Eitel was attracted to the potential career path Onshore could offer in IT, and she likes the fact that the firm hires U.S.-based people, even if they have no background in IT. But becoming part of Onshore meant making a big change. In Eitel's case, it was a positive one: "I could probably move to a larger city to earn a higher wage, but I moved to a rural community for the lifestyle it offers versus the lifestyle and chaos of city living."
It's not always easy to get people to move to a rural area after having worked for years at a large enterprise in the big city, however. "Imagine a guy in Dallas gets laid off after 25 years, and we're asking him to move to a place where it's below zero for several weeks out of the year, at much lower pay," says John Beesley, director of business development at CrossUSA, a rural outsourcing firm with operations in Sebeka and Eveleth, Minn. Nevertheless, the company prides itself on maintaining a stable workforce from those who make the move.
From the employees that InfoWorld.com interviewed, it seemed that those who had grown up in rural areas were most comfortable with working in rural locations.
Jerry Jensen, who works as a team leader, was out of work for about a year when he joined CrossUSA. Before that he was director of IS for a distribution company in Minneapolis, and altogether has been in the IT field for about 30 years. Jensen was actively interested in working in a rural area, where traffic wasn't a hassle and the pace of life was slower than what he experienced working in a city. "I like this environment, since I had grown up in a rural area of South Dakota and like the outdoor activities this area provides," Jensen says.
Another CrossUSA employee, Doug Michelz, an operations manager who works in the firm's Eveleth location, joined the company about a year ago after spending most of his 25-year career as an IT professional in the financial sector. That includes a 10-year stint at Northwestern Mutual Life, where he helped build the firm's information risk management practice.
Michelz was drawn to CrossUSA because of the location and lifestyle it afforded. While he's a Milwaukee, Wis., native and had worked in the downtown area for more than 30 years, for the most part he resided in a rural setting similar to where he is now in Minnesota.
Other factors made the move easier for Michelz. He's not married, and his children are either in college or soon to be. "With one daughter off to college and on her own, and the other on her way to college most likely in northern Wisconsin, we would be geographically dispersed anyway," he says. "When it comes to family vacations or the holidays, we are all traveling some distance in order to get together."
For some people the current economic climate -- with its still-high unemployment rate -- will spur a move to rural settings to land a job, says Karen Cooper, president of Smart IT Staffing, an IT recruitment firm. "We're finding in our day-to-day recruiting people are much more open to moving," she says. "If they've been unemployed for a while -- say, longer than few months -- they become very open to the possibility of moving."
Coping with the cost issues
Rural outsourcing companies are able to keep their costs down largely because they can pay lower wages to employees. For example, new hires at CrossUSA typically make 30 to 40 percent less than what they earned in their previous IT job. That means you can expect to draw a significantly lower salary than you might get working in New York or Boston.
But the lower salaries aren't necessarily matched by lower expenses. "As far as income versus expense goes, there doesn't seem to be a large difference between rural and metropolitan area expense," Jensen says. "In fact, in some areas like groceries [and] clothes, your actual expense increases in the rural areas," he says.