“Make your Front Porch your Front Office”: That is one catchy slogan used by Clarkson University to promote the “Forever Wired” initiative, aimed at bringing broadband to the Adirondack Region in upstate New York. Not just to promote broadband, but also to develop outreach educational programs on the use of technology, to encourage telecommuting, to incubate local entrepreneurs, and in the end to ambitiously develop an environmentally sensitive region in an eco-friendly manner.
The Adirondack Park is known for its beautiful lakes, mountains, and quality of life. But so is Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and Aspen. The broadband deployment project and the business incubation programs are interesting, but what’s the fuss? After all, we are talking about a very sparsely populated area, with only 120,000 permanent residents over 6 million acres. Why should we care?
50 million people live within a 5 hour commute. Fifty million! The region gets 5 to 7 million annual visitors. The Adirondack region is to the Eastern Seaboard mega cities what Lake Tahoe is to San Francisco and Silicon Valley: an opportunity to get away and enjoy the outdoors.
Five million visitors annually! That is as many potential telecommuters. Instead of driving to the Adirondacks on a weekend, then rush back to Manhattan for a hard work week, and drive back the next weekend to pick up the family left behind, why not stay there and work remotely the entire time? And for some, why not make a life style choice and stay there all year-round?
Many generation X software developers and web site designers have found that they can work where they want to play. You’ll find them in places like Lake Tahoe, CA and Sun Valley, ID. Reconverted ski bums, who have no problem servicing customers located hundreds of miles away. Give them the lifestyle they want, the infrastructure they need, and let their creativity and sense of entrepreneurship do the rest.
If solo entrepreneurs have led the way, herds of traditional professionals will soon follow. Not just because they too would like to work where they can enjoy quality of life, but because it makes sense for their employers to encourage them to do so.
A growing body of research points to significantly lower cost and higher productivity for remote workers and telecommuters. Not to mention a lower carbon footprint. It is not difficult to understand that if someone makes a lifestyle choice to live in the Adirondacks, he won’t need and won’t ask for the same level of compensation as if he lived in Boston or New York City. Perhaps this is one reason why the IBM VP of Telecommuting joined via video-conference the Forever Wired first annual conference on September 8th with 250 attendees. Two hundred and fifty telecommuters, business leaders and community leaders attended the conference, in a place that would hardly qualify as a village where I come from! Quite impressive.
My friend Mark Dzwonczyk, President and COO of VelloCall (“the Conference that calls you”), asked if I could bring my expertise with incubation and business center management to bare, and help the leaders behind the “Forever Wired” initiative. I could never refuse a favor to Mark, of course. Someone who can manage a 9-letter last name with only 2 vowels commands immediate respect. Mark himself splits his life between his St Regis summer home in the Adirondack Region and Palo Alto. He is clearly emotionally and intellectually vested in the success of the Forever Wired initiative and his passion for the cause is in danger of contaminating Silicon Valley faster than the Swine flu.
So I shared my views in a conversation with Kevin Lynch, CIO of Clarkson University, one of the brains behind the project. Between my rumbling monologues, I was able to listen to Kevin as he articulated the Clarkson University thoughts and emerging plans behind “Forever Wired”. And I discovered something special. Kevin was not only able to articulate a clear case for the undeniable assets of the region, to communicate a powerful and exciting vision of where this initiative will go, but I came out of the discussion with a sense that the “Forever Wired” effort might just show the world what the next iteration of distributed workforce models ought to look like. We have our own initiatives here in Silicon Valley that have garnered interesting support and momentum, such as the GoODWORK(TM) initiative (Grid of On-Demand Workplaces). But it could very well be that the future of work will soon be found in the Adirondacks.
Chief Executive Officer
Pacific Business Centers (rebranded as Pacific Workplaces)
Prior to starting PBC in 2003 (rebranded to Pacific Workplaces), Laurent held executive and management positions at Sun Microsystems, Litchfield Advisors, and Hewlett-Packard, with responsibilities in Corporate Real Estate, Corporate Development, Operations, and Finance. He holds an MBA from the Haas School at UC Berkeley.