Posted by: Ann Treacy | March 19, 2016

Does the Internet hurt small, local businesses?

A week ago Blandin Foundation hosted a dessert event for legislators where they could ask questions about broadband – we even had a fun quiz. One of the answers to the quiz was that a community can see a 10 to 1 return on broadband investment. Based on that question, one of the legislators asked me if that took into account the local business loses to online sales – like Amazon. I told him that was a good question – but a question that made more sense 10-15 years ago.

Aside from happily working on the Blandin on Broadband blog, I sometimes train small businesses on how to best use online channels to promote business. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and 10-15 years ago competition from Amazon was a real threat – a new threat and it did close local bookstores. But there was no way to stop it. People buy online. The only way a local business can compete is by also having the ability to sell and promote online.

This is a little poorly stated if you dig too deep into the technology of it but – the Internet is for consumers and broadband is for producers, creators and commerce.

I just heard a story that reminded me of how true that is – Shire in the Woods, located in McGrath, MN is a cabin retreat. Consultants at Minnesota Interactive suggested the look at promoting their center on sites like VRBO – and now 10 percent of their business come from online reservations.

Granted you don’t need big broadband to post on VRBO – but you do need enough to post images, you need access that makes it easy to respond. Having worked with several tourism businesses myself – it’s nice if you can upload video for tours, or promote fun events or even just show off Minnesota’s great and sometimes noteworthy weather. And if you’re in tourism, you’re going to need to have enough broadband for your visitors. Just yesterday at the MN House Policy Committee one of the testifiers talked about the need for his area resorts to have broadband access for guests. A decade ago you might be able to spin “no access” as a feature, but that isn’t the case anymore.

And for promoting tourism sites – nothing beats a video posted by a guest to their social media channels – saying “wish you were here.” That’s when broadband lets everyone be producers and opens the door to greater local commerce.

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