No Jobs are Coming: How Remote Work Can Save Small Towns


Fred Perrotta

For the last year, I’ve been describing my hometown as “the place reporters go to profile Trump supporters.”

Unfortunately, regardless of what Trump says, no jobs are coming to towns like my hometown, New Castle, Pennsylvania. Why would they? I would never start a business there. Why would anyone else?

  • The workers are unskilled and, while cheap, not cheaper than a robot.
  • The location, near Pittsburgh’s three rivers, is increasingly irrelevant in a modern economy where internet connections are more important than water routes and freight prices are absurdly cheap.

Politicians Don’t Understand the Future

Imagine an extreme scenario where all imports were banned and more factories open in the US. Those factories will be filled with robots and a handful of white collar engineers.

Last week, we visited an injection molding factory in China. The factory was 60,000 sqm (646,000 sq feet) but only employed 300 workers, mostly in quality control, packing, and shipping. This is the future.

If anything, reshoring will increase and accelerate factory automation.

Even apparel manufacturing, which is notoriously difficult to automate, will be done by sew bots and 3D weaving.

The factory may open, but no one will work there. These factories will resemble the huge server farms that every major tech company operates. Lots of square footage but close to zero jobs.

Location Dis/Advantages

In Trump Towns, location is a disadvantage in many ways. See above.

Income inequality and protectionist, NIMBY housing policies have combined to make “moving to the big city” prohibitively expensive as a means of finding a better paying job and moving up the social ladder.

However, these towns have the advantage of lower costs of living creating potential arbitrage opportunities to earn “city” wages while paying exurban/rural prices.

How do you connect the two?

Remote Work

Working remotely offers a way forward for some of those left behind by globalization and technology.

Jeremy and I have been lucky enough to start a global company that manufacturers overseas while also providing 9 (and counting) excellent jobs in the US and elsewhere. Starting a company, even a physical product company, is getting cheaper and easier every year.

Not everyone wants to start their own company. Technology makes it easy to work remotely as an employee. Until recently, you had to start a company or become a freelancer to reach location independence. Not any more.

Many roles commonly done remotely require more of a mindset than a specific skill set. The skills and software can be learned. The approach cannot.

Admins must sweat the details. Customer service reps must empathize.

When we hire Concierges, I don’t care if a candidate has ever had a customer service job. I care if they give a damn about our customers. I care if they’ve worked humbling jobs in retail or food service like I did.

These remote roles are service jobs. The same type of service jobs that account for 80% of jobs in the US. Despite the time spent talking about manufacturing during election season, only 8% of US jobs are in manufacturing.

These service jobs drive the economy but are ignored in the national conversation. We need to be talking about these jobs and making life better for the people doing them, not having pointless conversations about manufacturing jobs that don't and won't exist.

Factory jobs aren’t better than service jobs. They are, however, historically “masculine” jobs which is why they dominate the conversation and campaign trail.

The downside of only having 70-year-old candidates for President is that they are calcified in their thinking and can only look to the past for a model of the future. They are out of touch.

In the meantime, Tortuga's Millenial-heavy team and I will keep building a better, location-agnostic future in which anyone can work anywhere.

What’s Next?

The missing piece in this conversation is training. We need to ensure that students growing up in places like New Castle have the mindset and skills to work remotely. They need to be familiar with current technology and software and, more importantly, have access to that technology from a young age.

I don’t have the answers (yet), but let’s start this conversation on Twitter.


If you want to join us, learn more about Tortuga here. For more remote job opportunities, check We Work Remotely.

Originally published at On Your Terms.