The development of instantaneous, rapid and reliable communications systems is transforming the rural areas of North America. The exponential expansion of the necessary infrastructure to the most remote regions, often expressed as the “death of distance,” implies a revolutionary change in social and economic behaviour. For the first time in human history, rural regions have as much information as cities. Consequently, at least in the service sector, rural regions can compete with urban centres.
The environmental quality of exurban life has always exceeded the norm in cities, and evidence suggests that this gap is widening. Many in the demographic group broadly defined as “information professionals” are reaching that stage in their lives where this consideration has become an important priority. For a certain percentage of them, country living is the preferred option. Twenty years ago, no means existed for them to work outside cities, to manage, store, analyze or transmit information efficiently. Now that ability has arrived.
The Denver-based Centre for the New West used the term “Lone Eagle” to describe self-employed information professionals who live in rural areas. In many developed countries, the trend represents a quiet migration towards country living. In the United States, for example, many rural areas are gaining population.
These information professionals are well placed to take advantage of the strategies of outsourcing and contracting out now commonly engaged by many corporations. Modern enterprises must be nimble, flexible and quick, and they expect the same qualities from suppliers. Highly skilled, entrepreneurial and motivated Lone Eagles are ideally placed to take advantage of this demand. They can fulfill their strong desire to live a high quality rural life without any loss in productivity.
This trend to rural living will only accelerate, as more people forsake cities for a higher quality of life in rural areas. Modern threats like epidemics of the SARS type, terrorism and crime are widely perceived as reducing the quality of life in our biggest cities. Even more city dwellers are consequently opting for country life.
Instead of “chasing smokestacks,” rural communities should take advantage of the environmental and social amenities they have to offer. The priority for enhancing their economies must shift from the pursuit of urban-style industrial expansion to an emphasis on communications infrastructure and environmental quality. Making sure that these fundamentals are in place represents a major shift in policies for rural development. Their full exploitation will make these regions ideally suited for the new country pioneers.