For CGI-AMS and Northrop-Grumman, the decision to set up in Lebanon was mostly driven by high labor costs in hot job markets such as Fairfax, Va., and neighboring Reston in northern Virginia. In another instance, DaimlerChrysler recently hired Lakota Express to do its Web design, which it is sending to a South Dakota Indian reservation. Even Dell, which recently announced another major offshoring gambit, is now shipping some of its work to Twin Falls, Idaho. In Cheyenne, Wy., transportation logistics firms, full of young people, dot the interstate.
To be sure, with as many as 3 million IT jobs expected to go overseas in the next few years according to Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., only a handful of companies are setting up shop in rural areas in the US.
That Appalachia is on the forefront of farmshoring is a result of massive investing in broadband, which connects wide, rural swaths to the Internet. The Department of Agriculture has handed out more than $800 million in low-interest loans for broadband expansion nationwide, a portion of which went to Virginia. Lebanon and Russell County, Va., received more than $4 million in grants from the Department of Commerce as well as from the state's tobacco settlement fund. The fiber optic cable through Russell County, Daniel Boone's old stomping grounds, officially went live last year.
"If you don't build it, they won't come," says Jim Andrew administrator for the USDA's Rural Development Utilities Program. "Somebody out there has to have the vision ... because it's really not an easy thing to do where the people are few and far between."
Ex-coal miner Mike Rhea, now a Baptist minister and self-styled computer geek, is one of a handful of Lebanon locals who has worked to wire this valley over the past 20 years. From his cluttered workshop, where ancient Intel chips lie in dusty piles and a paint can is perched on a server rack, he runs one of America's most inexpensive website hosts, with headquarters here in Appalachia.