Keep Iowa ahead of online sales curve

CBJ Editorial 

There are hundreds of state rankings with varying levels of authenticity and usefulness, but recent state rankings by Amazon have us intrigued and hopeful that Iowa might be ahead of the online retail curve, and that new broadband legislation will help keep us there.

A new analysis by Amazon finds that Iowa leads the nation in the per-capita number of small and medium-sized businesses selling through the ecommerce giant’s online platform, and that Iowa businesses are growing their sales faster on average than Amazon stores in any other state.

Iowa is home to nearly 10,000 small and medium-sized sellers on Amazon, earning it the top ranking for the most digital entrepreneurs per capita. Iowa was followed by Delaware (3,000+ sellers), California (100,000+ sellers) and Wyoming (1,000+ sellers).

Iowa sellers also reported the fastest year-over-year growth, at 57%, as shoppers increasingly shifted their purchases online during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was followed by sellers in Washington (56% growth), Alabama (53%) and Virginia (50%).

“Iowa is home to thousands of small and medium-sized businesses selling in Amazon’s stores, and we’re working hard to support their growth despite the global pandemic,” Keri Cusick, head of small business empowerment at Amazon, said in a release. “Both top 10 lists we revealed today demonstrate innovation in every corner of the country, with states like Iowa, Delaware, Wyoming, and Alabama coming out on top.”

Amazon has been ramping up its operations in Iowa, announcing plans in February to open a 780,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Bondurant. The company has also added delivery stations recently in Iowa City and Grimes.

Even with this strong ranking, BroadbandNow, an organization that collects and analyzes internet provider coverage and availability, lists Iowa a lowly 32nd in its ranking of most connected states. Fully 18% Iowa’s population is underserved — meaning it has access to less than two wired service providers, and there were 302,000 Iowans who didn’t have access to a wired connection capable of 25 Mbps download speeds.

That’s why we consider recently passed legislation to expand rural broadband with grants to be an important step toward keeping Iowa ahead of the curve.

“If Iowa is to succeed, we always have to be forward-looking and nimble to the demands of the ever-changing 21st century economy,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement. “Expanding broadband connectivity connects Iowans in every corner of our state to the new opportunities that exist in telehealth, education, and telework. By empowering rural communities through broadband connectivity, we chart a course for Iowa’s continued growth and success.”

We always encourage state officials to examine what is working in economic development and do whatever they can do to foster more of it. This ranking and the broadband incentives recently signed into law are great examples.  •