Internet helping boost rural entrepreneurship

from The Rural Blog

Entrepreneurship is up across the country, but with the help of non-profit organizations and the rise of broadband Internet access, rural areas may getting more than their usual share of business startups. “From 2008 to 2009, the number of self-employed Americans increased by 200,000 to 8.9 million, according to Challenger Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm,” Wade Hilligoss of ABC News reports. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, which helps entrepreneurs, reports U.S. startups reached their highest level in 14 years in 2009, with entrepreneurship in rural areas spiking too.

“Places like Nebraska, Iowa … there’s a lot of growth in that area,” E.J. Reedy, a manager in research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, told ABC. Before the rise of the Internet, one of the biggest barriers to success for rural entrepreneurs was “the sheer distance from buyers and suppliers,” Hilligoss writes, “but that is no longer an issue because they can reach customers online anywhere in the world.” Katrina Frey, above, who expanded her home-based gourmet jellies and syrups business from the local western Nebraska farmers’ market online, explained, “The Internet has expanded my borders. It’s made it so I can be in a little town of 300 and still operate a business beyond those borders. It’s made it so I’m just not limited to those county lines.” (Photo by Frey)

Janell Anderson Ehrke, founder and CEO of Grow Nebraska, a non-profit educational organization that helps startup business owners in the state, cautions, “while the Internet has opened the doors for many rural entrepreneurs, it also has created a very competitive marketplace,” Hilligoss writes. Now her group, funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others, spends most of its time educating businesses about the fine points of online marketing. “Getting involved on the Internet is a little bit of everything. You can’t be afraid to take a chance or think outside the box,” Frey told ABC. “Whether you are rural or in big cities, you can be a little guy and still look like a big guy.” (Read more)

Jon Hale is a Master’s student in the University of Kentucky’s Communication Graduate Program and is a 2009 graduate of UK’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications with a minor in Appalachian Studies and a contributor at The Rural Blog. Articles are reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.

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