Remember long distance? Remember when you could only sell your products or services to customers who lived nearby? Remember needing a critical piece of information, then having to rely on an expert who was located miles away?
Then came the technology revolution. Long distance pricing disappeared, e-commerce became a reality, and information started splashing up on our laptops, tablets, and mobile phones like the North Carolina surf before a hurricane.
We are now in the middle of an evolving opportunity equation, particularly for those of us living off the beaten path. Today, information abounds, communicating is cheap, and we can all sell from anywhere as long as we have access to a laptop or a smartphone.
But there’s more going on than just the tech revolution. Most U.S. children live in households where all parents work; mothers are increasingly the family breadwinners; fathers are increasingly family caregivers; and elder care is a challenge for just about everyone.
So it’s not surprising that workers these days are often looking for flexibility over money, title, or job security. As a result, freelance work, entrepreneurship, and flex-time within existing corporations are appealing options for employees and businesses alike. Communities that understand these changes can benefit from them. Communities that don’t may well be left behind.
Fortunately, rural and small towns have long been populated with sole proprietors, family businesses and, increasingly, the freelancers and virtual workers who were part of this 21st century trend well before it became cool. As a result, we are likely to be big beneficiaries of the shift in work culture … IF … our thought leaders are aware of and responsive to how economic needs and opportunities have changed for our communities.
Work-life balance is key; along with understanding and embracing e-commerce, distance learning, remote health and virtual government. The days of hoping to persuade a major corporation to locate in the backyard are pretty much over. Now self-reliance, tech-forward thinking, get-it-done work ethic, and flexibility rule. That’s a pretty good recipe for smaller places.
Diane Smith is the founder and CEO of American Rural where she works to create greater awareness of the growing opportunities for those who choose to live, work and prosper in rural and small town America. Learn more about Diane by following her column here or visit American Rural at AmericanRural.org.
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