Mississippi could add $2.2 million to its GDP per year if rural small businesses are able to harness the power of digital tools. 

The estimate is according to a joint study published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and online retail giant Amazon, which was released earlier this week.

The study surveyed 5,300 rural small businesses — defined as having less than 500 employees — across the country “about the impact of online tools and technology on their business, focusing on realized and unrealized sales.”

Angela Curry, the executive director of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation, said digital tools are particularly important for rural areas.

“It allows businesses in our rural area to reach new markets, do business globally without the added expense of travel or using other costly mechanisms that connect the business to the consumer,” Curry said.

Online, or digital, tools include websites, online advertising and cloud computing.

The study found that online tools helped expand rural businesses’ customer base outside their own community to neighboring states, and in some cases outside of the country.

Across the country, online tools boosted sales for almost 55 percent of rural small businesses and reduced the purchasing costs of products and materials for almost 29 percent of rural small businesses.

In Mississippi, the report found that online tools boosted gross sales of Mississippi small businesses by 15.2 percent the past three years, the equivalent of $1.9 billion. It also led to the creation of 9,122 full-time jobs.

Improved access to digital technology in the state could have increased sales to $3.9 billion during those same past three years.

Looking forward, the study found that if Mississippi’s small businesses have better access to online tools, then their gross sales could increase to $4.1 billion over the next three years, would could lead to the creation of 19,637 full-time jobs.

Curry said, “Adequate and available infrastructure in rural areas is imperative if we are going to take advantage of the benefits of digital marketing/sales and compete in a global market.”

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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