More Businesses Are Outsourcing—to Rural and Small Town U.S.A.

Is your small business dealing with an increased workload and more demand from clients and customers? That’s a good thing. But with the economy still uncertain, many of us are leery about taking on full-time employees to help with the workload—even when we’re overwhelmed.

Well, there is a solution—and it’s closer to home than you might think. I first wrote about the trend of “ruralsourcing” on Small Business Trends in the summer of 2010, when several news outlets reported on the practice. Essentially, ruralsourcing means outsourcing jobs—but instead of outsourcing to India or China, the jobs are being outsourced to small and rural communities in the United States.

Businesses Are Outsourcing to Rural and Small Town U.S.A.

As the economy slowly picks up steam, I’m happy to report that the ruralsourcing trend continues to grow, according to new research from oDesk, an online global employment platform. oDesk’s latest “Online Employment Report” a monthly analysis of the state of the online workforce, shows that small towns are outperforming their big-city counterparts in both online work activity and the number of hours worked per contractor.

According to oDesk, small towns (those with populations under 15,000) are keeping pace with large cities in terms of the number of online workers per capita. Not only that, they have proportionally higher “actively working” online populations in terms of hours worked per online contractor. On average, small town contractors worked more than 175 hours in January—far higher than the average for workers in New York City (70 hours), San Francisco (54 hours) and Los Angeles (23 hours).

“Workers in small towns need access to jobs, and the Internet can put them in consideration for job opportunities on a global scale,” says oDesk CEO Gary Swart.

Overall, demand for online work reached an all-time high in January, with a record 71,000 online job opportunities posted. What kinds of workers are most businesses looking to hire? Web development/IT jobs, writing and blogging, graphic design, SEO and personal or administrative assistants were among the jobs with the most postings.

I’m heartened to hear that people in the heartland are finding work through online outsourcing. For small businesses on a budget, outsourcing to remote employees is a smart way to go when more manpower is needed. But outsourcing overseas can lead to quality issues, communication problems and delays due to time zone differences (I’ve dealt with this myself). If you can get the work you need done by a remote employee, why not try to get it done in the U.S.?

Creating more work for people in the U.S. is a win-win-win situation for small business owners, the contractors they hire, and the overall U.S. economy.


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

10 Reactions
  1. Many jobs and entire industries have been untethered from geography thanks to the internet. But the main reason we’re seeing more rural outsourcing is because of the cost savings. Rural areas have a lower cost of living, so you can obtain a similarly qualified person for lower pay.

  2. Rural sourcing is picking up pace, especially when there’s the issue of trust, culture and language to account for. Still, the talent pool is not that huge and this is why a lot of businesses outsource.. among many other reasons.

  3. This is refreshing to read! I have been preaching this to my Midwestern community of approximately 12,000 ever since I relocated my agency doors a couple of years ago.

    My company was started in Chicago in 1999. For many years I worked on-site for clients, crammed inside a carpeted cubicle, or worked in my basement with no heat and eventually was working in a 200 square foot office. My first job was at an architectural firm, address 200 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

    Today, my office address is 200 N. Michigan Avenue, Plymouth, Indiana… More on this to come… Your article has inspired me to write a blog post on ruralsourcing! Thank you!!!

    Thank you!
    Andrea Cook

  4. Thanks Rieva- Looks like Odesk is leading the way to rural sourcing. Cost savings and value is a huge key. I use Odesk to outsource edited radio show audios and it works extremely well. Kudos to today’s technology.

  5. We run a social network for “Virtual Assistants” and see a lot of our members coming from midwest or rural parts of the country.

    They have great ethics, integrity and follow-thru. Making them excellent resources for SMBs to leverage.

  6. I’m glad more work is finding its way to rural America, but have any of you checked the budgets on those projects at oDesk? Broadband costs more per hour than a lot of those ultimately pay. Cost of living is certainly lower in the hinterlands, but it is not on par with cost of living in Bangladesh. I’m guessing that if you asked those rural workers what they think of “ruralsourcing” they’ll tell you they know they’re getting screwed, but have no other choice. That doesn’t seem like something to cheer.

    • @Paula (or whoever reads this as this thread is old) — interestingly enough, I live in an isolated NW rural town of 400 residents which has fiber optics. I have excellent internet here, while concurrently, I also have an amazingly peaceful lifestyle in a beautiful, extremely rural area that has comparatively high income per capita. The county, with the help of the state and feds, was able to procure grants that enabled below-ground installation of fiber optic cable throughout the entire county, which is an area in which there isn’t even a freeway. My per month cost for internet access is $40 and that includes a private IP.

  7. Thank you for the great insight. This is a win-win situation for both parties. People across USA need more jobs and with ruralsourcing, that can be achieved. At the same time, it is easy for employers to train resources and have more easier access, than to outsource work overseas.