I'm from a small town of 2,000 people in the middle of nowhere in Northeast Missouri. It's one hour to the nearest McDonalds and there's not a stoplight in the town, and while both of my parents earned a good living when I was growing up there, there's not much there professionally for me.
It's a town driven by agriculture, with corn and soybean fields lining up for hours starting one mile from my house. In going for runs in my old hometown, you can see the remains of a once thriving small town economy everywhere - the town square that's now half full, the vacant garment factory, etc. NAFTA, WalMart and the Internet have all conspired to make economic conditions in Memphis tougher than they have ever been - at least when it comes to running a business and being a small employer.
During my runs, I've often wondered if the possibility exists to leverage the existing labor in rural counties for things like call centers, etc. The play is cut rate labor compared to the cities, although still not competitive from a price standpoint with India. Still it would seem like the technology exists to make a run at leveraging a rural workforce as a nice alternative to the politically dicey prospect of outsourcing to India.
As it turns out, there are already companies popping up to claim the moral/patriotic high ground and the cost middle ground. Here's the about page for a company called Rural Sourcing, which was recently featured at Workforce and is attempting to ride the backlash wave against offshoring IT/Development projects to locales like India:
Working in close partnership with Arkansas State University, RSI launched its first Development Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 2003. Our business model leverages ease of communications within the U.S. across Web 2.0 tools with the strength of large pools of skilled IT resources in non-metro areas.
In 2008 Clarkston Consulting bought RSI. Having the financial backing and administrative shared services of Clarkston allows Rural Sourcing to scale to meet our clients needs but keep our pricing competitive.
Rural Sourcing, Inc. is considered the innovative leader in IT domestic sourcing. Within our industry we are known for quality, professional work and our commitment to Brilliant Client Service.
• Domestic IT outsourcing for:
• Application development
• Business application management
• Staff augmentation
• Low cost of living US-based locations
• Competitively priced with offshore firms
• Easily expandable and collapsible staffing
• Lean agile development methodology
• Proven experience and tailored services
• Experienced, dedicated IT professionals
• Experience with Industry Standards and American business practices
• On-site and off-site resources
RSI has a vision for the future of America — we call it Domestic Sourcing. RSI has established a reputation for providing high quality IT services and skills to international companies. By hiring and training skilled IT professionals, RSI has created Domestic Sourcing as an alternative to offshore outsourcing.
By creating 3,000 new jobs in the United States, we will execute on our vision of becoming the best alternative for IT outsourcing and the employer of choice for our stewards.
We see the American outsourcing market maturing to the next stage – Outsourcing 2.0. With this maturation there is a more holistic view of outsourcing and it is no longer simply based on the lowest possible hourly price. Instead companies are beginning to factor in the cost of quality, the risks of sending technology and data abroad to unstable environments and finally, the total costs of adding distance and a lack of ownership to the development and maintenance process for your mission critical business applications."
It's an interesting model, and if Rural Sourcing can pull off the business side, they have a chance to help change the game regarding offshoring. Let's hope they and others like them get some traction.
Maybe there's hope for my hometown?