Broadband program with an additional $35 million, he expects to pass through the Legislature. He doesn’t expect a second bill, which would initiate a pilot program to expand satellite broadband, to pass.

He said the Office of Broadband Development is pretty much maxed out with what it can do at $35 million per year. The Border to Border program helps extend wireline broadband to households throughout the state. That involves a physical connection to residences and businesses via fiber optic cable. The state office estimates about 80 percent of rural households have access to wireline broadband.

Blue Cross layoffs in Virginia (MN) remind us that diversification via broadband is key to economic vitality

WDIO reports on 40 layoffs at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Office in Virginia. Representative Julie Sandstede uses the event to remind the audience that assets such as broadband will help diversify the local economy…

State Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, added this statement: “I’m frustrated and saddened to learn of these job losses. This decision by Blue Cross Blue Shield is a huge blow to families across the Iron Range. While the number of positions eliminated may be fewer than those at their office in the Twin Cities, proportionally, there will be a much harsher impact in northern Minnesota.

“This news should be alarming to all of us. As we continue to see signs of a slowing economy, this highlights the need to diversify and invest in what will keep our region strong. This includes excellent schools, expansion of infrastructure like high-speed broadband, targeted assistance for economic development opportunities, and other steps forward to ensure all people on the Iron Range can experience an excellent way of life for generations to come.”

MN Farm Bureau and Farmers Union priorities include broadband

AgriNews reports on agricultural issues at the Legislature…

The state’s Farm Bureau and Farmers Union priorities provide a blueprint that would benefit rural communities. Creating an environment that encourages more readily available and affordable health care is hugely important. It involves motivating more institutions, doctors and other health care professionals to set up shop in underserved rural areas.

Programs to better protect Minnesota’s invaluable natural resources is another area where a consensus for action seems apparent. Protecting water resources and conserving top soil are keys to maintaining a sustainable future.

Improving broadband access to rural communities is another. Increasing broadband access would help motivate businesses and families to live and work in rural communities and improve educational opportunities.

There is broad agreement on the need to reform property taxes to produce greater fairness for farmers.