Chapter 12 – Making a Living

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance,
were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.
Ogden Nash 

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living;
the world owes you nothing; it was here first.
Mark Twain 

We proud Americans, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, descendants of men and women who paid for our freedom with their lives, lemminglike allow our employers to dictate where we will live. The modern American, designating money as the overriding consideration, willingly uproots children from school and family from community to go where the company dictates that one must go to do its work. Until the layoff. The good of the company becomes the downfall of the family and the community. Social scientists now believe that the high incidence of mental illness in the U.S. is tied to the loss of that sense of belonging to a community that results from following jobs.Money often costs too much.
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

A most fulfilling life comes with living and working in one’s ideal place. A vocation is sane and fulfilling if it is performed in one’s community, is useful to the community, uses local resources at a level that can be sustained without hurting ecosystem or people. As with most human activities, if it is good for the community it is good for the nation and ultimately good for the world.

Wendell Berry has considered the ramifications of how and where modern Americans work. In The Unsettling of America he exhorts: “What is new is the guise of the evil: a limitless technology, dependent upon a limitless morality, which is to say upon no morality at all. How did such a possibility become thinkable? It seems to me that it is implicit in the modern separation of life and work. It is implicit in the assumption that we can live entirely apart from our way of making a living. . . . If human values are removed from production, how can they be preserved in consumption? How can we value our lives if we devalue them in making a living? If we do not live where we work, and when we work, we are wasting our lives, and our work too.&rdquo

Your ideal country home place may not immediately seem to allow an opportunity for you to make a living. Best-priced property is often located in economically depressed areas where jobs are few, wages are low, prices paid for locally-produced products are modest. Intentionally reducing one’s level of consumption may be an unnerving process, especially for those who have always lived in cities and have no memory of the quality of a simpler life, but a reduction of expenditures can be a great contribution to personal growth by allowing greater latitude in one’s vocation.

Talking to a variety of people living in an area may reveal work or business opportunities not readily apparent. If you have several skills or are adaptable, talk to people who would like to do business with you if you settle there. Bankers, insurance people, shopkeepers and chambers of commerce personnel often know of possibilities. Living the ideal life includes working at something you enjoy. Use this time to consider and find your ideal work.

If finding immediate employment is a criterion, your ideal place may be near a known job market. If your skill is vital, like nursing or automotive repair, you should have little trouble finding work almost anywhere. If your skill is in reasonable demand you may wish to concentrate your search in rural areas outside edge cities, where employment opportunities and wages are better than in the country.

Rural work options today are truly unlimited. Indeed, only ten percent of the U.S. rural work force is in farming or mining. Now may be the time to teach yourself a new business or a new skill. Learn or expand computer skills—computers operate just as well in a log cabin as in a skyscraper. Being highly computer proficient is arguably today’s greatest job security. IBM has cut 180,000 workers since 1987 but had trouble finding the 10,000 people it needed to hire to run its computer services department.

American Demographics, March 1996, reported: “Many of the fastest-growing occupations are small and specialized, while the greatest numbers of jobs will be added in lower-level occupations. But there are 8 that are on both top 30 lists for fastest- and greatest-growing: personal and home care aides, home health aides, systems analysts, computer engineers, special education teachers, correction officers, guards, and teacher aides. If you’re looking for a new career, these are the safest bets.&rdquo

Take an existing business to the country, or buy one once you get there. Again, this is a good time to consider what gives you the most satisfaction and to possibly make a major career improvement. That said, we will devote most of this chapter to identifying existing work opportunities.

Where are the jobs?He worked like hell in the country
so he could live in the city,
where he worked like hell
so he could live in the country.
Don Marquis 

Most employment opportunities have previously been in metropolitan areas. Modern industry follows tax incentives, local inducements, low land costs, low wages, minimal regulations. There has been a substantial shift of manufacturing to rural and small-town areas. About 700 of our 2,304 nonmetropolitan counties now power their economies with manufacturing. Company headquarters and production facilities have also moved beyond the suburbs, into real country or within easy commuting distance to country. And commuting to a town or small city is quite different than commuting to New York or Los Angeles.

In Rural and Small Town America, Fuguitt, Brown, and Beale relate population movement to jobs: “Much of the recent transition in rural and nonmetropolitan America is intertwined with changes in industry.&rdquo The trend of big business to move to rural areas is well-established and shows no sign of reversing. All this is good news for the would-be country dweller.

Industry chases low wages predominantly, but other factors weigh in. States with right-to-work laws are pulling jobs from unionized areas because of union manning requirements, job classifications, advancement procedures and task definitions. And there appears to be a backlash by professionals against steel, concrete and glass surrounded by blaring traffic. Many high-tech firms are moving to rural areas because of the preference by managers and engineers and their spouses for attractive living areas. CEOs and board chairmen have decided to take their businesses where people want to live—and where they and their families want to live. The result of all this is that, “since 1988, job growth in nonmetropolitan areas has outpaced that in metro areas&rdquo (“The Boonies Are Booming,&rdquo Business Week, 10-9-95).

Government tabulations as early as the late 1960s showed that manufacturing employment was growing more rapidly in the countryside than in metropolitan areas. City bureaucrats noticed also, took action to recapture those new tax bases and petitioned the government to allow them to expand their areas. This is one reason why today’s so-called metropolitan areas include large areas not even remotely metropolitan in nature. As examples, Kansas City and St. Louis metropolitan areas include ten and eleven counties respectively, many of which are decidedly rural. G. Scott Thomas (see Sources at the end of this chapter) points out that the metropolitan designation has been given by the federal government to such places as Grand Forks, North Dakota, Casper, Wyoming, and Enid, Oklahoma.

In The New Corporate Frontier: The Big Move to Small Town, USA, CEO/author David A. Heenan says: “What we are seeing unfold is the selective preference for penturbia, particularly for those medium- and small-sized communities capable of providing the career opportunities and social amenities normally associated with big cities and suburbs. The most favored frontier towns are often linked to a major university, a state capital, a research park, or a similar institution that tends to provide the diversity and cultural spark sought by young professionals.&rdquo

The primary place of American jobs has become edge cities, those places defined by Joel Garreau as out by the suburbs, where developers have created shopping malls and office parks. Garreau says there are more than 200 new edge cities, already holding two-thirds of all American office facilities. Eighty percent of these new centers have emerged in the last twenty years. One of Garreau’s qualifying criteria for edge cities is that they have more jobs than bedrooms. The expected pattern was for city dwellers to commute out to the jobs. Instead, city slickers have become clod kickers and commute in to the jobs from country homes.

In years past, corporations left the towns where they started and moved to big cities. After World War II, they started moving to the cleaner air, lower costs and golf courses of the suburbs. These days, states Heenan, they’re headed back to the hinterland. He feels that the U.S. could emerge as “the first postindustrial country without important cities.&rdquo He feels that the perceived need for a big city environment was always exaggerated anyway.

New York City, often referred to as the barometer of the nation, exemplifies the move outward. In 1960, 27 percent of the Fortune 500 industrial companies lived there; in 1970, 23 percent; in 1980, 16 percent; and in 1990, only 9 percent. Other large U.S. cities reflect a similar trend. Almost half of the Chicago area’s 44 Fortune 500 companies are outside of the city.

Big business advisor Peter Drucker predicts that the city of the future will be occupied by headquarters of major companies with much of the clerical, accounting and administration staff located in the suburbs or even thousands of miles away from major urban centers.

Examples of companies located in or near rural areas

The following examples of companies in low-population-density areas are presented here to give you specific places where jobs may be available. If one of these towns is in your area of interest you may wish to write the company human resources department to determine employment potential.

L.L. Bean, the $600 million mail-order empire, is run from Freeport, Maine, population 7,000. Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas (11,257). With a name like Smuckers, you might know that the jam and jelly king is in the country—Orrville, Ohio, where 7,700 people think the name is beautiful. Corning, New York (12,000) is home to Corning Glass Works. Silk-screening is the business of Bacova Guild, Ltd., located in Bacova, Virginia. It does almost $17 million a year in this town of—50! Gerber Products is in Fremont, Michigan (3,875). Ben & Jerry’s dandy dessert is swirled in Waterbury, Vermont (1,702).

Maytag, the $3 billion appliance maker, is headquartered in Newton, Iowa (14,800). The fastest growing supermarket in the country is Food Lion, based in Salisbury, North Carolina (25,000). Springdale, Arkansas (29,945) is home to Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken processor. The Andersen Window Company people call Bayport, Minnesota, home (3,205). Weaver Popcorn Company ($70-plus million sales) is in Van Buren, Indiana (935).

Johns-Manville located its international headquarters twenty miles outside of Denver; Kodak and IBM built new plants ten miles farther out. Dow Chemical’s headquarters are in Midland, Michigan (38,053). Phillips Petroleum is in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (34,256). Toolmaker Adamus Carbide Corporation left its Kenilworth, New Jersey, home for the open space, reasonable wages, and hardworking people of Oak Ridge, Tennessee (27,310). Motorola put its new computer chip plant in Harvard, Illinois (5,975).

The big automotive story of 1985 was GM’s announcement that it would build its $3 billion Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee (1,275). Disappointing locals, GM imported most of the workers, but the payroll created an array of new jobs in the community.

In “California in the Rearview Mirror,&rdquo Newsweek (7-19-93) reported that in five years Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and surrounding Kootenai County have nabbed 2,000 California jobs in fields as diverse as swimwear and computer software.

In 1995, Home Depot opened in Columbia, Missouri, and Waterloo, Iowa, a new type of store called Crossroads, featuring tools and materials for ruralites. Sears, Roebuck & Company, which in 1993 closed its catalog operations, plans to have 800 new rural stores open by 1999.

Not only American companies create jobs outside of cities. History professor Jon C. Teaford, in Cities of The Heartland, reports that Japanese automakers invested in America’s heartland during the 1980s, but they studiously avoided locating their facilities in major urban areas. Instead, they chose to build their factories in corn fields outside of Marysville, Ohio, Lafayette, Indiana, and Bloomington, Illinois. The Japanese clearly preferred areas where labor unions were weak, where the population was rock-rib Republican, and where the workers would be overwhelmingly white. This they found in the rural Midwest.

States bidding for payrolls—smokestack chasingIndustrial plants and other nonfarm businesses do not bring
utopia to the countryside any more than they have to the cities.
If they lack competition for labor force,
they may be exploitative—offering low wages and benefits.

Calvin Beale 

Payrolls have become auction items for states wooing big companies to their non-urban areas. In 1991, Toyota decided to build an assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky—after the state had contributed $300 million. In 1992, South Carolina tossed out $130 million to snare a BMW plant.

Intel, the computer chip giant, announced in April 1993 that it was building a $1 billion, 1,000-employee plant in New Mexico, despite an ardent courtship by California. Rio Rancho used a $114 million tax-incentive package to get the deal. The Albuquerque suburb is a classic example of the new edge cities—in 1970 Rio Rancho’s population was 2,000; by 1992 it was 38,000.

The Wall Street Journal (11-24-93) reported that Alabama promised over $300 million in various incentives to outbid North Carolina and become the site of the first U.S. Mercedes-Benz car plant. Somehow I doubt that M-B will follow Henry Ford’s philosophy and pay employees enough to purchase the product they make. Besides the state package, I’m betting they moved there primarily for low wages.

Beware of boom towns

In Places Rated Almanac, Richard Boyer and David Savageau point out that in a boom town there are “rising personal incomes, which ensure real estate appreciation; expanding personal employment opportunities; improved infrastructures; somewhat lower violent crime; increasing amenities; and high-quality health care and education. On the other hand, the disadvantages of living in a boom town include rising costs of living; increased property crime rates; environmental pollution; and, maybe worst of all, noticeable loss of personal discretionary time.&rdquo

By the way, Places Rated Almanac provides an excellent example of the peril of making and depending on economic predictions. The book, published in 1987, predicted that the Los Angeles-Long Beach area would create the greatest number of new jobs in the country, 407,770. Then the Cold War ended, defense cutbacks were announced, and southern California entered its most difficult economic time in memory. In November 1993, southern California’ s 9.5 percent unemployment rate was the nation’s worst.

Boom towns can even more quickly become bust towns, especially if most jobs are dependent on one or two commodities or companies. Wyoming’s oil and coal industries yo-yo the state economy. The West Virginia coal area boomed during the 1974 oil shortage and headed back down as soon as it ended. Oil-influenced Texas has more empty bank-owned houses than any other state.

Any area that is dependent upon infinite supplies of a finite material is on thin economic ice. The mining and logging towns of the West are almost a cliché in this regard. The states in the Rockies notably have boomed from mining operations, and busted when the ore ran out. Jim Robbins notes, in Last Refuge: “If a town loses a sawmill or mine with one hundred workers, and it is the largest employer, the shutdown can be devastating. On the other hand, if there are ten small businesses, each with ten employees, the economy is more resilient and the power of any one company is reduced.&rdquo

Our world is changing quickly. Don’t trust your economic future to one company. The shoe factory or television assembly plant that you depend on for wages to buy groceries may move to Mexico or Bangladesh. Already, much shoe and clothing production has moved to Asia.

One-horse towns are fine (and superior to no-horse towns), but be skeptical of one-industry towns. The ideal home is in an area with a diversified economy.

Home workers and home businessesLinked by telephones, fax machines,Federal Express, and computers,
a new breed of information worker is reorganizing the landscape of America.
Free to live almost anywhere, more and more individuals are deciding
to live in small cities and towns and rural areas.
John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene
Megatrends 2000 

Citing savings on office costs and increased efficiency, many companies are embracing the concept of workers working at home. In mid-1991, John Niles, president of Global Telematics, said that 5.5 million people telecommuted and the number would double by 1995. American Demographics (8-93) reported Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that 20 million people worked at home full- or part-time in 1991. The Bureau does not count telecommuters. LINK Resources, a New York City-based research and consulting firm, reported that more than 39 million were working at home full- or part-time in 1993, including about 8 million telecommuters. By 1995, LINK reported, the number of telecommuters rose to 11 million. John Niles’s prediction was right on.

With computers, faxmodems and overnight mail delivery, many workers can now operate from their homes almost anywhere. Visionaries see fiber-optics connecting head offices and home offices. Virtual workplace already exists—VeriFone, the company that makes those little terminals that merchants use to verify credit card purchases, is based in Redwood City, California. All 1,500 workers have personal computers hooked up to the Internet. Not only do the staff members perform their duties at home, the chief information officer works from his home in New Mexico. E-mail communication is nearly instantaneous and work documents can be sent via faxmodem in less than a minute.

Technotribalism is a word coined by Gerald Celente in Trends 2000 to describe near-future rural communities centered around computer technology. Celente predicts that tele-videophony will sweep the nation and largely replace the need for personal business meetings.

Lynie Arden writes in The Work-at-Home Sourcebook that as many as 500 large corporations offer some kind of work-at-home option to employees. She includes in her book over 1,000 smaller companies which have work-at-home arrangements available. Corporations cite an average 20 percent increase in productivity by home workers. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina reported productivity gains of 50 percent. Other advantages for companies include very low turnover and near-zero absenteeism. Companies typically have savings in rent, utilities, maintenance, recruitment, training and insurance.

Fort Collins, Colorado is the first city to institute routine telecommuting. Several hundred city workers work at home with computer systems supplied by the city. Just about everybody is eligible to participate except fire fighters and police.

Cottage industry is growing. Many companies now employ home workers to craft marketable products. Chris and I for years bought casual cotton clothing from Deva, a rural company that uses home workers to cut and sew the patterns.

Village of the Smoky Hills, in Osage, Minnesota, was created by a group of mothers to market their crafts in a unique way. In only five months The Founding Mothers, Inc. wrote a business plan, found land, got a zoning variance, obtained a loan, built buildings, hired and trained employees. Over 100,000 customers showed up the first year. About 350 local artisans now bring their products from home to be sold at the Village. Customers pay for the privilege of watching artisans demonstrate their skills. A direct mail catalog is planned.

Over ten million self-employed Americans operate their businesses from their homes. The number is growing. In Age Wave, Ken Dychtwald states that “It is predicted that by the year 2000, over 20 percent of the work force will go to work without leaving home.&rdquo

If you are one of us who think of a J-O-B as a Journey Of the Broke, perhaps you will use this time as a transition to self-employment. If you start your own business, you enter the realm of entrepreneurs, we who have maximum control over our working conditions and hours. Many of us daily exhibit our belief in the inalienable right to work 12 to 16 hours per day. But they are our hours, doing what we want, for our benefit. The vital factors for success are your level of knowledge, your focus, and your persistence. Most entrepreneurs who succeed have a passion for what they do and they obtain and keep a very high level of knowledge about their field.

If you anticipate working with computers, do not take rural electric or telephone service for granted. Electrical outages from storms are fairly common in areas with long, hard-to-maintain rights-of-way. Telephone line static, which affects modem and fax transmission, is more common in the country. If the fault is old, frayed lines the company may be willing to replace them. Our phone company replaced nearly half a mile of phone lines for us. An uninterruptible power source is a sound investment for computer users.

Working at home with computers spawned a new term: electronic cottage (Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave), and now the acronym ACW—Another Computer in the Woods. Having both a computer and an outhouse is an anomaly certain to impress your city friends and relatives, especially your parents. Perhaps one day the ultimate country chic will be to have a computer in the outhouse—a laptop, of course. Well, that may be, ahem, carrying it too far. Then again, some of the world’s greatest thoughts were conceived during morning “sits.&rdquo

If you plan on taking a business to the country, check out the competition and consider local conditions. Our nearest neighbor had experience on drill rigs so he bought a drilling outfit and set up a well-drilling business. Unfortunately for him there are two established drillers in the area who are well known and respected, one full-time and the other a farmer who drills part-time. Both know the local geology and usually hit water. After about a year of too few clients and too many dry holes my neighbor pulled up for the last time and sold out.

Instead of finding a job, consider buying one. Rural Property Bulletin nationally and bankers and chambers of commerce locally are good sources for leads on businesses and business properties for sale. As soon as you find your ideal area, contact all three for business opportunities. Subscribe to local newspapers and consider placing ads describing what you want.

If you can’t find a job or buy one, then make one. Observe trends that create new needs. Invent something. Take my idea of generating electricity at fitness centers and make a living and save oil at the same time. Invent a more efficient solar distiller to make fresh water from salt water, so coastal cities can stop stealing other people’s water. Create a job barter system for everyone in your bioregion. Design a kitchen stove that operates with the flu heat of a wood furnace. Figure out uses for the mountains of old tires. Design a homemade paper maker that will use local plant fibers. Perfect a process for recycling plastics and molding roofing shingles from the multicolored result.

Some of our friends’ successful home businesses include campground, canoe rental, medicinal herbs, exotic animals, wreaths and dried flower creations, paintings, specialty seeds, sculpture, wooden jewelry and emergency management consultation. This book was originally homemade and home marketed—a homely book indeed. Here are some other ideas for country home businesses: appliance repair, auto repair, bed & breakfast, chainsaw repair, child care, chimney cleaning, cider making, desktop publishing, editing, firewood, fish farming, food cooperative, furniture making and repair, homeschooling, horseshoeing, log home company distributor, mail-order sales, market gardening, nursery/florist supply, photography, pottery, recycling, secretarial services, silk screening, sign painting, split-rail fencing, taxidermy, tire repair and sales, transcription, tree farming, weaving, welding, wild berry winemaking, woodcarving, wreathing.

Urbanites still earn more than ruralites but rural income is rising. “In 15 states, rural counties rank highest in per-capita income.&rdquo And “In 1992, the nonmetro unemployment rate was lower than urban unemployment for the first time since before 1980, and it has stayed that way since.&rdquo (Business Week, 10-9-95).

Living the ideal life includes working at something you enjoy—at home or in your community. Stop thinking of yourself as a worker or an employee. Instead, start seeing yourself as the CEO of your livelihood and your life. Use this time of transition to consider what you really want to do. Use the lower cost of country living to give you the slack to develop your ideal work. On your criteria worksheet, write the work conditions you want, unless you are considering farming or market gardening as your work. In that case, read the next chapter before listing your work criteria.By working faithfully eight hours a day,
you may eventually get to be a boss
and work twelve hours a day.
Robert Frost 

Resources and recommended reading

Many of the “place rating&rdquo books listed in the bibliography include employment considerations. Retirement books acknowledge and respond to the fact that most retired folks need to supplement social security and pensions.

Rural Property Bulletin, P.O. Box 608, Valentine, NE 69201
Phone: 402-376-2617
Web site:

  • Arden, Lynie. The Work-at-Home Sourcebook, Sixth Edition. Boulder, CO: Live Oak Publications, 1996.
  • Brabec, Barbara. Homemade Money: The Definitive Guide to Success in a Homebased Business. Third Edition. White Hall, VA: Betterway Publications, 1989. Includes a substantial resource directory.
  • Germer, Jerry. Country Careers: Successful Ways to Live and Work in the Country. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993.
  • Naisbitt, John, and Patricia Aburdene, Megatrends 2000, Ten New Directions for the 1990’s. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1990.
  • Ross, Tom & Marilyn. Country Bound! Buena Vista, CO: Communication Creativity, 1992.
  • G. Scott Thomas. Where To Make Money: A Rating Guide To Opportunities in America’s Metro Areas. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993. Rates 73 metro areas, many of which are accessible from rural areas with a half-hour commute.

Explore, and explore. . . .
Make yourself necessary to the world,
and mankind will give you bread.
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning
and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.
Bob Dylan 

Go back to Chapter 11 – The cost of living.
Go on to Chapter 13 – Farming and market gardening.
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