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By Doug Gurr, UK Country Manager, Amazon

The internet and technology provide huge opportunities for the UK’s rural economy. Government statistics show there are more registered businesses per person in rural areas than in urban areas excluding London, and in 2015 rural businesses contributed an estimated £237 billion in Gross Value Added to the UK economy as a whole. However, while this shows progress, there’s still more to do if we are to unlock rural UK’s digital potential and ultimately enhance the UK economy more widely. The Government has taken promising steps to improve digital infrastructure with better internet connectivity and broadband in rural areas; but as we say at Amazon, it is still only Day One for the internet.

I live in a small village in Yorkshire. Back in 2000 I founded Blueheath, an internet grocery business which had its two main operations in Wrexham and Thurrock; none of which would have been possible without the internet. I’ve witnessed the digital potential of rural UK first-hand, and believe we’re now at a turning point for the rural economy as the digital revolution starts to bridge the urban-rural divide. A good example is the Government’s recent Broadband Universal Service consultation which found that upgrading to super-fast internet would generate a 30% average increase in productivity for businesses in Cornwall. Connectivity in rural areas is certainly the most important first step, but how that connectivity is used to its full potential – that’s where we’ll see a real game-changer.

We want to help deliver that change by democratising the ability to start a business and levelling the playing field between businesses big and small, urban and rural – to the point where as long as you have a laptop, and internet and a great product or idea, you can be local but sell globally.

A favourite example of mine is Helen Rolfe, who turned her back on life in London to start afresh with her own business, Lente Designs, in a rural part of Buckinghamshire. She sells tablet and Kindle cases on Amazon Marketplace, and uses Fulfilment by Amazon to store and distribute her products across Europe. This takes the stress out of making deliveries in the UK, allowing Helen to expand her customer base abroad. She also outsourced her customer service capability, allowing her to focus her time and effort on creating excellent products and enjoying life in the countryside with her family. She now even exports 5% of her products to the US.

Stories like these show how e-commerce has a huge role to play in helping small businesses across rural Britain accelerate their growth, and I’m sure there are even more to come when we see the entries for the Rural Business Awards. This rural business success is partly what encouraged us to create the Amazon Academy series, first in London and Manchester and now in Edinburgh this May; to provide practical advice on how to grow your business online.

The digital potential of rural UK is also why we’ve partnered with Anna, Jemma, and the CLA to support the Rural Business Awards this year, so we can help champion the success of rural entrepreneurial success. We’re really excited to see the shortlist of entries, and I hope to see you all at the awards night on the 5th October, to share in celebrating the best of rural UK business.

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You can find out more about entering the Rural Business Awards at www.ruralbusinessawards.co.uk/enter Entries Close on 30th June 2017

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