Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Telecommuting Model for Rural Communities

I have an idea, not completely original but with my own personal take, that I think might be successful.  There are many rural communities that need ideas for development.  One idea is to build the “mini Silicon Valley.” 

But I think this is too much and a smaller approach might work better.  After all, tech workers can work from pretty much anywhere these days and there is a pretty sizable population that would love to live in the mountains of Vermont or the forests of Appalachia.  But to achieve a Richard Florida type Creative City, you can’t just take a “build it and they will come” attitude.

So here is my idea.  Let’s say a community creates work/live/play spaces customized for the telecommuting tech worker instead of trying to attract the startup itself.  I am imagining small, cozy developments that have mixed housing types (to accommodate single, married, married with kids) and in the center there would be a co-working space complete with receptionist/secretarial support, café, food trucks, and play area.  A town center in the middle of several developments there would have the larger retail and the fun stuff – movies, clubs, or whatever the market demands.  But smaller footprints because the community is not trying to attract a large population.  The downside would be it may be impossible to have the venues that require volume – concerts, sports teams, and that kind of thing.  And there would be no industrial, no office park-sized development, no high rise, nothing that would detract from the rural-ness. 

But the tech support would have to be high end.  A community-wide high bandwidth wi-fi and fiber to the home in all the developments.  The higher income residents should be able to support this. 

If they have spouses that are not also telecommuters, there would still be jobs in the retail, the outdoors (ski instructor, forest ranger), government (police), health care (perhaps specialist doctor offices in small buildings and a community hospital with heli-pad to transport the tough cases), and leisure (every brewpub needs a good brewmeister).  Perhaps artisanal farm businesses could fill the local farmers’ market.

It seems pretty self-contained – which means that it wouldn’t need to grow in order to thrive.  So it wouldn’t ruin the mystique of the rural, out of the way, idyll.  And the idea could be customized for each landscape.  Maybe a beach version.  A plains version.  A desert version.  There aren’t for everyone.  Some people would still want to live in Manhattan, San Francisco, or Boston.  But I would imagine a lot of people who would thrive here.

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