By Dean Whittaker

What incentives would you offer to a company that would create 50 jobs with an average pay of $80,000 per year? What if I told you that it would cost you nothing? It sounds too good to be true, right? Actually, these jobs/workers are already in your community. They are called “freelancers,” and they are the invisible workforce that earns their living by selling their knowledge and expertise.   Some offer their services locally, but many perform services on a global basis bringing money into the community from outside the area. These primary income generators often go unseen and are not part of the traditional economic development metrics of jobs and investment.

According to research commissioned by the Freelancers Union, as of 2014, there are already 53 million Americans who are freelancing, earning more than $715 billion a year. This is a significant economic impact.

How can you help create, nurture, and support this economic engine? The care and feeding of the ecosystem to support these individuals comes at little or no cost to the taxpayers. According to the UpWork survey of freelancers, they want freedom, flexibility, connectivity (both virtual and real), community, a safe place to work outside their home, and affordable benefits including health insurance and retirement programs.

Small and rural towns have an advantage of a sense of community, little or no traffic (one of the major frustration of large cities), a less stressful and slower pace, easy access to nature, parks, and recreation, access to education through on-line learning, and a people-focused life style. Remember, in this new economy, knowledge work moves, and people stay put.

To attract these technologically-enabled nomads, look to existing relationships. How are they already connected to your community through friends and family? Look for life-moments like marriage, the birth of child, and aging parents that would cause them to consider a move back to your area. Use social media to connect and recruit alumni. Facebook and others have become powerful marketing tools.

What if your community sponsored training workshops on common needs of freelancers? How could you assist them in marketing their product or services?
How about a “freelancers” appreciation night to acknowledge their contribution?

Look around you. How many people do you know that work from their homes or local coffee shops on a full or part-time basis? In our 24×7, “always on” culture, we all work everywhere. What contribution are freelancers making to the prosperity of your community?

Note: If you’re interested to learn more about this topic from an entrepreneur and freelancer’s perspective, check out this for-pay webinar recording that was hosted on September 30 by Whittaker Associates for the Pro Learning Lab’s educational series.