Chapter 6: Rural Community E-Business Strategies, and
Keeping an Ear to the Ground
Rural communities need eyes and ears attentive to their emerging, most cost-effective E-business opportunities if they are to be able to adapt quickly enough to avoid unnecessary economic hardship as old retail models become obsolete. Often, too few citizens are aware of the extent to which local small businesses are already successfully using E-business as such successes dont wish to attract competition by advertising their success locally!
Many community economic development agencies have been followers, rather than leaders, with E-business innovations. This creates a risk of leaders with limited understanding of Internet and E-business not keeping citizens current on their very real opportunities. The tell-tale sign is whether listings of replicable E-business successes are displayed, and promoted, at community development web sites, or whether vague generalities prevail.E-business has exploded in the past few years. Online ordering through such services as Amazon.com may well change forever the small retailers chances of success, much as Walmart changed the economic patterns of many rural communities. Citizens have already made the choice that they prefer selection and discounted prices over supporting small local retailers.
On the brighter side, any person, or business, can now market globally at little or no cost. Many small and home-based businesses are already enjoying major successes through such E-business portals such as Ebay http://ebay.com . There are an unlimited number of genuine opportunities, despite your location, or amount of capital. The theme to remember is "niche marketing." Individuals now have easy access to a global market which presents real opportunities no matter how unusual their product.
Tapping into Whats Working
Just a very few years ago, it was unknown whether an Amazon.com could survive as a business. Today the world is scrambling to adopt this basic, simple model of online ordering with two-day delivery. The stock market wildly reflects the significance of simlar emerging new E-business models!
Even more recently, free services have appeared on the web to help anyone interested establish an E-business web site. Rural communities need to quickly identify the best process by which new resources and proven models are continuously communicated to those who could benefit most locally, rural citizens in economically distressed rural communities with under-utilized Internet capabilities!
Learning from the current successes, and failures, in the short term(!) will determine which businesses and communities will benefit from these new opportunities and which will simply suffer unnecessary economic damage through failure to quickly recognize the inevitable shifts in the economic landscape.
Keeping the Locals Informed
Common sense suggests community networks condense and disseminate the best economic development resources collected from worldwide sources, to fuel the home fires of local innovation. If we all share the best of what we know, well all have access to all our knowledge. The burgeoning increase in new information demands we find new ways of sharing what we know, and benefiting from what others have learned. A billion new web pages are now created every two months.
As more rural citizens create innovative Ebusiness models, rural communities will be increasingly challenged to keep local citizens abreast of new replicable successful models and their proliferating opportunities!
A Review of Common Rural Community E-business Strategies:
Using Bandwidth to Attract Big Companies
The prevailing assumption is that any rural community without broadband Internet access will soon fail to compete with emerging E-business models. Youre advised to identify regional successes of each of the following strategies, and to ask the hard questions of each.
Mid-size to larger communities, offering their communities as a trainable workforce, are in competition to attract businesses that could bring large numbers of jobs to the local community. The degree of training required for local citizens to be employed is a factor that varies widely from nearly no training, to years of training.
One risk of depending on a large company coming to town, is they may decide one day to leave. Such a risk suggests diversification of strategies would be the wisest choice for communities to consider.
A very small rural town may not have a large enough population to provide a trainable workforce to attract larger companies, even if they have high bandwidth. However, the lifestyle offerings for very small home-based businesses to relocate are still viable, which can increase tax revenues, but may not necessarily provide more jobs for locals.
Telemarketing Call Centers
Many communities who have attracted telemarketing call centers have enjoyed a rapid surge of employment with minimal training. Critics might argue that the quality of life from this type of job, making one call after another to often irate citizens tired of incessant unsolicited phone calls selling everything imaginable, is less than what most of us would prefer to build our lives around. On the other hand, isnt a job is a job?
Studies have show that rural telecommuters have less turnover, less absenteeism, and a stronger work ethic, than workers in urban areas. This creates a real incentive for businesses to consider employing rural citizens. Some jobs are better suited to telecommuting than others. Examples: Medical transcriptionists receive via Internet audio files and type out written documents based on these audio transcripts. Insurance underwriters receive rough information via Internet and send back their finished work.
Information Technology Skills Training Programs
Community colleges are enjoying an enhanced role, as are many two-year technology-related training programs. The demand for those with information technology skills will go unmet for many years.
Small Business Development and Individual E-business Strategies
While it is often presumed that high bandwidth equates to rural business opportunities, this assumption requires thorough examination. Issues of training and readiness to innovate cannot be assumed. High bandwidth is not necessarily required for many E-businesses, such as those simply displaying products with an online ordering component. Regardless of the actions your community takes, as an individual you have some real options immedately available to you.
A citizen from any community, with a phoneline, can pay $40/month for a web site located potentially anywhere in the country, ideally accessible by anyone, anywhere via high bandwidth. At a cost of $5/hour for long distance toll access to an Internet provider with a high bandwidth presence on the Internet, any business can host a high speed site, regardless of where they actually are based. This means that products can be displayed on a web page with very high bandwidth access to the world, even though that person or business locally has low bandwidth access. The amount of time required to send updated product display web pages to such a web site would likely be only minutes per week.
The number of businesses that really need two-way high bandwidth today are few. For example, businesses with high volume files that need to send and receive such files frequently will need high bandwidth. Examples would be an architectural or graphic design firm routinely sending high volume files. But, most can easily get by with waiting a few extra minutes for such files to be sent or received.
Their issues of product development, marketing strategies, and development of a good business plan may well be vitally more important than immediate emphasis on high bandwidth, which would be primarily unused, anyway. Two-way video-conferencing is often touted as justification for the need for high bandwidth. Perhaps your business would make good use of video-conferencing, which would then justify the expense.
As more businesses gain access to high bandwidth, the range of uses required may change. The point here is to beware of general assumptions as to whats needed, and to think clearly about identifying what your business truly needs. Look for businesses similar to yours who can demonstrate measurable benefits from their use of high bandwidth!
The following tips are suggestive examples of the vitally important kind of information and accurate perspectives rural citizens will need on an ongoing basis if they are to understand their real opportunities for rural E-business.
Consider what ongoing process might be developed to keep your local citizens accurately informed as to their genuine E-business opportunities!
The Reality of Small Business Viability
2/3rds of the Gross National Profit, and most new jobs, come from small businesses, not from large corporations! Large corporations are even finding they need to downsize into smaller business units in order to adjust quickly to shifting economic patterns. Communities might consider emphasis on small business development to create a stronger, more diversified base, than a single corporation would provide.
Just a few years ago, small businesses struggled with the problem of how people would find their web pages. Today, http://ebay.com demonstrates one way of resolving this issue for many home-based businesses. Ebay has become a portal for those seeking unusual gifts. Many home-crafts persons, antique dealers, bed and breakfast establishments, and similar businesses are enjoying a robust business from very rural locations due to the broad exposure portals like Ebay provides for their products.
As more people get on the Internet, such opportunities will continue to grow exponentially. The key point is that a basket-maker in a rural community would not be likely to learn a living selling baskets solely to a local market, whereas with an unlimited "global niche market" available through Internet marketing, a basket-maker might do very, very well!
Consider the programmatic design of the following "Youth-based Community Internet Awareness Program" as a model to get things moving in your community:
Building Learning Communities:
A Youth-based Community Internet Awareness Program
Storytelling to Raise Awareness
A six month youth-based train-the-trainers program would kickoff with a one-day workshop demonstrating how local youth can integrate public web-based storytelling with community Internet training while raising awareness of successful, replicable, home-based E-business models, ideally showcasing local examples, along with their own skills for creating additional successes.
Youth would partner with local elders to create narrated slide shows of both original digital photos, and web pages, representing local needs, and web-based applications aimed at meeting those needs. Original digital art work would be created, along with original music, to supplement Internet art and musical resources. The goal will be to generate community awareness, excitement, and the local motivation to innovate using newly available tools and capabilities! These community multimedia presentations could be shared with other community teams via Internet as files, or as "live" webcasts.
Community Engagement, Training, and Technical Support
Local youth teams would establish basic community web sites and maintain hot-lists of the best training resources, E-business models, and examples of the use of Internet to create social value. Included would be a community talent database as a topical listing of those with local expertise who have expressed a willingness to share with others online, and/or offline. As a simple, replicable model, check out "Ask A+" http://www.vrd.org/locator/alphalist.shtml
Summative listings of the best family health resources, parenting resources, and best sites for community education, and for kids, will be made conveniently available on the community web site with the explicit invitation to link to citizens personal or topical web sites. Youth would assist those citizens needing help to develop their first personal web sites, to include digital photos.
Youth teams would be provided with a robust starter-set of customizable community training materials, resource web pages, grant templates, a community network plan and related planning resources. Teams would attempt to secure equipment to host community presentations, supplemented with examples of digital music, art, and multimedia web pages created locally, and/or examples of what could be created locally.
An emphasis on citizens teaching and mentoring citizens, regardless of age, will be the prevailing theme of this building learning communities program. An outcomes-based measurement of shared skills will be made with an eye toward emerging "instructional entrepreneurship" services which would be eventually offered on a "for-profit" basis locally, as well as globally.
The best talents should be shared as broadly as possible to motivate others on what is become increasingly doable for nearly every skill and literacy level.
Social recognition for those who contribute their time, knowledge and skills for the good of the community would be a key means of documenting the level of success of this project; measured by the number of people involved in sharing a measured number of specific skills, with an emphasis on viewable web-based results and resources.
Minimal Equipment Needs to be provided by local sponsors:
Loan of 1 laptop, multimedia projector, Sony Mavica Digital Camera, and appropriate software (roughly $800) in return for which youth-led teams will host a minimum of six two-hour community presentations, over a six month period. Presentations would be conducted in as many different community gathering places as possible, raising awareness and demonstrating their potential as trainers helping others replicate successful web uses and businesses.
An ideal model would be for a bank, or local business, to sponsor loan of the equipment to be used by a minimum of three youth teams:
*One to learn and demonstrate digital photography and video technologies,
(Use of digital cameras, digital video cameras, and Adobe Photoshop)
*A second team to learn and demonstrate use of digital art tablets and web-based audio and musical applications, (Painter 5, MP3, MIDI applications)
*And a third team to demonstrate presentation software incorporating the above multimedia technologies, such as Powerpoint (presentation software,) WebWhacker (offline browers for web presentations,) and Clarisworks (or similar web authoring software.)
Consider how local youth, with their propensity for computers and Internet, can potentially perform the "scouting" function for Internet applications, and resources, potentially most relevant locally, with the additional benefit of identifying their own potential future vocations. For more elaboration on the potential, see the Culture Club concept paper at
The following E-business Training Resources Web Tour is an example of the resources a youth-based train-the-trainers project could have immedate access to. Note that the most valuable part of most of these web sites is their listing of other similar sites! Consider a similar "best-of-the-best" resource listing for your community!
E-business Start-Up Training Resources Web Tour
Information condenses to knowledge, which condenses to wisdom,
and value is created in an information economy.
Free services for creating your own E-business!
Another free service for creating your own E-business!
An auction site which has provided sustainable businesses for many home-based businesses in very rural locations.
Hotlist of Student Entrepreneurial Resources:
Wonderful listing of dozens of important resources for student entrepreneurship, home-based businesses, community service, and more!
Youth World Trade Training
http://www.wbe.net Sponsored by the Reis Foundation
http://www.reisfoundation.org Youth entrepreneurship focus
http://www.business2.com and Fast Company http://www.fastcompany.com
Two Magazines on Ebusiness: Business 2.0
Adult and Youth Entrepreneurship Training Resources
The Kauffman Foundation has a billion dollar endowment for funding youth and entrepreneurship programs. To review their free training resources, select Entrepreneurship, then Entrepreneurship resources!
See end of listing for courses for K8-K12; Entrepreneurship Curriculum. Spanish versions available! A Fast Track Entrepreneurship program for adults is also offered, along with articles and videos.
From Washington DC, the most electronically wired, educated, wealthy, and politically charged community in the world; here are sophisticated resources for learning how to grow an online business.
Telecommuting Jobs Listing and How-To-Telecommute Handbook
Interesting focus for a home business; to teach others telecommuting skills.
Mining Company Telecommuting Resources