Rural Sourcing: A Trend to Watch?

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Managers thinking of establishing virtual teams may have visions of the best and brightest in New York, San Francisco and Shanghai dancing in their heads. The untapped workers of rural places and small cities like Kanab, Utah or Augusta, Ga. probably feature less often. Now the proponents of a still embryonic but expanding trend known as “rural sourcing” are trying to change that.

After all, a recent study by online worker clearinghouse oDesk found that workers in tiny towns of less than 15,000 inhabitants are already online and thriving in a remote work environment. The analysis discovered that:

  • Small towns meet or beat large cities in terms of the number of online workers per capita
  • Contractors in small towns worked more than 175 hours in January, which compares favorably with the hours worked by contractors in the larger cities: New York (70 hours), San Francisco (54 hours) and Los Angeles (23 hours)

You might argue that the high numbers of hours worked and the percentage of remote workers per capita just reveals that those marooned in small towns are simply desperate for work. No doubt that’s part of the picture,  but it’s not the whole story.

Before imagining dreary call centers springing up in Nowhereville, U.S.A. staffed by hordes of marginally skilled drones, consider this profile of Atlanta-based firm Rural Sourcing, one of around 20 U.S. companies that are locating skilled IT-workers in small towns — often those near universities with plenty of job-hungry graduates — to take advantage of lower living and labor costs, higher quality of life and an underutilized talent pool.

While salaries in Milford, Penn. may not be as low as those in Mumbai, India, some often-overlooked costs associated with outsourcing abroad — such as greater management oversight, cultural miscues and occasional long-distance travel — are lower with rural-sourcing. Plus, many workers enjoy living in these slower-paced places, while bringing employment to struggling towns is sure to generate good will.

Rural Sourcing chief executive Monty Hamilton reports that his employees are:

in places where … $150,000 still buys you a great house with a great piece of property, where people want to stay and raise their families.

Obviously, outsourcing abroad isn’t disappearing anytime soon, and for some positions, the best-qualified applicants will still be found in major cities. But could looking for virtual team members in small towns, whether through a firm like Rural Sourcing or independently, be a triple win for your organization – good for costs, good for workers and even good for small towns (and your PR department), too?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Mr Marmot

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