“We had gunfire in our Harlem neighborhood. We have daily gunfire here, but it’s from hunters and gun enthusiasts,” explains Hans Hageman, a creative marketing consultant and strategist. A New York native who remembers an earlier, grittier incarnation of the city, he’s doing today what would have been hard to conceive of earlier in his career—living in a rural area and working for himself.
At one point, Hageman was living in a brownstone and making six figures as a nonprofit executive, but he wanted a different life. So he moved to Pine Island, New York (population 1,534), 55 miles northwest of New York City, but about as small-town as you can get and still within driving distance. “I only wish I had walked this path sooner,” he says. “In the changing world of jobs and work, I want my kids and the students I have taught to realize that the traditional path is dead.”
It may not be quite dead, but for many, that path does seem to be leading to different places, including far afield of urban employment hubs. To be sure, rural America has always enticed bold entrepreneurs striking out on their own, and people have long built successful, self-employed lifestyles far from cities. But the barriers to doing so are lowering—and fast. Just as throngs of “solopreneurs” are finding it’s easier and more cost-effective to work for themselves in Phuket or Belgrade than for a boss in New York or Seattle, some urban freelancers are likewise finding new incentives to resettle in rural areas in the U.S.
According to the latest survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, there were 55 million Americans—or 35% of the U.S. workforce—doing some form of freelance work this year. Seventy-three percent of those freelancers say technology is making it easier to find independent work, and freelancing is considerably more popular among millennials and gen Zers than with older age groups.
What’s more, while 35% of freelancers live in cities (compared with 31% of U.S. workers overall), 47% live in the suburbs (versus 50% of the working population) and a not inconsiderable 18% live in rural areas (on par with the 19% of non-freelancers who do). With such widespread ability to do market-competitive knowledge work from anywhere, marching into a maze of cubicles each morning wearing business casual may seem less appealing—and not just to twenty-somethings.
Read my article on Fast Company to learn why these rural freelancers headed into the countryside, and what they say the main rewards and challenges have been.