In the last few years, Washington has been focusing on people like me — that is, people from economically-distressed rural America. That attention is a good thing. Rural America is in trouble. Unfortunately, the national discussion has focused on how to “save” rural America.
Well, I grew up in rural upstate New York. Specifically, Sloansville, which is about 20 miles outside Schenectady. And we don’t need saving. We’re not asking for, and we wouldn’t accept, a handout.
We’re entrepreneurial. All we want is the chance to compete in the modern, global economy.
As another political election cycle kicks into gear, Washington should know that people from Sloansville and places like it are hard-working, competent, and proud. We don’t want to be given anything. We just want the same tools that exist in more developed areas.
Specifically, that means three things. First, we need to make sure that the U.S. Postal Service never starts treating rural parts of the country as “non-essential.” There are a number of proposals floating around that would designate swaths of rural America as “non-essential,” cutting off access or dramatically raising prices for basic access to the U.S. postal system.
That would be a disaster for rural America. Take the business I run, Bikes, Trikes, and Quads. We sell Motocross and ATV equipment on eBay to customers across the U.S. and around the world. Eighty percent of what I ship goes through the USPS. If prices go up substantially, or if I stop being able to rely on USPS service altogether, my business would suffer. And I simply can’t rely on private shippers, who charge large surcharges for pickup and delivery to rural areas.
Second, rural America needs broadband access. My business exists because eBay exists, and almost all of my revenue comes through selling on the platform. If I can’t quickly post detailed photos and descriptions of the parts I’m selling, I’m not going to find a buyer. If I can’t process a customer’s order because of slow internet, I’m going to lose a sale. Many of my customers are rural themselves. If they can’t get online, they’re never going to find my company. If your customers can’t find you, you might as well not have a company at all.
Finally, a lot of people think globalization hurt rural America. I don’t know if that’s true, but if my business is any sign, the global economy can also be a real benefit to places like Sloansville. Increasingly, I’m selling parts overseas, to countries like the United Kingdom and Canada. It doesn’t take a PhD to see that the global economy gives me access to hundreds of millions of potential customers, and that’s where my business is going to grow.
That said, bad policy could easily mess this all up.
My company’s employees are me and three other guys. None of us are international trade attorneys. We’re not set up to deal with red tape. We need trade policies that make it simpler to send low-value shipments overseas. People who want to see rural America thrive must support higher de minimis thresholds in trade agreements around the world. Otherwise, only big companies will be able to take advantage of the global economy, and companies like mine will be left behind. Red tape in international trade is a guaranteed way to put rural America at a competitive disadvantage.
On Wednesday, I testified before the House Committee on Small Business. Let me tell you what I told them: Americans from rural America are deeply resilient. I was paralyzed in a Motocross crash in 2008. I was 23. My days working construction were over. I didn’t have a college degree. What I did have was a passion for fixing up ATVs — my grandfather taught me how when I was a boy — and the ability to buy and sell parts on eBay. I sold my excess ATV and dirt bike supplies online. I’ve always been good with my hands, and I knew ATVs inside and out. It turned out I was pretty good at rebuilding ATV and Motocross parts. In 2010, “Bikes, Trikes, and Quads” was born.
We in rural America can bounce back. We can contribute. We can take care of ourselves, and we don’t need saving. We just want the same tools, and the same chance to compete, as everyone else.
Bill Ingersoll is the owner of Bikes, Trikes, and Quads, a small business in Sloansville, N.Y that sells motorcycle and ATV parts online.