According to a new study by Amazon, improved access to digital tech could help rural businesses add 360,000 full-time jobs and contribute an additional $140 million to the U.S. economy. The study, carried out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, founded that some 20 percent of U.S. SMBs bring in 80 percent of their revenue via digital sales. The study found that 55.2 percent of 5,300 rural business owners agreed that eCommerce helps them grow their customer base, 54.6 percent said digital tools have caused their revenue to grow over the last few years and 40 percent noted digital technology lets them sell outside their own state.
The study also found that about one-third, 33 percent, sell products through their own site, while 12.7 percent rely entirely on online marketplaces.
Moreover, the study found that while there is a lot of upside to be gained by bringing more rural residents and entrepreneurs into the digital era, there are hurdles in the path. About two-thirds of the businesses studied by Amazon reported that slow internet or mobile connectivity were hindrances to growth. Increasing connectivity for rural SMBs was one of three recommendations offered up by the study, which further suggests expanding businesses’ access to digital training and tools to help them scale their business. The report offered no specific method for dong so, but it hinted at policies offering incentives to rural businesses to adopt such tools as a possible solution. The report also advises that rural businesses need more people trained in digital skills to pick from locally, though it offers no guidance on how to develop that.
But it seems likely that to address the issue — or move forward on Amazon’s recommendations — the first problem is connectivity and access.
Amazon, of course, has reason to want to see rural areas bridge the digital divide, as its marketplace could benefit from the addition of a series of rural businesses jumping onto the platform. Plus Amazon is always looking to recruit new Prime members, and rural markets could be a prime location for recruitment.