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Granny Goes Global

I’ve come across few articles recently that better capture the relevance of broadband to the economy and the sense of hope in America’s rural communities. This is apparent in the compelling story about “Granny B” who is selling her homemade dresses around the world from her broadband connected home in rural Homer (population 5,000). The article also provides a brief overview of Connected Nation’s work in Louisiana. An article summary and a link to the full article are both provided below. Thank you and hope you have a great week…Brian

GOING COUNTRY: Becky Collins is at the forefront of a movement aimed at rural female entrepreneurs.

Calling herself “Granny B,” Becky Collins is an Internet entrepreneur selling her homemade pillowcase dresses to anyone in the world who visits her bubbly, pink Web site.

When she started her business, she didn’t know or care about being in the forefront of a movement aimed at bringing this same concept to rural Louisiana and particularly women entrepreneurs. But LSU’s Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute and AgCenter, the Louisiana Cooperative Extension and the Washington, D.C.-based Connected Nation, all have recognized the capacity of broadband, or fast Internet, to bring the world of commerce to every house or business just about anywhere and to just about anyone.

It’s working for Collins, who lives in small rural Homer, a town of barely 5,000 people in Claiborne Parish. She sews her “sweet and simple” dresses from fabric, although they were originally made from vintage pillowcases [and still can be, if a buyer has one] hemmed with wide crochet or lace trim. She works from her 125-year-old ancestral house, every day making possible what was once impossible just a few years ago.

“The Internet is your window on the world,” she says. “I guess I’m just surprised that I could do this sitting here in little Homer and not knowing anything about business or how to go about starting it, and it’s turned out to be this big. I’m not ready for Macy’s, but I can sell this many dresses on the Internet without going anywhere.”

As with every good homespun product, she started making the frocks for her granddaughters, then friends’ daughters and granddaughters, then people encouraged her to sell them on eBay and from there she made the leap to her own Web site. The site stat counter averages up to 3,000 visitors a day. Orders have come from nearly everywhere, including Japan, Canada, England and Italy. Recently, The Oprah Winfrey Show called her about possibly being a guest on a show about women entrepreneurs.

Collins may be a country girl, but she’s living the e-commerce dream.

“It’s all part of connecting rural areas to the 21st Century,” says James Barnes, director of LSU’s Delta Rural Development Center in Oak Grove. “Without connectivity, the poverty will grow. Populations in rural areas are declining and selling online could help.”

To his knowledge, only one group called Connected Nation in Washington, D.C., has successfully collected this information and identified technology to provide service. They’ve come to Louisiana twice to discuss options.

Paul Coreil, director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension and vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter, says the center invited the organization to Louisiana after seeing its success rate in Kentucky. They have also proposed to Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret that the state partner with Connected Nation to make a connectivity plan.

“We just see this as a crucial step for rural development in Louisiana,” Coreil says. “It appears these gaps are in some of the more persistent poverty parishes, and they’re having the most trouble with educational achievement and illiteracy. We still have a lot of them, especially in the Delta.”

But Coreil also says connectivity without education won’t work, and that’s a gap the AgCenter can help fill.

One Nation Connected
• Who? Washington, D.C.,-based Connected Nation is a national non-profit organization specializing in increasing broadband access and computer literacy. Get the scoop at

• Mission? Close the “digital divide” through public-private partnerships, and boost demand for technology while also working to make it affordable.

• Status in Louisiana? Meeting with the Public Service Commission to discuss a possible “Connect Louisiana” initiative similar to others under way in states like Kentucky and Ohio. The plan: Map areas with and without broadband service, identify low computer ownership, computer illiteracy or other barriers, initiate a “No Child Left Off Line” initiative, develop an “e-community leadership team” in each or parish to build demand for broadband and a strategic plan to bring it to every household.

• Success story? 50% of Kentucky households adopted broadband compared to 22% when Connected Nation began the “Connect Kentucky”intiative. The service is available to 96% of households there.

• Why technology? In 1998, Campbellsville, Ky., experienced an economic crisis when its main employer, Fruit of the Loom, moved jobs to San Salvador. The community focused on enhancing information technology, which was a factor in Amazon leasing one of its distribution facilities a year later, employing about 500 people. State officials became committed to information technology and set in motion “Connect Kentucky.”

Additionally, there are discussions about reviving the Louisiana Broadband Commission that was derailed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, says James Field, PSC commissioner District 2. If restored, the public-private entity would work with Connected Nation to bring affordable broadband to rural areas.

Article: Granny B goes global
Source: Greater Baton Rouge Business Report
By: Anna Thibodeaux
Date: June 2, 2008