Dee Christensen lives in Olympia, Wash. Her work partner, Monica Babine, lives in Kirkland. They work together closely and daily from their homes for WSU’s Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, headquartered on the Pullman campus. They are a perfect example of the kinds of programs they manage: E-work — using technology to do information-based work from a distance.

Christensen, director of e-work programs, and Babine, coordinator of e-work programs, are frontrunners in the movement to diversify rural economies by growing information-based work.

The Center to Bridge the Digital Divide helps people, institutions and communities apply information technologies.

“The center helps enrich people’s lives in a variety of ways, and our e-work program is doing that specifically through economic development,” Christensen said.

The women are working on the Rural E-work Program. It is a two-year effort to increase the number of information-based jobs in five rural communities, and to help them establish themselves as areas that can successfully support information-based work. Christensen and Babine host workshops and training sessions for rural community leaders, as well as educating urban employers on the benefits of doing business in rural communities.

Traditionally, rural economies are natural resource- or tourism-based. However, more and more jobs in today’s global economy are information-based, and rural areas are looking to expand and diversify their local economies by taking advantage of this shift.

Information-based jobs can be created in a rural community in several ways:
• strengthening existing businesses with e-commerce capabilities to expand their customer base
• supporting rural entrepreneurs in establishing new information-based businesses
• attracting an urban company to open a rural branch office
• drawing an urban company to relocate to a rural town.

One example of this is HomeMovie.Com, which relocated from Everett to the Methow Valley. The company enables its customers to load and edit home movies online and then download them onto DVDs. The company has customers all over the country, despite its remote location. HomeMovie.Com has created 12 local jobs with plans for 100 employees.

“We not only help diversify rural communities, but at the same time we provide innovative business solutions for urban companies.” Babine said. “It’s a win-win proposition.”

The partners helped Washington Dental Service expand its Seattle-based operations to Colville. The Colville office has saved the company nearly $355,000 on real estate costs and more than $860,000 on salaries and wages in three years of operation.

The pair has put together a collection of case studies of similar rural business success stories, which can be found at http://cbdd.wsu.edu/initiatives/ework.

“These case studies demonstrate that it’s already working,” Christensen said. “Rural Washington is an untapped resource in this state and we want to help support this growing trend.”

As Christensen and Babine spend their days coordinating with each other, businesspeople and rural community leaders, they have shown by example that e-work is indeed the wave of the future for both urban businesses and rural communities of Washington.