The nature of business has changed.
Twenty years ago, you could reasonably expect most businesses to have the majority of their departments under one roof. It was rare that segments were outsourced, especially in smaller businesses. You could find everything from accounting to your IT guy just down the hall.
Today, even in smaller businesses, that’s just not the case.
Connectivity is the buzzword. With better internet access, more businesses are moving away from the traditional nine to five workplace. Instead, many businesses are now outsourcing components of their businesses. With many companies, you may have your accounting firm based out of Chicago, while the IT guy “remotes” in to your virtual desktop from their home office in Florida.
Younger generations are latching on to this trend. Instead of going to work for a traditional company, they elect to “freelance” their services to the highest bidder.
How does this affect small towns?
There is a certain charm about smaller communities. For those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and those wanting to settle down with new families, small town living is perfect. But, it comes with a price. Many small towns simply do not have the infrastructure to compete with bigger cities, especially with connectivity.
Without that basic infrastructure, small towns are finding it hard to recruit new business. If, by luck, a new business is established that provides quality jobs, those businesses find it hard to recruit qualified employees.
As a result, traditional manufacturing jobs, retail, and manual labor jobs proliferate. These are good jobs to have, but they are typically low paying jobs. There are exceptions, but they are becoming increasingly rare.
When a municipality has predominantly low-paying jobs, the area begins to inch towards poverty.
After graduation, many potentially excellent employees struggle to find work. Along with modernization and connectivity, many manufacturing jobs and manual labor are being automated while retail is moving online and out of brick and mortar stores. Because of that, among other things, new graduates are moving to bigger cities where they can find more opportunity.
What can be done?
First, it comes down to supply and demand. In general, people demand fast, reliable internet services. To attract new business, this has to be placed on a high priority. Imagine trying to upload an email attachment today using an old 1,200 baud modem. It would take forever…… With many companies using cloud storage and virtual terminals, high speed internet is a requirement.
Second, market strengths and leverage those speeds. Most small towns have no problem marketing things such as population, crime rate, cost of living, and median income, but neglect to market the things that really make a difference. To stand out, municipalities have to look for things that make their town special. A business-friendly city doesn’t rely on tax breaks and government incentives. Sure, they help, but what sustainable resources exist?
Infrastructure is of primary importance. This starts with traditional infrastructure, including roads, rail, and air. Each of these things can be marketed, from the city-wide bike paths and recreational facilities to public transportation. Moving on from traditional infrastructure, municipalities need to also market modern infrastructure. This includes everything from low-cost high speed internet to free Wi-Fi centers.
Third, become a Smart City. A smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. Not only does this provide valuable data-driven jobs, but it also allows the city to pinpoint strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Once these areas are identified, a solid plan for advancement can be created.
Fourth, encourage entrepreneurs. As more people begin working remotely, municipalities need to leverage this trend to encourage growth. Provide work centers and educational opportunities. Encourage development of business incubators and data centers. The more that can be done to foster innovation and then support new business, the more growth will develop.
Finally, retain and help grow existing businesses. This is one of the easiest things to do, and one of the most overlooked. While many municipalities and chambers focus on bringing in new businesses, existing, stable businesses are forgotten. Take time to conduct surveys to find what can be done to help grow these businesses, and then turn those surveys into results.
Of course, this is only part of the picture, but an important part. By understanding these new trends, we can create programs to market our small towns to take full advantage. It is imperative that small towns retain qualified employees and continue to generate new, sustainable job growth. Looking to the future, this will become more data driven than ever before.