Springhill small business owner on broadband in rural Louisiana
By Sydney McGovern
Chillon Caraway wears many hats. She is the brand manager of the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, producer of The Gifted Life podcast, founder and CEO of CC Brand Studio and mother to two teenage boys.
Caraway is also an engaged community member of Springhill, a north Louisiana community with a population of about 5,000. She has been a resident for nearly 11 years, working remotely for LOPA since she moved from Lafayette.
“All the work that I do is based on the internet, whether I'm working my full time job or my side hustle,” she said. “If I have my family home, and especially because I have two teenage sons who are constantly on the internet, that's when things throttle down.”
Caraway said stability is a struggle throughout Springhill. In the first five years she worked remotely, she constantly had to troubleshoot her internet and communicate with her service provider. Even now, she always has a backup plan prepared in case of spotty internet service.
And Caraway said that this instability has widespread implications for the entire community, limiting Springhill’s potential.
“If [residents] don't have access to the internet, or they're not accustomed to utilizing services on the internet because they didn't have service, then you kind of get this almost a snowball effect, where there's just a constant lagging behind in innovation and growth,” she said.
Part of the mission of her small marketing business is revitalizing other locally owned businesses in the community. Because many business owners do not have access to reliable internet, Caraway often has to show them how to use the internet and help them understand the importance of having a website.
“In our rural community, because there's not a lot of access to internet, there's not any real knowledge of how to utilize it appropriately,” Caraway said. “A lot of what I do for my clients is educate them on the importance of a website.”
In recent years, having an internet presence can make or break a small business. A website can increase a company’s credibility and establish its brand identity, and perhaps most importantly, allow residents to find and contact local businesses, expanding its customer base, according to Forbes.
There is no lack of talent and entrepreneurship in rural Louisiana, but without broadband accessibility and digital literacy, business owners may not realize their full potentials.
“If they are a restaurant, they know how to make food,” Caraway said. “If they are a plumber, they know how to plumb. If they are an electrician, they know their craft. But if they don’t have access to utilizing technology, then they're already kind of behind the mark.”
Establishing strong, reliable broadband in Springhill and then using the school system, chambers of commerce, libraries and government entities to educate residents on how to use the internet and increase digital literacy will open up an array of business opportunities and revitalize the rural community, according to Caraway.
And she has seen firsthand how such opportunities can open up for her clients. One of her clients, a local dog trainer, came to her with a website that had not been rebuilt since 2003. After Caraway redesigned her website and adjusted its search engine optimization, she saw results.
“Within six months, she came to me and said, ‘OK, we're going to have to do some different things because now I'm getting 20 to 30 calls a day because people can find me now,’” Caraway said. “And that is where digital literacy comes into play.”
Once people understand how the internet works, she said, they can make it work for them. But without stable broadband, people cannot invest the time and energy into how to use the internet.
“In this day and age, stable internet service is a utility, just like electricity, just like water, just like gas,” Caraway said. “It is an absolute need in our communities.”
With accessible, affordable broadband and the digital literacy for residents to take advantage of it, communities such as Springhill can expand their business communities and reach their full potentials.
“Especially in our rural communities, I think that broadband is so important for the future of Louisiana and how our state grows and prospers,” Caraway said.