High-Speed Internet Creates Career Possibilities in Rural America

Thanks to technology, it’s more possible to live where you love

About 60 million Americans live in rural areas, but small towns have challenges in attracting young professionals to settle there. Jobs often pay less in rural areas, and for recent college grads carrying hefty student loan debt, that does not seem practical. But for those who can’t fathom living out their days in commuter traffic and crowded cities, there are ways to reap the benefits of rural life and still make a decent living.

Opportunity
Many small towns have a need for professionals, but can’t attract them. According to the New York Times, only 2 percent of qualified attorneys choose to practice in rural areas, widening the service gap as more attorneys near retirement age. Small-town hospitals and medical practices have the same issue, struggling to attract doctors and other medical personnel.

Without these professionals nearby, rural residents may have to drive 100 miles or more for appointments, requiring the expense of gas, time away from work and overnight accommodations added to their bill. This creates hardship for communities that have far less per capita income than their urban counterparts, as shown by census information.

As a result, many states have initiatives to meet the needs of country folk. South Dakota initiated a successful program in 2013 to pay young lawyers to relocate permanently to rural areas, modeled on a similar program for medical professionals.

Students nearing college graduation may want to investigate what incentives states or rural development organizations offer to locate their practice in a country town. Candidates might face less competition for jobs, and find a faster path to the top of their career.

Think inside the box
Your computer and a high-speed Internet connection may be all that is needed to build a great career in rural America via telecommuting.

For example, various roles in computer engineering can be done remotely, including developing, testing and evaluating software. There is also development of business apps and computer games. Teamwork can be accomplished by video conference and participating in online project management goal setting.

Working outside the confines of going to an office takes discipline. Taking some college courses online is a good indicator to see if you might be a successful telecommuter.

It may be harder to source telecommuting opportunities by traditional job search methods. One site, www.flexjobs.com, has prescreened job opportunities covering a variety of industries. A nominal monthly fee allows you to create multiple profiles and have custom job results delivered to your inbox.

A natural fit
Agriculture is one of the best fields for new college graduates, and where better to explore opportunities than in America’s rural heartland.

As the world grapples with how to feed 9 billion people by 2050, jobs are blooming in agriculture. It’s estimated that there will be 60,000 high-skilled agriculture job openings into 2020, and only 35,000 graduates available to fill them, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in cooperation with Purdue University.

The report projects STEM job opportunities to grow, including plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources scientists and engineers, precision agriculture specialists, and veterinarians. Also expected is growth in business-oriented agricultural roles such as e-commerce managers and marketing agents, ecosystem managers, agricultural science and business educators, crop advisors, and pest control specialists.

Wide open spaces
Industries such as manufacturing often establish operations in rural areas outside of cities or in small towns because land and other operating costs are cheaper. For example, Alexandria, in West Central Minnesota, is home to five significant manufacturing operations, including 3M, making a variety of industrial abrasive products, and Douglas Machine, creating packaging machines. Both companies have global sales and use advanced technology, including robotics. Post-college job opportunities include Industrial Engineers and Supply Chain Managers.

Try a Google Map search for key words such as “manufacturing” in the area you are interested in to see what opportunities exist.

Jobs for any location
There are many industries that have opportunities throughout the country in towns large and small. Here are two examples in industries with good pay and growth.

Environmental Engineer
Global warming is considered a world crisis that is rapidly coming to the forefront of people’s attention, and is seeing massive government spending. Because of this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts 31 percent employment growth for environmental engineers—people who design systems and solutions related to protecting the environment, devising methods to improve water, air and land resources. This represents more demand than any other job field.

Accountant/Auditor
It would be rare to find a business that doesn’t require help preparing financial statements and tax returns, or managing books and records. Accounting shows promise in both public and private sectors, with 16 percent job growth. According to the BLS, “an increase in the number of businesses, changing financial laws and corporate governance regulations, and increased accountability for protecting an organization’s stakeholders will drive job growth” in this field.

Consider consulting
Information Technology is one industry where it is pretty easy to establish yourself as a consultant working on an independent contracting basis. It does require making connections with business people to gain clients in the region you chose, to advise them how to use information technology to meet their business objectives or overcome problems. IT professionals can also set up systems and provide training, creating lasting clients by offering support services.

Minimal tools are required, and business can be conducted from a home office. But, like telecommuting, it requires discipline to run your own operation, and you should be prepared to handle tasks such as creating contracts, billing and paying taxes.

Rural life
While statistically it is a fact that pay scales can be less for the same job in a city, there are financial benefits to living in the country. Housing costs are less expensive, with larger lots, where you can keep company with animals or grow a garden. There is an opportunity to fish or hunt food or have more access to fresh, affordable produce and meat.

You might still have to commute from a county home into a town, but it’s a lot more pleasant than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. There tends to be a strong sense of community and helpfulness in the countryside among neighbors, and overall lower crime. If you value serenity, cleaner air and a little elbow room, establishing a career in a rural area may be for you.

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