Forget India; outsource jobs to Arkansas
One woman believes that companies can send jobs to rural areas and save just as much as they could sending them to places like India.
By Scott Cohn
4:26 PM EST December 16, 2004
Kathy Brittain White is on a mission.
White's goal is to find high-tech talent in the heartland. "I think of this as an integration of all that I am," she says.
Why outsource to India, she's decided, when you can outsource to Arkansas?
"I've always tried to look for solutions to difficult problems," White says. "So when all you see is we're losing jobs and there's no ready answer, I thought this was a great one."
She was chief information officer for Cardinal Health (CAH, news, msgs), the big drug distributor, and under pressure to send computer work overseas. But recalling her roots in rural Arkansas, she knew there was a better way.
"I guess I've always been an advocate for folks that maybe are underestimated," she says.
So she left her job, trading the corporate jet for a rental car. With $2 million of her money, she created Rural Sourcing, an information technology contracting company that she claims can do the same work companies are sending overseas, for virtually the same price.
"It really does come very close," she says.
One reason is because the cost of living in Arkansas is as little as half that in the big cities. Her first Rural Sourcing center, with 15 employees, is on the campus of her alma mater, Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. She'll open two more next year, one in New Mexico and one in North Carolina.
Outsourcing has been a particular problem in rural areas, where officials were looking to high tech jobs to make up for job losses on the farm. So people got the training, only to find the new jobs had gone overseas.
Molly Marshall graduated near the top of her class at Arkansas State this year and wound up waiting tables -- for $2.40 an hour plus tips.
"It was just a tiring experience, having to go there and not doing what I really wanted to be doing," Marshall says.
Now, her starting pay at Rural Sourcing is $20,000 a year, which is good money in Jonesboro.
White says this isn't a charity project. She already has five companies signed up, including her old employer, Cardinal Health, and another 50 in the pipeline.
Her efforts won't mean the end of so-called off-shoring of jobs by any means. But attorney Robert Zahler, who advises companies on outsourcing, says this will be an alternative for some clients.
"Someone like Rural Sourcing should be able to save them somewhere between 30% or 50%, depending on what geographic market they're already in," Zahler says.
White has big plans -- 50 Rural Sourcing offices in five years, making her company a business with a cause that just might change the rural economic landscape.