The Internet has opened doors for rural development that had remained locked for many years. Historically, one of the impediments to rural business growth has been the lack of access to competitive markets and supply lines. Distance from distribution networks has limited the ability to obtain the lowest prices on supplies, or demand the typical urban prices on products and services.
High speed Internet access has reversed that situation, though. Now, suppliers and manufacturers in rural settings can produce many goods for less than city businesses, due to lower wages, lower facility costs and competitive energy rates. These savings are not offset by transportation costs.
While, until the 1990s, the level of technological skill has lagged, that gap is closing, with more rural youth obtaining advanced skills and education that can be applied to rural business opportunities.
Location, location, location as a mantra has lost much of its lustre for new developments. While many of the emerging rural businesses rely on local raw materials for their innovative products, others must source suppliers from out of the region to be truly competitive. Similarly, marketing of goods no longer is limited to the immediate region of production. Markets and suppliers can readily be located, worldwide.
One of the most obvious examples of global reach is alibaba.com. A website that lists thousands of suppliers from China and the far east, it does not limit itself to one or two product lines, but is inclusive of any product or service that is available from that region. Its clients are found worldwide, with a huge base in North America. Biodiesel operations in the prairies, alongside architects from Quebec or electronics manufacturers from Newark source suppliers on the Alibaba website.
This access to low-cost supply lines, available to anyone and everyone, means that cost of goods is more uniform, regardless of the location of manufacture. Similarly, a wealth of global distribution sites are available to market goods. Alternatively, a rural producer, supplier or manufacturer can reach into worldwide markets at the click of a button. One western Canada grower markets oats to Ogilvie in South America!
But the cornucopia of supply line resources and markets comes with a huge drawback: the size and variety of available sources. The time to evaluate and access each of these suppliers can be overwhelming. Therein lies an opportunity for an enterprising entrepreneur, who might well be a rural businessman rather than an urban one.
By compiling and filtering a variety of suppliers, one could, with modest effort, develop a very substantial database of products, listed by reliability, cost, customer service, shipping time and so on. Customers who are looking for a specific product, service or raw material could pay a nominal fee to this database operator, who would provide a number of competitive price and product quotes, establish the connection to the supplier, and even facilitate purchases.
To enter the marketplace by offering “best price quotes” on a vast array of items would be prohibitively time consuming and labour intensive. However, by focusing on regional business needs and developing a database of suppliers for a few hundred products and then expanding that list by a hundred or so each week, an operator could easily compile a catalogue of almost half a million items within a year. The potential to offer this service globally is, like the research required to asset up the competitive network, only a few clicks away, relying on a website with the reach similar to Alibaba.
While a concept such as this is easily established, without disadvantage, in a rural environment, it is not limited to any geographic location, since not product physically is filtered through that operation.
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