Broadband technology challenges the very definition of what constitutes a “job.” Companies are not taking advantage of technology just to suit their workforce needs; rather, workers are choosing the flexibility that technology provides to work when and where needed as it is convenient for the worker. Why then should some communities pay the high cost for traditional business attraction (the cow), when job attraction (the milk) is all they want?
Technology is accelerating the rise of the freelance job market as evidenced by numerous reports, such as these:
- In a 2013 report by Govloop, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 65 million Americans will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors, and ‘solopreneurs,’ making up about 40% of the workforce by 2020.
- Freelancers Union reports freelancing is practiced by 34% of the workforce, or 53 million Americans. The study found that more than 40% of the country’s freelancers do not have a traditional employer at all.
- Freelancers Union reports 77% of freelancers said they make the same or more money than they did before they started freelancing.
- The U.S. News reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs, but only 400,000 computer science students.
However, business recruitment marketing practices and incentive programs are stuck in a “brick and mortar” world. The communities, regions, and states that recognize the major paradigm shift technology brings to economic development practice and take advantage of the shifting dynamics will be the economic winners in the new Gig Economy.
Economic developers and workforce professionals need to consider successful strategies around leveraging technology to create a diverse and limitless portfolio of job and career opportunities in economically distressed areas. Technology dictates the need for economic developers and policymakers to re-think how economic development incentives are designed and employed in a Gigabit world.
4 key impacts on economic development practice brought on by broadband technologies are:
- Technology Levels the Economic Playing Field
- Technology Closes the Gap Between Employers and Available Labor
- Technology Reduces Job Attraction Costs
- New Economic and Workforce Development Tools Are Needed
A Case Study
Broadband technology provides a means to allow rural and depressed urban areas to effect meaningful economic development programs for less cost than traditional methods. Consider the case of Gallipolis, Ohio, located in Gallia County. Gallia County’s population peaked in 2000 at 31,069 and has dropped slightly to 30,937 in 2014. Gallia County’s median family income for 2014 is $37,494, which is 23% below Ohio’s median family income and 30% below the U.S. average. In addition, Gallia County’s poverty rate stands at 26.1% compared to the Ohio state average of 15.8%. With few prospects for new employers moving to the remote community on the Ohio River, Gallipolis and Gallia County embraced technology to capitalize on the remote distributed workforce trends.
Beginning in 2013, the community implemented a program called Digital Works, developed by the nationally recognized broadband technology advocacy non-profit, Connected Nation. Using the Digital Works platform, the Gallipolis facility was able to train 105 residents and place 80 of those residents in mostly remote, work-from-home opportunities. The project leveraged under-used community office space. Since the job candidates going through the Digital Works training program mostly work from their own homes, the need to enter into the speculative game of purchasing land and developing spec buildings is greatly reduced, along with economic development costs. Rural communities with adequate broadband technology can now compete for job opportunities, even though other aspects of their location and transportation infrastructure leaves the community outside the traditional economic development game.
Companies in the second decade of the twenty-first century do not face a lack of people to work, but rather a lack of skilled workforce in the right location.
Training can address the skills component and broadband technology addresses the geography issue. Now anyone with decent access to broadband and a computer can work from just about anywhere, including the comfort of their own home. Using broadband technology and a strategy of growing your own, a community can train and place job candidates for remote work. The usual barriers for some rural communities to create economic opportunity disappear, and at a reduced cost.
So with the contingent workforce trends and application of broadband technologies, Why Buy the Cow, If All You Need is the Milk?