Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide

New technology, infrastructure and route-to-market investments could be the panacea for our largest cities and most remote communities.

At first glance, the rural Mississippi Delta and bustling metro Atlanta don’t have much in common.

The Delta spreads across 19 counties in northwestern Mississippi with a population of just more than 400,000 in an area roughly the size of Massachusetts. Persistent poverty and lack of job opportunities continue to nag this largely agricultural region.

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Cities must pay more attention to the way we move goods into, out of and through our metro regions.

Metro Atlanta, on the other hand, is celebrating a quarter of a century of record-breaking population growth and economic development. Since 1996, its population has doubled to roughly 6 million residents spread across a sprawling metropolis the size of Belgium.

The region and its flourishing technology, transportation and service-based economies continue to earn the moniker of the economic and cultural capital of the New South.

If we dig a little deeper, though, we see that both regions share some very important challenges in terms of ensuring that their transportation and technology infrastructures are prepared for the new realities of business and economic development.

Time for change

I recently had the opportunity to speak to two organizations — the Rotary Club of Atlanta and the Delta Council of Mississippi — wrestling with issues that both define the urban-rural divide in the United States and offer a remedy.

Atlanta’s meteoric growth, while bringing new prosperity to the region, has stressed infrastructure and the environment and has even threatened future economic develop

Left: David Abney- UPS CEO, Center: John O’Neil- Rotary Club of Atlanta, President and Managing Principal, Cushman & Wakefield, Right: Oz Nelson- former UPS CEO

ment and quality of life.

While most highly congested cities like Atlanta today are hard at work figuring out better ways to move people, few have paid much attention to improving the way we move goods into, out of and through our metro regions. That’s going to have to change.

Serving small towns 

In the rural Mississippi Delta, where I grew up, community leaders are focused on transportation and technology infrastructure that allows greater access to the region and its schools, small businesses, farms and entrepreneurs. There’s a direct relationship between broadband development and education, business and entrepreneurial development.

The same is true for the delivery of goods and services to rural areas. Small towns and rural businesses need and deserve transportation and technology infrastructure that allows goods, people and ideas to move effectively in and out of their regions.

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Small towns and rural businesses need and deserve better transportation and technology infrastructure.

The Delta has its work cut out for it, but it’s heartening to see so many dedicated and diverse people focused on bringing real progress to what has historically been a very under-served area.

Navigating a new world

Thinking differently and approaching solutions with a new mindset can be a great catalyst for change. I told the groups in the Delta and Atlanta that we went through a similar exercise at UPS by bringing in a Chief Transformation Officer to help us navigate new realities of commerce and transportation.

In both rural and urban areas, smarter and cleaner transportation systems are going to be imperative as we watch the continued rise of e-commerce. Today, around the world, 200 million deliveries of goods purchased online will be made to individual homes, offices, buildings, dorms and other facilities.

While that seems like a lot, it’s a fraction of what we can expect in the next few years as e-commerce becomes ingrained in our shopping habits.

One byproduct of this increased demand for immediate fulfillment is the rise of single-item deliveries — which translates into more vehicles, more congestion and more emissions.

But slowing down e-commerce isn’t the answer. Rather, it’s about creating greater delivery density in both urban and rural areas, so that both can be served effectively and sustainably.

Consider this: One delivery of 20 packages to a UPS Access Point location or a UPS Locker averages 14 individual deliveries we don’t have to make. Everyone benefits — businesses, commuters, the environment and the economy.

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E-commerce and freight are essential to livable cities and rural areas alike.

Join us

E-commerce and freight are essential to livable cities and rural areas alike.

Bridging the rural-urban divide will require business, government and civil society working together to improve our digital and physical transportation infrastructure and ensure that both physical and digital commerce flow unfettered across our nations and the world at large.

At UPS, we plan to be part of the solution and invite everyone to join us on the journey.

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David Abney serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at UPS. Click the icon above to follow him on LinkedIn.

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