I recently had the honor of being profiled in a new Montana magazine called 406 Woman. The title of the article was "No Penalty for Paradise", reflecting an ongoing discussion between me and my fellow entrepreneurs in rural America about whether living in a desirable location was inconsistent with the idea of successful business formation. For many of us, transplants from urban life, when we first arrived in our new communities, we questioned whether building a business beyond a small sole proprietorship was realistic. We had the same concerns as any new business owner – staffing, funding, lines of credit, healthcare, and so forth. But added to those concerns were other worries specific to our locations – Can we hire qualified staff? Will they work hard? Do we have the necessary communications infrastructure? Can we get flights to required destinations? Will our infrastructure costs and capabilities allow us to remain competitive with businesses located in more accessible locations?
Question by question we figured it out. Staffing was the most pleasant surprise. Our employees want to live here, resulting in a highly qualified, truly dedicated team. Funding and lines of credit were a challenge because investors simply weren’t familiar with investments in remote locations. But, even though money players would rather you were right next door, if the business plan works, the money will come. It’s amazing the number of angel investor networks and strategic investors available to businesses in rural areas – never easy, but manageable. Healthcare costs were staggering no matter where we were located but not particularly higher here than elsewhere. Flights were and still are a problem. But, because flights were challenging, we relied even more heavily on our communications infrastructure. And the communications infrastructure is what truly allowed us to finally conclude that there is "No Penalty for Paradise".
For rural communities, distance has too often been a significant business challenge. But, as a result of advances in technology and infrastructure over the past decade, those of us living the rural life can now "reach out and touch" our colleagues nationwide and even internationally in a cost-effective and service-effective fashion. In my hometown in MT, we have great cell phone service with national calling plans. We have wireline DSL and cable broadband. We have more Wi-Fi’d coffee shops (all with free Wi-Fi) than I can find when I’m back in the city. We also have video conferencing facilities for hire if we need them. As a result, we can stay on-line, talk live, and stay in touch with our customers, employees, vendors, and the myriad of others with whom it takes to launch a successful business. It’s truly remarkable the difference that our communications advances over the past decade have made for businesses – so much so that we are now planning for our next title – "Rural America, Open for Business".