Mar 25, 2019 - 9:00am

Unlocking the Digital Potential of Rural America


Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

From an economic standpoint, we’ve yet to unlock the full potential of rural America. But we know just where to start.

To help realize the commercial promise of our small cities and towns, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – in partnership with Amazon – published a report detailing the impact of technology on rural communities. Our study outlines strategies that will help small businesses harness digital tools to drive unprecedented revenue and growth.

Rural America is a land of untapped economic potential. Consider the facts: According to our research, there are 37 million working-age adults in the rural U.S. While accounting for nearly 15% of the country’s adult population and nearly 75% of its landmass, rural businesses represent only 3.7% of total gross revenues. Our study reveals a gaping chasm between what the rural economy is and what it could be – but we believe technology could help bridge the divide.

Embracing digital technology could jump-start economic growth in America’s heartland. In just three years, increased adoption of online services for rural businesses could create more than 360,000 jobs and grow annual revenues by more than 21%. That translates to more than $84.5 billion in revenue each year. And it’s rural businesses with an annual revenue under $100,000 that stand to gain the most. In this same three-year period, they could see sales growth surge over 28%.

Rural business owners who have already embraced digital technology are seeing tremendous results. Take the real-world example of Sara Mader, the owner of Palouse Brands in rural Washington state. Over five generations, the Maders have been selling garbanzo beans, wheat, and lentils from their family-owned farm. Before the internet, Sara and her family rarely sold goods outside their local community. But since joining Amazon, they have expanded their scope dramatically. Now, they ship grains to customers all over the world. Sales have climbed exponentially – so much so that Sara had to hire 15 local employees just to keep up with growth.

The Mader family is just one success story among many. To ensure that others have the same opportunity to scale their companies, the Chamber is focused on expanding access to digital training, tools, and talent for rural business owners. Likewise, we are committed to increasing digital connectivity in rural areas. Poor internet and cell phone service should not be an obstacle to doing business.

Our nation was built on the backbone of our rural cities and towns. And with an assist from digital technology, rural America will continue to power economic growth.

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About the Author

About the Author

Thomas J. Donohue
Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thomas J. Donohue is chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.