"America is my country, but Paris is my hometown," noted Gertrude Stein nearly a century ago.
While geographically perplexing, Ms. Stein's words prove increasingly prophetic now as record numbers of people look beyond their physical "hometown" (or even country) to find jobs or workers. Simply put, today you're no longer bound by the local economy outside your front door. In fact with the world's dramatic rise in online work opportunities, it's now possible to thrive wherever you live, whatever your skill or job requirement.
For historical context, let's step back a bit. Traditionally you lived or died by the local economy. If you grew up in a geographical area that was economically depressed -- or had a small population -- landing a job was next to impossible. An example would be Michigan in the 1980s as the automobile industry went through major transformations. For those seeking employment in Detroit during this period job opportunities were slim-and-none for all -- from factory workers to automotive engineers and ad agency copywriters. To find work you more than likely had to pack up the house and move, waving a tearful goodbye to friends and family. A related scenario would be someone living in rural America, such as Winterset, Iowa. It would conventionally have been difficult for a budding graphic artist to earn a decent paycheck while living in Central Iowa. To do so would probably require long and frequent car trips to Des Moines, Kansas City, Chicago and beyond -- defeating the purpose of living the rural lifestyle in the first place.
However, local economic constraints have not been limited to the workforce alone. Businesses too have traditionally been smothered by their surrounding economy. Even a strong local economy can prove problematic, particularly for small business. You only have to look at the Silicon Valley a few years back to see the conundrum. Yes your social media startup is growing like gang-busters, but how do you find programmers to crank out code? While hundreds of tech wizards are rolling into the area weekly, most are taking positions at Facebook, Google, Apple and other media darlings who offer huge salaries and a Vegas-like jackpot of stock options. Few will give your startup a second look, and your dream dies on the vine.
Enter the age of online work.
Now fast-forward to present day. Thanks to on-going Internet advances, new collaboration tools and the changing behavior of workers and businesses, the opportunity to work online is exploding.
With just a few keystrokes you can create an online profile and apply for freelance work across the country or across the Atlantic. If you love Winterset, Iowa and all small town U.S.A. has to offer, stay put. You can have your cake and eat it too by creating logos for design shops in Manhattan and surf shops in Malibu -- while avoiding the hustle and bustle of the big city. There is also a huge upside for those living in large cities, yet in economies that don't have high demand for your job skills. Maybe you live in Miami Beach but love designing ski jackets? It's entirely possible to use the web to find contract work where the snow is falling and companies are hiring.
On the flip side, online job growth also brings tremendous opportunities for small business. Even though high-profile companies like Facebook are scooping up most of the available programming talent within 500 miles, you're never shut out from talented workers. Simply post your jobs online to start finding skilled workers that day. The contractors responding to your offers are located around the country and around the globe, giving you the skills needed to take your startup to the next level. And conversely, if your company happens to be in a smaller city, given today's boom in online workers you'll have no trouble attracting top talent from major metropolitan areas or wherever they choose to live. An example might be a company in Fargo needing a deep, rich voice to bring an online video to life. Just post the job online to attract seasoned voice-over pros from Los Angeles and New York, where many of the top voice talent lives and works.
Quality jobs, meet quality of life.
Equally important to getting the job done, the emergence of online work is transforming how people live. If you love rock climbing, now you can make your home near Wyoming's Grand Teton without sacrificing your career. Whether you're a web developer, Spanish translator or marketing program manager, the jobs will be waiting when you climb down from the ledge. And if you're a single parent wanting the freedom to come and go as you please for soccer practices and school plays, now there's freedom to forgo the 9 to 5 for contract work. Suddenly, work works on your time schedule.
The same can be said for the quality of life (and quality control) of business owners. Now succeeding doesn't require you to take office space in Soho or College Park. Let your business grow naturally and organically from wherever you find the best culture fit. Wherever you lay down your hat, you'll always find plenty of talented people online to design your website, create your widget or whatever project needs to get done.
Statistics on the changing job market.
To put the rise of online jobs in perspective, consider these figures from Elance. In Q2 of 2012 the number of businesses hiring online workers jumped 35 percent from the previous year. During this time period many small towns in America saw triple-digit growth in the hiring of Elance contractors. Examples include a 316 percent growth in Southfield, Michigan (a state with 8.5 percent unemployment) and 228 percent growth in Littleton, Colorado (a state with 8.1 percent unemployment).
Also of note is that while technology fields remains the top demanded category for Elance talent, the largest bump in growth percentage-wise comes from the creative category. Proving that businesses are looking for fresh talent to promote their products and services, projects for writers and designers jumped over 60 percent in Q2.
Say hello to a new generation of workers.
Now is the time to embrace our quickly-evolving marketplace. Whether you're a professional or a small business looking for workers, rest assured that you're now free to grow personally and professionally regardless of your local economy. Embrace and enjoy the new-found freedom that hasn't been experienced since Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation roamed the streets of Paris. Just think how much they would have accomplished today with the proliferation of online work.