Bridge beams
Infrastructure encompasses business-reliant functionalities such as broadband internet and mass transit. When those things are lacking, business owners feel the impact. — Getty Images/dvoevnore

They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If that chain represents vital infrastructure elements that small businesses rely on, there are a few links at risk of breaking, based on the recent findings of the MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index.

When it comes to American infrastructure—which includes broadband internet, cell phone networks, local roads and bridges, highways, airports, mass transit, railroads, and ports and harbors—47% of small business owners polled for the Small Business Index fear that these systems are not keeping up with technological progress in competing countries. Only 21% and 23% rate the quality of high-speed internet and cell phone network coverage, respectively, as very good; and a mere 13% and 10% rate the quality of highways and of local roads and bridges, respectively, as very good.

Yet, most surveyed indicate that high-speed internet (64%), local roads and bridges (57%), and cell phone networks (55%) are very important to their small business’s success. Around three in five believe improving broadband internet should be a priority, and 35% prioritize the enhancement of cell phone networks. Local infrastructure items ranked as needing the most improvement are area roads (69%), highways (44%), bridges (30%) and mass transit (25%).

“Infrastructure is crucial because it represents the essential components with which small business owners need to run their companies,” said Andrew Schrage, co-founder and CEO of Money Crashers. “Most small business ownerships are local by nature, which means they need good roads and bridges, fast internet, and quality cellphone networks in order to conduct business in their communities and provide needed goods and services.”

Katie Schmidt, owner and founder of Passion Lilie, an ethical clothing company that sells apparel made in India, agrees.

“Functioning infrastructure is critical for my company. Without reliable high-speed internet, cell phone service, airports, and roads and bridges, it would be challenging to communicate with and move materials provided by my team in India,” she said.

Unfortunately, Schmidt has encountered major challenges finding first-class internet and cell phone coverage where she works in New Orleans, and she would rank both below average.

“When it comes to reliable cellular and internet coverage, the U.S. is falling behind. Our nation needs to shake its complacency regarding these issues, and providers need to work on offering better coverage to all areas of the country,” said Schmidt.

Infrastructure is crucial because it represents the essential components with which small business owners need to run their companies.

Andrew Schrage, co-founder and CEO of Money Crashers

Commute complications are more problematic for Kate Lerman, owner of Chicago Vintage Weddings, who depends on favorable driving environments to punctually deliver nuptial-related goods and services.

“Roads in Chicago are average, and we do have regular issues with delays based on traffic. Also, we’ve experienced damaged goods and vehicles several times per year because of potholes on city streets,” said Lerman. “Poor travel conditions are a hardship for my team, clients and vendors.”

Lerman also banks on dependable cellular and internet services to interact with her people—some of whom have to be notified quickly and unexpectedly about a sudden change in plans that can affect an engaged couple’s big day.

“As a wedding planner, I am in constant contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals and companies every day. Much of my work is remote; even when I meet with clients and vendors in person, I need to be able to rely on digital services to update contracts and complete transactions,” said Lerman, who added that predictable airport travel is also important to many of her clients’ guests who fly into Chicago to attend the weddings.

Similar to Schmidt and Lerman, robust internet and cell phone services are most essential to Schrage’s business, which involves running a website. Fortunately for him, service providers and networks in his area are powerful and reliable.

“I think it’s easy for small business owners to underestimate the importance of quality infrastructure and how it can affect their business,” Schrage said. “Many also fail to realize that, when money is invested to improve infrastructure, that means more jobs in the community, more incomes and paychecks, and, therefore, more disposable income for folks to spend at local small businesses.”

Schmidt echoed those feelings.

“Most people don’t recognize how critical good infrastructure is until they begin running their own business. Until they experience flaws in their infrastructure, they may not appreciate how important it is to the success of their company,” said Schmidt. “Whether it’s a network issue or a transit problem, a company can struggle to deliver services and goods in a timely fashion, which leads to lost time and money.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published March 25, 2019