Economic development is frequently a game of follow the leader. What are the bigger towns doing? We should do that, too.
One recent fad is recruiting telecommuters/remote workers/gig workers (pick your title). Often this involves cash money. Vermont has offered grants of $10,000 to lure remote workers. So have Topeka, Kansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tulsa Remote, perhaps the best known of these initiatives, conveys a bit of a mixed message on its landing page: “You’re going to love it here,” comes right after, “We’ll pay you to work from Tulsa.”
The COVID-19 pandemic will absolutely accelerate the transition to the digital workplace. Recognizing this, the Corridor has been in an ongoing conversation with several partners about how best to attract online workers. (Shout-out to Heath Richter of Black Hills Energy for the initial push.) With our strong telecommunications infrastructure and idyllic setting, we’ve got plenty to sell. Why wouldn’t folks want to have their home office here?
But we’re also viewing the opportunity from another seemingly unique perspective. While others focus on bringing remote workers in, we are exploring the possibilities for residents who are already here. Were we to develop a list of credible work-from-home opportunities, might that help us retain graduates from our high schools and colleges? And how about trailing spouses, husbands and wives that sacrifice their own jobs to follow their loved ones to our region? Remote work seems like a powerful solution for them.
The benefits would extend to area businesses, as well. A strong work-from-home culture could bring into the labor pool local men and women who for personal reasons—perhaps family, perhaps health—refuse to commit to the expected 40-hour work week. More importantly, a willingness and capacity to support remote workers allows a company to hire the best candidate regardless of location. Distance is no longer an obstacle.
The Corridor team met last week with an early-stage freight company based in Chicago. The ownership group has decided to hire sales and customer-service talent almost exclusively in rural America. We wondered how a local economic development group could help.
Some of the answers were not surprising—posting jobs, hosting meetings, etc. But there were also new ideas, such as sourcing multilingual talent in Storm Lake, a town where some 20 languages and dialects are spoken.
More such conversations will follow; we are still early in this process. The objective, though, seems inarguable: In a global and digital economy, let’s put the Corridor at the center.