..."How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness"
This book was written by Rich Karlgaard in late 2004 while he was still ostensibly publishing Forbes magazine. It explains a lot about the quality of Forbes that their publisher can literally take off around the country for a few months to write his own book.
But enough about how Forbes sucks-- the book isn't very good either. In fact if you like Cincinnati, the beauty queens at state fairs, or on-topic unbiased in-depth reporting then you're not gonna enjoy the book either. I probably missed a few zingers-- no doubt you'll also probably find at least one other comment that to dislike.
But I didn't read the book to enjoy it, I read it to see if it has any useful advice. Although Karlgaard trashed his execution of a great idea, I have to admit that among 300 pages of storytelling he succeeded in making me think about where my kid would want to live & work when she leaves the nest. (It might not be in Hawaii.) Karlgaard also managed to reaffirm my commitment to total ER.
Karlgaard has a pilot's license. Big freakin' deal. He was either looking for a catchy gimmick to sell the book (his plane is on the cover against a background of puffy clouds & blue sky), or he's way too impressed with his flying skills, or else he had to cough up a minimum number of words before he could find a, er, well, a publisher. Unfortunately the plane takes up too much filler. ("He's flying to Bozeman, Montana. Will he make it? Oooh, there's a mountain pass! Now there are rainclouds!! Eeek, the suspense!!! Hmmm, there's over 150 pages left-- of course he makes it. So where's the $#@%ing story?") Keep going. Eventually his bladder fills up and he has to land.
Once you slog past all the aviation, you uncover a series of interviews with people who tired of the big city for one reason or another and decided to start over again in small towns. We're talking really small-- like unlocked doors, lotsa wild animals, few traffic lights, & serious winters.
The main theme is that Silicon Valley (or Boston or Manhattan or LA) is too expensive to run a bricks & mortar business. Rents are too high, commutes are too long, and many times you can't afford to pay livable salaries in high-cost areas.
But you can do it from Bozeman if you have a broadband Internet connection. And you can do it from 150 other places that he sort-of researched profiled in the back third of the book (more filler but a good springboard for a spouse discussion).
Another theme is that people get tired of slogging through two-hour commutes and 12-hour workdays while their families are growing up without them. By working out of a home office or a rental place on the small town's next block, they get back the time to be with their kids. A 4000 sq ft home on 20 acres in Montana (or South Dakota, or Vermont, or Wisconsin) may still be a heckuva lot cheaper than a crappy 2BR condo in San Mateo, too, so if you're only paying $30K/year your employees are happy and you're making a living.
It's not just about contacts. Karlgaard stresses over & over how once you've developed the contacts you can keep things going via phone, fax, & e-mail. Compared to the expenses you're avoiding, air travel is relatively cheap if you need to go back to the Valley or NYC to attend conferences or schmooze with the occasional high-maintenance client. You can run your electronic business from anywhere, and some workers were even getting city cell phone numbers with nationwide roaming so that their clients thought that they were talking to someone close by in Manhattan. It's extreme telecommuting. Imagine, Brewer, if you could run your analyses from Bermuda. Karlgaard claims that you can.
Even shipping a physical product is workable. One of the entrepreneurs ran a B2B website auctioning off production time for idle printing presses. He boosted his Bozeman press to two or even three shifts a day, he was shipping jobs out nationwide, and he was undercutting just about everyone else's prices. He was using most of the programming & business-logistics talent of a local university and its students, creating many graphics jobs for local residents, and generating tons of product for FedEx & UPS. One competitor in Silicon Valley couldn't compete, even on local contracts, because of their office rental expenses & salary costs.
Karlgaard summarizes that it's better to make $30K/year in East Podunk, especially if you can make the Internet work for you, than it is to make $150K/year in Manhattan. You'll get more for all your purchases (not just for your home), your commute will be easier (or nonexistent), your family will be safer & happier, and everyone will enjoy wilderness recreation instead of big-city parenting & private schools. If the nature of your job can be accomplished virtually from anywhere (or from virtually anywhere!) then you might as well live in a nice place instead of close to a cubicle farm. Nearby universities will attract technology infrastructure and will train your labor for you.
My kid has been infatuated with Wyoming ever since she learned to ride a horse. If she can get broadband in Laramie or Cheyenne, then maybe she's on to something. I'd be happy to visit her ranch in late August summer.
One snivel about the small-town strategy is that most of those places have real winter or nasty humid summers. I guess that's why they call Hawaii's expenses the "Paradise Tax".
Anyhow, Karlgaard had a great idea and it's worth a lot of thought if you're working in a sucky location or if you think you want to break out of a small town. Maybe someday he'll actually write a good book about it. In the meantime save yourself a trip to the library-- take a look at Karlgaard's website
and decide if it's worth the trouble of finding the book.
If you want to read a heartwarming family story about flying, I'd recommend Steve Coonts' "The Cannibal Queen"