It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is overflowing with eager tech developers, startup entrepreneurs and Zuckerberg wannabes. This hub of the tech industry is one of the most popular places to work and one of the largest contributors to the U.S. economy. In fact, the Bay Area has outpaced both the state and the country in economic growth year after year.
But take a drive a few hours to the Central Valley, and you’ll see a slightly different picture.
Although the region lacks that Silicon Valley vibe, it is home to the nation’s largest agriculture and dairy counties, and the region has experienced a 24 percent increase in population since 2000.
As the Central Valley continues to grow, so will opportunities to further develop and diversify its economy—particularly the remote economy.
A Gallup study in 2017 found that 43 percent of employed Americans spent some time working remotely. And that number isn’t expected to drop anytime soon.
With one of the largest economies just a few hours south, the Central Valley is uniquely positioned to take advantage of its location, natural resources and affordability to attract a variety of new workers who can supplement and diversify its core agricultural economy.
But for that to happen, there are a couple developments that would need to first take place. Here are three ways the Central Valley can attract and retain remote talent in the coming years.
Investing in broadband infrastructure
Perhaps the greatest strength of telecommuting is its flexibility. You don’t need to walk, ride or drive to work; every day can be casual Friday; you don’t even need a formal office space.
But the one thing you invariably need is a good connection to the internet.
Unfortunately, this is where rural areas like the Central Valley lag.
One of the biggest hurdles the Central Valley (and other rural communities across the U.S.) face in terms of economic development is widespread access to affordable high-speed internet.
According to a report cited in Pacific Standard, while a full 95 percent of the state has access to broadband, only 43 percent of the rural population (primarily based in the Central Valley) have the same access. In fact, Stockton has one of the highest rates of dial-up internet in the entire country.
And this isn’t just about getting Netflix to the masses.
Without reliable internet access, the economy suffers, and remote workers will stay clear of the Central Valley region. If they don’t have access to good internet, they can’t do their work effectively. Instead, they’ll live somewhere where they can access a reliable internet connection.
National and state programs are working to fix this problem. In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission released the National Broadband Plan with goals to spur economic growth and job creation. While some companies have constructed fiber-optic internet buildouts in the area, there is still a lot of work to be done to bridge the digital divide across the Central Valley.
Until the Central Valley can build a more widespread infrastructure, it won’t be able to sustain (or attract) a diverse remote workforce.
Combining the tech and ag industries
Increasingly, farmers are integrating tech into the way they do business. From water meters that measure moisture in the soil to GPS-guided harvesting tools, technology is becoming an integral part of the industrial farming process in the Central Valley.
This is good news for those farmers who have the foresight to invest in and adopt these innovations. The crossover of tech and ag can help improve sustainability and efficiency for farmers across the region, resulting in more profitable and resilient businesses.
Part of the reason for this shift is the recent drought in California. As the drought persisted, many farmers turned to technology to make their methods more efficient.
From an economic standpoint, the drought has been good for business—at least for those willing to adapt—says Robert Tse of the USDA Rural Development California. The drought is a “disruptive event” in the industry, forcing innovation at a time when every drop counts.
So, what does this mean for economic development?
The growth of interest in (and thus demand for) technology in the agricultural industry will bring greater opportunities for employment in the knowledge economy throughout the Central Valley. As tech becomes more prevalent, the Valley will need to attract more tech talent.
This is a big deal since agriculture is the largest industry in the region. And the prospect of well-paying, knowledge-based employment in an affordable area is certain to appeal to many workers from surrounding areas and beyond.
Tech jobs are often available for telecommuting, so the convergence of tech and ag will also open up opportunities for the growing workforce of remote employees.
Connecting the region through high-speed rail
In 2008, voters approved plans for a high-speed commuter rail connecting the mega-regions of the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Central Valley.
For Central California, this doesn’t just mean greater convenience when taking the family to the beach. A study conducted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority explains that the Central Valley is often seen as an island, isolated from the rest of the state by transportation, geographic and economic barriers. The Authority hopes that the rail will remove these barriers and attract more workers.
Though the project won’t be fully completed for another decade, the high-speed rail system will make the Central Valley more accessible and allow greater mobility and flexibility for potential remote workers and even commuters to and from the region.
As the Central Valley continues to grow and develop, investing in an infrastructure of accessible broadband, promoting innovation in the agricultural economy and developing efficient rail transportation will bring greater stability in the region and a wave of talented workers.
With careful strategic development, the future of the Central Valley won’t just be bright—it’ll also be remote.