Is Your Future in IT a Job in the Boonies?

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But the lower salaries aren't necessarily matched by lower expenses. "As far as income versus expense goes, there doesn't seem to be a large difference between rural and metropolitan area expense," Jensen says. "In fact, in some areas like groceries [and] clothes, your actual expense increases in the rural areas," he says.

Research firm CEO Foote agrees that rural costs are not necessarily lower. He and his family moved three years ago from a suburban locale to a comparatively rural area in Florida. "My overall taxes here are much higher than back in Connecticut, which was a shock," he says. "I am forced to carry three separate insurance policies on my home, not the usual one homeowners policy. Local property taxes are more than double what they were in suburbia."

In addition, the move "meant a job change for my wife but no change in mine, and that has to be factored [in], since many families are two-income these days," Foote says.

Foote brings up another point regarding costs: "Relocation is a big problem right now for anybody who faces the difficulty of selling their existing home and moving to a new area in the current market. Many people are under water in their mortgages or will have much difficulty finding a buyer for their existing home. Even if they don't have that problem, they can't even get a mortgage if they find a new house in a rural area, which means they are now renting. This is no small matter in the current labor market."

How do people deal with having a lower salary and yet facing the same or, in some cases, higher costs, as well as these other economic challenges?

"You adjust accordingly to expenses versus income," Jensen says. For example, if he's buying clothes Jensen will drive an hour or so away to a larger town and shop at a store that carries lower-cost clothing. "You do pay more attention to upcoming sales and [use] coupons a lot more to reduce your grocery bill," Jensen says. "In the end, you make the necessary adjustments to offset the difference."

For some experienced IT workers, moving to a rural area and accepting a lower salary is easier because they've had a chance to accrue savings through investments or a receiving a pension.

"I have done alright for myself and have enough set aside to do OK in retirement," Michelz says. "Yet, I would re-emphasize that, at least in my case, it is the lifestyle and the opportunity that brought me here and will most likely keep me here."

Professional benefits of rural IT Despite the potential challenges, IT labor experts say rural outsourcing can open up new opportunities for people in IT, particularly those with limited or no experience, such as new graduates who are having a hard time getting their first job.

"The largest benefits for talent working with a rural outsourcing firm are the opportunities to experience broad technologies, industries, and business sectors that wouldn't otherwise be available locally," says Andy Speer, vice president of technology services at Technisource, an IT staffing firm.

For some, working at a rural outsourcing firm provides the chance to move into an IT career they hadn't even considered previously. For example, Alex Ross, a senior technologist with Onshore Technology Services, was working as a fry cook at a KFC restaurant before joining the outsourcing firm five years ago. Today Ross is responsible for developing coding standards and best practices, leading group training courses, developing pilot projects for new clients, and mentoring other technology employees.

"Onshore is the reason I was able to become an IT professional," Ross says. "Without this sort of opportunity I would not have even attempted it." Ross was already living in Macon before working for Onshore, so he didn't have to adjust his lifestyle.

Rural outsourcing is giving some older IT workers like Jensen and Michelz a chance to extend their careers. CrossUSA generally recruits older, experienced workers approaching retirement. The average age of IT employees at the firm is late 40s to early 50s.

Cooper says rural outsourcing opens up opportunities for older IT workers to move into new areas of technology. "We talk to quite a few mainframers who say they're looking to work with some of the newer technologies," she says. "For them money's not the most important thing; it's learning about new technology."

Rural outsourcing can also benefit IT professionals at the other end of the age spectrum. Rural Sourcing, a Jonesboro, Ark., service provider, hires mostly recent college graduates.

One Rural Sourcing employee, Granville Raper, who joined the firm in July as a senior programmer/analyst, says working for the outsourcing company has allowed him to venture into something new that he didn't see coming his way for some time.

"I feel very lucky that new hiring opportunities have started to become available despite where the economy is going," Raper says. "I see a lot of opportunities that I can go after since I'm now part of a bigger company that also works with larger companies."

Another Rural Sourcing employee, Ben Tracy, joined the company after graduating from Arkansas Statue University and working a few entry-level programming jobs. Tracy, who works as a senior programmer/analyst, says IT opportunities in the area are slim, so the job at Rural Sourcing allowed him to launch an IT career while staying close to home. "My family would have moved years ago if [Rural Sourcing] had not been successful," he says.

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