Tech in the U.S. has famously, or infamously, been almost exclusively associated with Silicon Valley. Tech companies rarely spring up outside of a select number of cities. Even companies that shun the Valley, like Amazon and Microsoft, are located in largely affluent urban areas on the east coast of the United States.
This trend of tech companies being limited to cosmopolitan and urban areas could possibly be coming to an end. Thanks to local and federal government-led initiatives, rural America could be facing a tech boom.
Can Tech Save Rural America?
Rural America faces plenty of problems. Poverty and illiteracy rates tend to be higher in far-off rural townships than in urban areas in America. The wage gap between rural workers and urban workers can be stunningly disparate. Not all of rural America has internet, or even cell towers. Worst of all, rural America is facing a depopulation problem. Young, talented, and able-bodied rural workers are ditching their hometowns for lucrative offers in the cities. (Though population loss has been a problem in rural America for years, it worsened in 2010.)
The government, on both local and national levels, has been trying to tackle the tough problems rural America faces for years. The latest solution: tech. The White House and certain local governments are betting on the tech industry to save small town and rural suburbs across America. Local governments, like those in Kansas and Nebraska, have introduced tax incentives to attract businesses that might counter population loss.
Local governments, with the help of federal agencies, are racing to make rural localities attractive to tech startups. For example, the Washington State Department of Commerce has openly advocated and promoted business plans to attract tech companies. The White House recently announced the South Central Appalachian TechHire, which, in collaboration with the local government, academia, and the private sector, will make the heart of Appalachia a bustling tech hub.
The average tech job pays 50 times more than a non-tech job. If these efforts are successful, tech will most certainly be able to revive rural America. But who would really want to set up shop in the middle of nowhere?
Business Advantages in Rural America are Plenty
Companies and entrepreneurs might not immediately see the advantages of moving to rural America. The most glaring perks offered by small townships are that the rent is low, property prices are low, and there’s almost no traffic. The cost of living is lower, which makes certain costs of running a business quite low as well.
Some tech companies have seen these advantages and have already embraced rural locations as base camp. For example, Live. Give. Save. Inc., a financial tech startup, chose Red Wing, Minnesota as their headquarters. This small city by the Mississippi River is home to only about 16,000 people. Regardless of the tiny size, the startup is full of praise for the city.
Susan Sorensen Langer, CEO of Live. Give. Save. Inc., has particularly praised how the local community supports the company. The community has not faltered in providing the necessary resources and infrastructure for the company.
Long-Held Assumptions About Rural Areas are Coming Undone
Tech companies need a specific set of infrastructure that the ventures cannot operate without. Namely, access to fast internet is absolutely essential. Some companies have virtual staff, so this is a basic need.
Rural America is notorious for lack of access to certain facilities like the internet. There are a number of dead zones sprinkled across states like Alabama, Kentucky, and Colorado. The lack of such modern infrastructure has been the main reason why many companies have been ignoring rural America.
But new initiatives have improved access to broadband internet outside of major cities. Companies already located in minor cities have come forward to debunk regressive assumptions about rural America. Ken Levy, CEO of 4-Tell (a big-data based e-commerce company), has said that high-speed internet is not an issue for his company located in rural Oregon. Another owner of a tech startup, C. Skyler Young, has said that some communication infrastructure in his rural work location dates back to the 1920s, though it is now being improved.
With infrastructure seeing improvements, and government incentives increasing, tech might find a new, and cheaper, home in rural America.