Bringing Business Back to Rural Towns

January 24, 2014

Over the past few decades farming towns across America have seen populations drop as more young people leave their rural homes behind in favor of big cities. However, urban living today doesn’t present as many opportunities as in the past. Not only do cities demand a higher cost of living, but also chances for career advancement can diminish given the large talent pool.

That’s the situation systems manager Wallace Harwood encountered at his job with an energy company in Lexington, Nebraska. Five years had gone by without a promotion, and the grueling 90-mile commute between Lexington and his hometown of Kearney was beginning to take its toll. But just as Harwood was ready to leave Nebraska for greener pastures, an Atlanta-based software company set up three locations across the state, including one in Kearney. He landed a job with the firm and instantly changed his life for the better. “I’m bringing in a good salary without the two-hour commute and with all of the benefits that you get from rural Nebraska,” said Harwood.

After enduring sustained brain drains for many years, small rural communities like Kearney are enticing more businesses to relocate within their borders. Many companies are all too happy to oblige given the generous tax breaks and low operating costs offered by most small towns. And with more jobs come more young people, who are also drawn by the low cost of living as well as other perks. For instance, the Rural Sourcing Project in Kearney offers everything from student loan repayments to tax deductions for people who accept jobs in the town. In Kansas a similar program waives out-of-towners’ state income taxes for five years if they move to one of the state’s designated “rural opportunity zones.” So as cities become more expensive and jobs stay scarce, expect rural sourcing in America’s corn country to continue growing.



  1. Why are companies such as software firms able to locate in rural communities?
  1. What do companies in rural areas have to do to keep employees long-term?


Source: Jeanna Smialek, “Home Is Where the Jobs Are,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, January 3, 2014. Photo courtesy of Kiril Strax.