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Can Tech Save Small Town America? 219

theodp writes "Declaring that small town life no longer has to be separate from financial success thanks to technology, CEO Jeff Bezos told North Dakota state officials to take hope in people such as Napster's Shawn Fanning. Interesting remarks, considering that Fanning conceived Napster in small-town Boston and the jobs Amazon's brought to rural areas don't exactly scream financial success."
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Can Tech Save Small Town America?

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:36PM (#14526921) Journal

    I think ultimately whether a town (small, that is) can be a place to be financially successful depends on:

    • what constitutes a small town
    • what constitutes financial success

    Limited anecdotal cases show one can set up shop and make money in small town, USA, but a lot of what drives economies and business requires socially connected communities, typically large (larger than small towns).

    People are still social creatures, business products are still tangible, and communities larger than small towns provide optimal management and distribution. I'm not sure this will change much in the forseeable future.

    Yes, some people may make their fortune in small towns, but it remains the exception. And some big-money companies may toss a financial bone at small towns, but it remains only that. They're not developing a community, they're saving money -- it's little more than rural out-sourcing.

    And for IT folks considering putting out a small town shingle, you can do it, but you'd better be good, and you'd better be prepared to sacrifice most of the small town life you'd anticipate, because, to land big-money gigs, you're going to have to be good above and beyond to assuage the suspicions of clients, and you're going to have to travel a lot, because they're still going to want to get a lot of face time with you.

    • by pomo monster ( 873962 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:47PM (#14526995)
      Funny, I was just reading a paper on this exact subject []. A couple of economists, having noticed that similar businesses tend to clump together even on an intra-city scale, studied the pattern of business siting decisions in New York. (For instance, graphic design-related businesses are concentrated in Chelsea and along 23rd Street. Why?) Skip the boring regression analyses, which just formalize what you already know intuitively, and you have a good summary of why geography still matters--and always will.
    • by Gyorg_Lavode ( 520114 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @02:20PM (#14527170)
      People are social creatures. But the outgoing aspect of it applies more to singles or couples without children. Couples with children have no time to go be social. They instead desire the benefits of a small town, (knowing your neighbor, letting your kids go out and play and not worrying, etc). Small towns a really the way outsourcing should be done. Put people who are raising families in smaller towns with less to do but a more friendly, (and inexpensive), environment.

      I think that the angle for small towns is not small businesses working for big businesses, but big businesses setting up departments in small towns. A programming group set up in a small town should have better cohesion and while the big company can win the work on its big public image, the close-knit aspect of the small town center where the work is actually done can make the good product.

      • Speaking of the family thing, I grew up in a small town in rural Alaska- about 10,000 people. It would be a great place to raise a family, except for two things. First, I don't have a family. I want one. But almost every girl who had anything going for her got the hell out of town as soon as she graduated high school, and never came back, and few single women move in to replace them. Lots of single guys move in, however. So overall you've got got stiff competition for a very poor selection of women. It's do
    • A lot of people make fun of Indiana but don't realize what a great place it is for tech companies. Especially Indianapolis and Bloomington. There are many many internet backbones that cross our paths and have access points in Indy and Chicago. Then it is also generally safe from earthquakes (unless you count New Madrid fault), tsunamis, hurricanes, and then the problems with bigger cities like terrorist attacks, etc. The cost of living is much lower here and you can use those savings to build up a more c
      • "Especially Indianapolis and Bloomington."

        Of course neither is a small town. Unless you consider 69k for Bloomington small....
        • Of they are not small towns by population. But they are two cultural centers of this region. Building them up is only going to help the areas around them, which are mainly small towns with a low population density. The midwest is mostly made up of small towns and rural areas with a few big cities in it. The east coast probably has a higher population density all over simply because it was developed before the advent of better transportation. The west coast tends to be mostly empty in between the huge c
  • Yes... and no (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:37PM (#14526925) Journal
    On the yes side: It is nice to have access to things that you wouldn't before the internet. You don't have to travel to a mall or specialty shop. This makes living in a less urban city not nearly the negative it used to be

    On the no side: The mom and pop shops have dried up, losing a lot of the local economy. Towns that cannot adapt die. Neighbors do not talk to neighbors as much (why go outside), and the "homeyness" goes away.

    Bottom line: Things change. For those who can adapt, it is a good thing. For those who cannot it is bad.
    • It is nice to have access to things that you wouldn't before the internet.

      Location doesn't really matter for a lot of professions any more -- software development being among them. I had a former boss who liked to talk about a particular project in which three people were in Europe, one in Asia, and two in North America.

      I hear a lot of griping about outsourcing, but not about the benefits granted by that same technology. You not longer have to live in Manhattan to get a high-paying job -- you can do that
    • Re:Yes... and no (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ClamIAm ( 926466 )
      The mom and pop shops have dried up, losing a lot of the local economy.

      It's important to note that the reason this has happened is because of stores like Wal-Mart. If you look at state statistics of the number of stores in related categories before and after "big box" stores move into the state, you can see pretty clear trends in this direction.

      It's also important to keep in mind that when this happens, the small towns lose a percentage of money that would have stayed in the community. This money inst

  • by Valacosa ( 863657 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:38PM (#14526931)
    Can technology ever solve social problems?

    And now, for no additional charge, I provide the answer!
  • Translation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The evil non-flying ( 947059 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:38PM (#14526932)
    Translation: we can drive down wages and increase management bonuses if we do this. This has nothing, I repeat NOTHING to do with saving small town America. CEOs don't give a rat's ass about small town America. What they do care about is increasing their profits, and if they can use our nostalgia for the past to get it, all the better.
    • Re:Translation (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @03:51PM (#14527651) Homepage Journal
      Well duh. All businesses want to increase profits. In fact, I greatly suspect you're not much different, and you even do stuff to try to increase your own salary. Shame on you!

      I would LOVE to live in a small town. I was born and raised in one, and I hate the big city life. I would gladly trade a third of my salary for the same job in a small town. No commute, no traffic, no crime, affordable homes, friendly people. Someone, please exploit me!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    We don't need to have people live everywhere. Not every small town should be looking for salvation. Maybe some places should close up and fade away. Typically these local salvation projects are built on eminent domain, sweetheart deals and the promise of an economic upturn that never materializes. If you are a one-company town, there are structural problems that won't be solved by your local government no matter how much you want to believe. We are not meant to have thriving towns everywhere.
  • Yeah but... (Score:2, Funny)

    by jcaldwel ( 935913 )
    Where are you going to find knowledgeable development/admin,etc staff in an Amish village somewhere?
    • Where are you going to find knowledgeable development/admin,etc staff in an Amish village somewhere?

      Well, I think the real problem with and Amish SysAdmin is that its pretty hard to admin a machine without buttons ...
    • Hire talent that is not stupid enough to not move from the horribly overpriced location they are at now. News flash for you... There are more talented people outside of california than ther are IN california. So hiring a knowledgeable development/admin person is pretty darn easy if rural Amish Village land.

      Making $50K in rural america = making $350K in the valley/California.

      No you can't do stupid crap like buying overpriced cars that have imported leather made from vergin cows that were pampered all their
      • Hire talent that is not stupid enough to not move from the horribly overpriced location they are at now.

        Well, there you are. You're suggesting that people move from the tech center to a small town. But what does this do to get the native bango player from Deliverance his MSCE?
  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) <> on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:42PM (#14526959) Homepage Journal
    All of these articles drive me crazy. I ran a business in "small town" America -- it was a retail store. I made sure my prices were just as competitive as Amazon or other dotcoms, and the local customers loved it to a point.

    Yet the small town was the reason I had to leave the business. They wanted more sales tax revenue (which made me less competitive than the dotcoms once you factored in almost 9% additional cost). They wanted to raise minimum wages, which made it impossible to stay competitive with the dotcoms. They wanted me to add a bathroom once I doubled my square footage (I was the most successful ma-and-pa retail store in that town's history). They wanted me to add an additional handicapped parking spot (which ended up occupying more than 22% of my total available parking spots even though I had never had one handicapped customer in 4 years of business -- we sold sporting equipment).

    In the end, I wouldn't surive even if a paperwork error forced us out of business anyway. The demands of small town USA made it so I couldn't be make it in small town USA.

    People move to small towns often to get away from the high overhead of living in the urban areas. Rural living can often mean rural salaries. Yet the rural communities that I ran 2 out of my 3 retail stores in were trying very hard not to be rural. Taxes went up (sales, property and residual regulatory user fees). Citizen services went WAY up (volunteer fire and ambulance squads because taxpayer funded unions).

    In the end, small town USA will destroy itself by pretending it can mimic the high debt, high tax world of the big city. The only thing they don't realize is that they will chase away the customers that drove to small town USA to save a buck or three. Who will pay for the "gentrification" changes then? Tech companies? Ha!
    • Don't blame the government for your failing retail model. The subset of goods you sell are hardly worth their own brick and mortar store unless you want to expand into apparrel and other high ticket items. Look at how Sportmart has changed. They have to deal with the same regulations and sales tax you had to.

      Not to mention you can never ever get away from taxes. Your advantage was that your buyers didnt have to pay shipping, so they pay sales tax instead. Hell, right now many e-retailers charge tax.

  • by M3rk1n_Muffl3y ( 833866 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:43PM (#14526976)
    Jeff is more wrong than he is right. Tech companies are going to spring up in areas where techies are, that means mostly (good) university towns. Also, if the startups do get lucky, I think the newly minted founders would rather live in a nice(?) area than some backwater where the only hangout is some spit-and-saw-dust joint.
  • by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:45PM (#14526989) Journal
    In high school I worked for a local ISP that became the states second-largest. They were, and are, very successful. They now offer wireless to most of the southeastern part of this state.

    Yes, this state is in the midwest. It is not impossible to be successful in a tech business in the midwest. There are a lot of success stories you don't hear about. One area that has a lot of potential and success stories is call centers. People from the midwest have a very neutral accent and make good people to talk to on the phone - and have a far lower cost of living than many other areas of the country (exclusing possibly the south - not a shot at the south, its where I'm living now).

  • by saskboy ( 600063 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:47PM (#14526997) Homepage Journal
    Technology can save old small town America, but it will be the technology of the past. Organic farming will play a large role, as will the re-opening of hospitals and schools in smaller centers so there are shorter distances for people to travel. The Internet will lend a hand of course, but improving communication and the need to go large distances for some school classes where there are good teachers for some subjects. It will also spread problem solving, for things like how to combat thistle without spraying. People will work in the fields, and live healthier lives with better locally grown food. The field work will give jobs to children looking to get into trouble if they can't find something interesting, and a way to make money to boot.

    If we want to keep what we had, we have to find new ways to bring about how we were doing it in the first place.
  • by Inoshiro ( 71693 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:48PM (#14527005) Homepage
    Did anyone read this link [] from the summary?

    The folks get to ride a bus for 3 hours each day to/from work. Their shift is really a 12-hour shift because of this, since they get it at 15:00 and get home around 03:00. The day shifters get 9.50$ US/Hour, and night people get 50 cents more (a whole 4$ more/day; 1,040$ more/year).

    Given 52 weeks with 5 business days, 8 hours/day, gives a salary of $19,760 before taxes for the day shifters. Is that above the US poverty line? In Saskatchewan (where most of basic healthcare is taken care of, and things like food are a bit cheaper), our poverty line is around $16,000/year. Any medical problem in the US is going to cost hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars -- I've seen what your drugs cost at the corner store. If you adjust it, I'd say they're probably pretty close to the poverty line.

    Adjusting the 8/hour wages for the true 12/hour day with commute, the poor folks are actually earning $6.34 an hour, which is a lot closer to minimum wage. You can argue that the time on the bus isn't lost to them, but I don't see them being able to pursue most hobbies, clean their houses, or be there for their children in that time.

    So, in fact, tech is not saving small town America. These folks are just as poor and not well off as any inner-city folks who have to bus for hours to work for almost nothing, while their children are home alone. They live in poverty, and they have no time to themselves for self development.
    • Most workers in unskilled (so to speak) labor get around that much. Infact they probably get paid more then inner city jobs. Most inner city jobs barely pay 6.50 per hour before taxes. Also i've lived in ny and even if you live outside of manhattan like in queens or something renting an apartment costs a huge deal more (2-3x more) then in rural areas.
    • You're from SK too? Two SK posts in a row on Slashdot, that can't happen to often.

      Anyway people should feel free to look to SK as an example of both what's right and wrong with technology in rural areas these days. We have decent highspeed Internet service in many small towns that wouldn't be a blip on the radar of some areas in the States, yet Sasktel makes it work somehow. But there are some communities like Bredenbury that are supposed to be getting Wireless service, but no one in the community can ac
    • What people don't get is that the jobs discussed here have almost nothing to do with tech . They're seasonal warehousing jobs, which by their very nature are going to be low-paying jobs. Whether it's an warehouse or a Walmart warehouse, it's the same thing.

      Is the fact that temporary, low-skill jobs don't pay very much supposed to be news?
    • Ok, lets add some more data to that.

      First there's the salary. Assuming that they'll never ever work overtime, they'll get 19,760 pre tax. That looks like they'll be paying 2586 in federal taxes if they're single. Less if they're married or have kids. Oklahoma state taxes take out an extra 6.65% (1142). So you're at 16,032. We'll bring it down to 15k for any other taxes that I've missed.

      Next, they don't need a car, they're bussed to their job. No car payments, no insurance, no paying for gas. Plus if they'r
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:48PM (#14527006) Homepage Journal
    'Small towns' dont need your 'saving'. Some of us like 'small town America'. We moved away from the city for a reason. you can keep it, and your concepts to yourself and leave us alone. We dont need the crime, filth, taxes, traffic jams, etc.

    Sure mod me down, but im not alone in my feelings.
    • by deanj ( 519759 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @02:17PM (#14527159)
      How is this flamebait? The guy's being honest, and everything he said is true.

      There's a big tendency in this country to suggest that anything that's not on the upper northeast of the country or on the left coast isn't worth living in.

      I'm not sure how people can say that. When I listen to those people talk, they complain about (1) Housing prices, (2) how bad the schools are, (3) how bad the traffic is, and (4) the crime. (Basically, in that order). Then they turn right around and say how they could never live in "fly-over country".

      But, you can get a damn big house for $200,000-$300,000 (like between 2000 and 3500 square feet), some great schools (if you pay attention to where you buy), traffic that actually moves at more than 20 miles per hour on the expressway, 4) lower crime rates.

      Granted, no everyone likes small town America. If you tried it for a number of years, or grew up here, you gave it a shot.

      But, if they don't want to live in a place they have no direct experience with, that's up to them.... however, ripping on a place when you have no experience with it... well, that makes you look foolish and very close-minded.
  • by edunbar93 ( 141167 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:52PM (#14527024)
    I think it was the Canadian government that did a study of the benefits of internet access to small towns.

    They basically found that it helps people find jobs in the cities faster, thus accelerating the exodus from the rural areas.

    So yeah, I guess it helps small towns - by reducing the unemployment rate and breaking the cycle of despair and addiction that plagues so many of the people that live there.
  • In order to evaluate the health of a local economy, we just need to count the amount of money flowing into the region, and the amount of money leaving the region. If net money is entering the area, the local economy will prosper, if net dollars are leaving, the economy will wither.

    For example, a manufacturing plant generally causes money to enter the area through wages to local employees, taxes, local services the factory utilizes, etc. A national chain retail store will cause money to flow out of the c

  • by Frumious Wombat ( 845680 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @01:54PM (#14527042)
    Not to rain on this particular parade, as I'd love to see certain areas I've lived in remain viable, but one of the issues for knowledge-economy is intellectual openness. How many small towns are going to put up with educated outsiders full of "Ideeers" coming in and changing things? If they have some experience (i.e. upstate NY, which used to have Kodak, Xerox, etc), then it's a return to a more profitable era, but for other regions, it's going to be "you dress funny, eat the wrong foods, don't worship our God often enough and we won't even get started on your foreign car". The school systems are also generally in need of upgrading to attract the type of workers that IT or other high-tech needs, and that starts even more conflicts. In modern societies with functioning educational systems, this idea might work. In many parts of the US, it's probably not worth the trouble.

    Look at places such as Binghamton/Owego NY (I'm sure you have your local equivalents); even with a moderate-sized public university present, approximately 3 hours from NYC and Philly, very reasonable property, and a skilled workforce downsized from IBM, you can't attract enough investment to do better than limp along here. No local tech business of any size has been started to replace what's been lost, and the local governments aren't willing to take any meaningful steps to either encourage entrepeneurs or relocation by established businesses. Extrapolate this experience to some former wheat depot in Kansas, and you begin to see the problem.

    I would put more money on relocation to the inner-city, gentrification, and reuse of brownfields than I would outsourcing to rural america. A cleaned-up Joiliette or Gary, IN, would be far more attractive than Snakenavel, KS.
    • How many small towns are going to put up with educated outsiders full of "Ideeers" coming in and changing things?

      Hopefully they'll ram a pitchfork through the city slicker who comes into town chock full of ignorant stereotypes.
    • by technoCon ( 18339 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @03:41PM (#14527604) Homepage Journal
      i suggest that you tread carefully around the stereotype of the backwoods hick bigot lest you play into the city-slicker know-it-all stereotype. you have every right to disagree with the faith and values of Snakeville, KS and/or Islamabad, Afghanistan. but you would be wise to offer them the benefit of some doubt.

      you can find competent knowledge workers among every race, creed, and sexual proclivity. i know some excellent software engineers who are "young earth creationists." their rational skills have been honed by virtue of defending their right to breath against eye-rolling Darwinists. in fact, out-groups are often the source of highly competent experts. it takes zero brainpower to roll the eyes and affirm conventional wisdom. and unless you're going to reengineer the Origin of the Species unconventional personal notions do not get in the way of the work.

      i hope the a post-geographic society of smart folks collaborating where each person's talents are exercized regardless of their personal context. i tend to agree with you about Joliette and/or Gary (Grand Rapids, MI is quite comfortable), but if one can't work with a team-member from Snakenavel (and i'm not suggesting you can't), i won't want him on my team.

      But we are talking past each other a little. I've focused on the local boy who chooses to telecommute from Hickville to the Big Apple, and you're talking about the city slicker who moves to Green Acres. If Snakeville, KS wants to prosper by attracting city slickers, then it had better make them comfy, otherwise they'll just up and move to Bugtussle. This dynamic could make for some interesting satellite communities...
      • except its not a post-geography world. Eventually it will become so, but it'll probably take the transformative power of the singularity to do so.

        Consider start ups. Where do they happen? Silicon valley, boston, maybe seattle. Why does a start up which needs to conserve cash, do so in some of the most expensive real estate markets in the world?! That is just insane, right? Don't underestimate the power of face-to-face communications, along with the power of being able to recruit and hire locally. No
      • and/or Islamabad, Afghanistan

        Dude, I get your point and all, but for future reference, Islamabad is in Pakistan and it is the capital of that country.
      • Actually, I come from one of those towns. I put up with years of "what are you going to do with all that education", "sitting in an office isn't real work", and "but that's UnGodly!" I've had people from my home church tell me that my major was thought up by "Pot Smoking Wierdos grasping at straws". I had friends who went to college but returned to the area, married locally, and became worried about the unchristian influences being beamed in from the big city.

        So, yes, I have some stereotypes about th
  • Can Tech Save Small Town America?

    The real question is, can we keep technology from ruining small towns... You can't save something with one of the problems.
  • Exhibit A = me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spunkemeyer ( 805072 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @02:01PM (#14527073)
    I just moved from Washington DC to a small riverfront town in Maryland to start my business. A large component of this decision -- aside from the reduction in stress -- was the ability to function on less money than I could in the city. A new business doesn't make a lot of money, but when your overhead is low you have more time to make it work for you. In the city, my overhead would have been too much. It's also cheaper to buy property in a small town than a city like DC.
  • While it seems good for business to cluster all its activity into one campus, the effect on the employee personal life is terrible. Spending three hours commuting for eight hours of work, for example. I personally don't believe an employee is most effective working alone from home, but working in smaller satelite offices is probably the right answer.
  • Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by AaronStJ ( 182845 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (JtSnoraA)> on Saturday January 21, 2006 @02:07PM (#14527102) Homepage
    I don't quite understand the editorialization on the summary. Theodp tries to make it sound like's hiring practices are bad for rural America. But his links don't support that. They talk about having to bus workers in from out of town (as far away as the next state) to work seasonally in the warehouses.

    But it's not like Amazon is turning down local workers in favor of out of town workers. According to one of the articles linked "more than 85 percent of the yearly labor needs are supplied by the local labor pool. Staff management works with local employment agencies, recruits at colleges and works with high schools to provide jobs for graduating seniors," and "we first start with the local labor pool, then broaden our search." Amazon is employing the locals and out of town people (which also help the locals by staying in hotels paid for by Amazon and patronizing locals businesses).

    Amazon has also set up education programs to help potential-workers complete their GED, and supported other local programs. " has partnered with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Team Taylor County and Kentucky Adult Education to form the Go, Earn, Do program, which helps people earn their GED." According to an Amazon spokesman, "we've hired several graduates of the program so far and as the program grows we hope to hire even more."

    So I really don't see Theodp's snarky objection to Amazon and Bezo's stand on how tech helps out rural areas. If anything, the articles he links actually support Bezos' claims.

    Bezos' remarks on Shawn Fanning are on the mark, too. Sure, Fanning was in a Boston dorm room when he wrote Napster, but it's not like he needed the massive infrastructure of a huge city to do it, just an Internet connection. As Bezos points out, "that's the kind of thing people can do anywhere. They can do it in Seattle, they can do it in North Dakota."

    So pretty much all of the editorializing in the summary is wrong, and doesn't seem to server any purpose other than to troll us. I guess I bit.

    (An off topic ad hominem: theodp@ ? On Slashdot? Puh-leaze. I see September still hasn't ended.)

    • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Troll)

      by TopShelf ( 92521 )
      You forget, this is /. - if the article talks about big-business, then editorializing has to focus on exploitation and deceit. They figure only 1% will actually follow the links anyway!
    • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

      Yeah, you mean how "the jobs Amazon's brought to rural areas don't exactly scream financial success."

      doesn't _exactly_ match up with the article: "Everybody is really happy with their business," he said. "It's a good economy booster."

      Beats the hell out of me...
  • by crmartin ( 98227 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @02:07PM (#14527104)
    Maybe it doesn't scream financial success to you, but the something like a call-center job is pretty good compared to a lot of small-town jobs.
  • The jobs cited in the article are temporary ones that occur due to the Christmas rush. Amazon's order volume more than quadruples over the holidays. It's just not practical to employ those people year round; furthermore, if every man, woman and child in that small town signed up at the FC, they still wouldn't have enough workers.

    A FC doesn't employ as many people as a traditional factory, I'll grant you that. But it's still a shot in the arm for many of the small towns in which they're located, and provides
  • ...finally, there's good news for the Silent Hill chamber of commerce.
  • From the article is seems to refer to online businesses. Yes, you can run an online company out of anywhere, but is it really cost effective if you sell physical items? Virtual items, no problem. Your only cost is bandwidth, which can be expensive in the boonies.

    For a company as big as Amazon, having distribution points around the country works great, much like Netflix. But if you are a small time company trying to get started, getting your goods to your location which is 500 miles from the closest airpor

  • If several companies relocate emploees to small rual towns, thee towns will grow, becoming the dreaded "medium size City" these cities have all the urban problems like crime, taxes, clogged roadways, condtant swelling expantion and so on with none or little of the good stuff in the big cities like the arts, recreation and nightlife, dining, shopping and society in general.
  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jjh37997 ( 456473 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @02:28PM (#14527213) Homepage
    Serious.... why would we want to save small town America? It's like asking if tech can save hunter and gatherers.... Small towns are a way of life that are dying out for a reason. What we should be doing is making the transition as painless as possible....
    • Because.. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bmajik ( 96670 )
      work ethic, intelligence, and problem solving ability are widely distributed across the planet. There is not a monopoly on these desirable traits in large cities.

      There are people who are good employees and add to the bottom line of the company they work for, that have no desire to live in a large city. Businesses will be successful when they most effectively compete for the employee talent they need.

      Also, I can see the monocultural effect* of large cities has already affected you. There are people that p
  • First, since the "do not call" list, outgoing call centers are a dying breed. And anyone who works in one now is working in a criminal enterprise.

    If someone calls your inbound call center, it's because your web site didn't work for them. As web sites get better (not "Web 2.0", but really good order tracking), there's less work for the call center. Of course, many call centers are already offshored. So that's a dead-end job.

  • I live in a small town in the Midwest. I was recently laid off by a small company that isn't doing well financially. I'm educated, I have 11 years of experience in the software industry, and I would come (comparatively) cheaply for someone with my experience. I haven't found a company yet that wants a telecommuter, even for short term contracts. Given that my former employer is basically the only local place that is suitable and I don't expect them to make it to the end of the year, I foresee a return to th
    • "software is teh ideal telecommuting job"

      What makes you think that? I don't want my developers working someplace where they don't have regular, daily contact with the end users of the software and other members of the development team. Outsourcing software development to Podunk, KS is just a stupid as outsourcing it to Bangalore, India.
      • Do you imagine that the Linux kernel, Apache, Firefox, etc. developers all live in the same city and work in the same office? If it's possible to develop successful open source software over the internet, why not commercial software? And as far as I'm aware, the only type of software where the developers have daily contact with the end users is in vertical market business applications. I was speaking of commercial software development, which is a completely different thing.

        The offshoring comparison is not v
  • Small towns would otherwise be a viable place to perform many tasks that are now outsourced to 3rd-world nations. Outsourcing has instead resulted in jobs that require a high-degree of human interaction, and this means big fat smelly crowded terrorism-prone cities. Offshore Outsourcing has screwed us.
  • If everybody is wired up, or has wireless access, many people benefit.

    Small towns are located in counties who are responsible for infrastructure over a wide area. The ability to have utility meters, and things like lift stations be monitored from afar. School busses, inspectors and police with laptops can report in. The combo of GPS and wireless is a boon to farmers.

    Wireless co-ops should be a big thing in rural areas.
  • I don't think it can (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xenocide2 ( 231786 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @03:28PM (#14527539) Homepage
    The problem here is that the technology "capable of saving small town America" is also available to everyone NOT in small town America as well. In fact, the same advantages that make large towns work better than small towns make the Internet work better for large towns than small towns. How many small towns have cheap and widely available broadband Internet access? Geography and demographics play an important role in availablity here. Sure, the cost of living and real estate may be cheaper, but the prices to bring high speed internet to Colby, Kansas might not be attractive. The theory is that even better technology can help fix this, but so far I haven't seen anything worthy of mention.

    Another problem is the attitudes frequently found in small town america. There are people who worry that success will drasticaly change the atmosphere, either through large jumps in population, building and the likes, or that prosperity itself will destroy the values and way of life they appreciate. There's even a few who worry that prosperity will bring an increase in taxes. You can see the influence taxes wield in small town america just by looking at the local school district budget. Expecting entrepeneurs to spring forth from this environment is silly. For most of the guys I know that come from small towns, they'd just as soon live in a large metropolitian area and make a million dollars a year than do the same in their hometown. And even if there was a couple entrepeneurs thinking of a product on the national level, there simply aren't enough local human resources compared with the suburbs a few hours drive away. Try finding a competent graphic designer for hire. Or webmaster. Better yet, try finding an unemployed network engineer that lives locally. And you'd really have troubles convincing a potential hire with a family of three to move.

    Napster was successful because he saw a common problem and came up with a fairly common solution. Napster didn't invent mp3 trading; he took the already prevailant method of ratio uploading and FTPs and mp3 search engines and combined them all, removing the designations between client and server. And he couldn't have done it without access to subsized internet from his University dorm room. Furthermore, all the guy did was invent a better way to steal things; there wasn't even a profit motive! Universities are the one place small america can look to for a pooling of young mobile talent; but Uni towns rarely resemble the small town america we know. Firstly, they're not exactly small. 30 thousand students alone means we're starting to break the definition, and doubly so once you figure in people in jobs serving those students etc. Manhattan, KS for example, has about 40 thousand people living in it. Sadly, the cost of living is almost the same as the suburbs of KC in Johnson County. If you've got an idea that needs a lot of part time people though, Manhattan's your place.
  • Who says small towns need to be saved..? Is financial success the only way to be saved..?
    • Re:Saving..? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HardCase ( 14757 )
      Well, look at this this way: if your small town's population is dwindling because there is no financial opportunity, at some point, the town will cease to exist. So, while financial success is not the only measure, it is certainly a foundation - if you can't make enough money to live where you want to live, then you move to a place where you can live.

      Technology put new life into the town where I live. To the west is a major computer manufacturer and to the west is one of the largest semiconductor companie
  • If we're saying that due to Malls and people leaving the area, there are small towns which are drying up, then technology firms who locate in these small towns can indeed keep people there, keep the economy booming. Especially if all you need is a good comms infrastructure and, in the case of shipping goods, an interstate nearby.

    But, a lot of the same enablers that could save small town America are enabling small town India to compete.
  • by Liam Slider ( 908600 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @05:19PM (#14528085)

    I live in a "rural area." There are lots of small towns around here, granted, they are a bit closer to the charming variety...they have shops and cafes and local flavor... I've been through "small towns" in other areas that are just...well...nothing but houses, a grain bin, and a church. Even when they are the same size! So I suppose it makes a difference what regional culture you are speaking of, as in some "small town" isn't exactly dead.

    Now, around here...lots of small towns, not much in the way of "city." But we do have lots of good connecting highways which we put to good use, towns are a short drive from each other, and each is different. Very few can be considered dying, maybe some could be considered "sleepy" but they at least tend to serve a purpose. The smallest towns providing additional places to live for people to work in somewhat larger towns (say, population 5000 or so) where the industry is. But yes, industry...lots of factories and shipping and processing and industrial repair...or maybe oil industry, or coal. Of course, the big transportation hubs tend to be bigger, 12,000-16,000 people or so. Jobs are plentiful, and the economy is doing pretty well. I can understand those regions where they have nothing that the economy might not be so hot...but it's jumping here. Oh and we've had tech for years, ISPs, small town computer stores/computer repair, cellphones, etc...none of it "saved/saving" the economy...just one more necessity. Heck, even farming is high tech these days, and they need internet as much as the rest of us. But it's just one more service that's out there.

    And so when we get some bozo who suggests that all of rural America is dying and that only tech jobs can save it. Don't be a little surprised if some of us aren't just a little bit insulted by him. Then again....those city slickers will believe anything. ;-)

  • I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in Amarillo, Texas. I was interested in computers. I wasn't the only one, but it was rare to find someone who had either equipment or interest. There were no businesses, universities, or anything where you could go to, say, connect to the internet. There were a handful of BBSes, and not much more.

    But when I made it to Austin for college, I found that the kids from Houston and Dallas who were also into Computer Science had already formed networks, knew about the internet, USENET, irc, the demoscene. They had access to the cutting edge, whereas I had access to mere leftovers. And the reason was because this kind of high-end knowledge happens where the technology centers are. Unless a small town is somehow already a tech center, with both academic and industrial support for it, there won't be the adults, which means there won't be the kids, to grow up in that enivornment.

    Small towns just don't have the right environment to develop a Shawn Fanning. That person is much more likely to ditch the small town and move on to a bigger town where his/her interest is likely to have peers.

    So no, tech will never save the small town. Not without cutting-edge high-tech industrial support in the form of both industry and academia, and the small towns that have that (e.g., Austin) have already benefitted from it.
  • This is rather old news. Over a decade ago, AOL outsourced their call centers to the lowest bidders, thus only having to pay near-minimum wage for the same thing a less rural area would require $10-12/hr.

    Columbia House has done this for over twenty years, setting up their operations in places like Terre Haute, IN simply because it had one of the lowest incomes per capita in the nation.

    I think it is more likely "Tech" will save small town India in this day and age.
  • by smchris ( 464899 ) on Saturday January 21, 2006 @07:36PM (#14528943)
    That should get North Dakotans interested in those funny TVs with the detached screen -- speaking as someone who went to public school in North Dakota.

    I just sense that this fascination people have in beaming product up from Little House on the Prairie is wrong in so many ways. And usually some urban guy's neo-hippie fantasy when he has never actually lived in a rural area.

    Aside from the precedent of business being concentrated in metropolitan areas for the sum total of recorded history:

    1. North Dakota isn't under snow from about mid-April to mid-October. Lots of luck recruiting if the idea is to bring labor in.

    2. Nearest Starbucks -- 50 miles. That'll go over well.

    3. What's your idea of "small town"? If it's much under 100,000 how will your salesforce feel about driving 50-100 miles through a blizzard to get on a national/international flight? Company near where I grew up felt they had to maintain a private airstrip, plane and pilot.

    4. Is this a serious plan to hire the locals? North Dakota has had education spending ranks in the high 40s for decades competing with the likes of Alabama and Mississippi for least spent per pupil. When the bonding bill comes up for the school's shiny new computer lab how do you think those farmers driving into town are going to vote?

    5. And can you honestly blame them that much? When you are talking about an area where the population density is that low there aren't enough taxpayers to build high-tech schools every 50 miles. Look it up in Wikipedia. You are talking about 183,000 square kilometers (360 miles by 210 miles) with the population of Baltimore City.

    6. Last time I was in North Dakota, my town hospital had become mostly a nursing home. So when you are offered that job, go back and tell the wife, "Honey, when you go into labor, we'll have to drive 70 miles to the hospital" and see how it plays. And how much sex you get nine months before blizzard season.

    7. The plasma TV is going to cost you. I doubt whether metropolitan people can imagine how many truly small towns don't even have a movie theater.

    8. Think you are getting the kids away from bad influences? Rural/urban -- where do you think meth is made? You better hope the kids like hunting, fishing and school sports. If they're like me and my group we mostly amused ourselves with petty vandalism and pranks, drinking and driving, determining the top end on dad's hemi, whether we could touch bumpers at 90 mph and, of course, sex. That sort of thing.


"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham