Gazing into the Crystal Ball for 2012

As another year draws to a close, it’s a good time to take stock of some of the new trends that will likely impact small business in the Grand Traverse Region in 2012.

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Rural Development: This is a term that the State of Michigan has used frequently in the last year, mostly in regard to food and agriculture. While those sectors will remain important in 2012, our rural towns will be impacted by likely closure of some village post offices by the U.S. Postal Service. As a gathering place for small communities, these closures will negatively impact any future growth in those impacted village centers.

Going Mobile: The development of these same rural areas will be dependent on the continuing emphasis on broad band internet access. Local governments that are aggressive with securing internet access for their villages or the majority of their townships will become more attractive to new businesses and home owners.

The mobile theme will also apply to more urban areas as the popularity of food carts and mobile food vendors grows. We saw the beginnings of this in 2011, but the mobile food movement will create zoning problems for many local governments and conflicts with existing restaurants that feel threatened. Some of these restaurants will fight back with mobile offerings of their own.

Mobile marketing will be even more relevant in the coming year including mobile phone applications and cell phone friendly business web sites that customers will use to choose one business over its competitors. Companies with web sites that do not translate well to smart phone screens (or companies with no web site at all) will be at a huge competitive disadvantage.

Hopefully, mobile methods of credit card payment will become more prevalent for festivals, mobile vendors, and outdoor applications. With fewer people carrying cash, even the Salvation Army volunteers will soon have credit card accepting phone readers to compliment their bell ringing.

Growing Power of Online Reviews: More companies and individuals will become more clued in to how they are perceived online. Monitoring comments made by customers on mobile applications such as Yelp and Yahoo!Local will become a critical factor to the success launch of restaurants and hospitality businesses. Individuals will utilize sites such as Reputation.com to watch negative information on the web that can impact their persona.

Continued Emphasis on Entrepreneurship: The critical skills needed to succeed in starting business will be essential to job creation in the region. There will be more of an emphasis placed on developing entrepreneurship as a life skill at both the secondary school and with adult education levels. The idea of calculated success with the option of self-employment will be become critical to workforce development.

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