Magazine

Local Hero


Kathy Brittain White, a native of small-town Arkansas, traveled through both academia and Corporate America before becoming an entrepreneur. She taught management information technology at the University of North Carolina for a decade before becoming chief information officer for health-care giant Cardinal Health (CAH). When she retired in 2003 at age 55, White could have rested on her laurels. Instead, she founded Jonesboro (Ark.)-based Rural Sourcing. The 40-employee applications development company, with about $1 million in revenues, aims to bring tech jobs to America's heartland. It's White's very personal rebuttal to offshoring.

I come from small-town America, and I believe in its work ethic. My hometown -- Oxford, Ark. -- had fewer than 200 people. I married right out of high school, had two children, and worked at low-wage jobs. We were broke. I figured if we wanted a different life, it was up to me.

I went back to school and five years later had three degrees, including a doctorate in business. I sent out 100 résumés. The best job I could find was two states away, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I'd gone through a divorce, and the last thing I wanted was to move away from my family, but I had to.

I know firsthand there are a lot of talented people who aren't in the top 20 schools and a large, untapped employee base in rural America. Many skilled people don't want to move to find work, or simply can't.

SERENDIPITY?

The decision to leave corporate life wasn't that difficult. At Cardinal Health, I ran a virtual internship program. That program let our business unit in Chicago employ information technology students at Arkansas State University. In 2002 I started a foundation in Arkansas to do outreach training. With all the tech jobs that were going offshore, the opportunity became obvious rather quickly. I wanted to create a virtual workforce to capture some of this business. My work and my life experiences just seemed to come together. Serendipity, I suppose.

I used $2 million of my own money to get started. We're still funded by money from friends and family. Rural Sourcing's specialty is application development work, not call centers. It's easier for customers to work with tech people in their own time zone, and we provide an important element of familiarity that's lacking in offshoring.

Our employees are employees, not contract workers. We bring people in, train them, and work with them. We've gotten terrific feedback from our customers. We have ongoing relationships with Cardinal Health, the state of Arkansas, and a major telecom provider, among others. Local college students are an important pipeline for us, but up to 40% of our employees are experienced people who are either from the area or want to move to it.

So far we have three locations in Arkansas and one in Portales, N.M. In June we're opening a center in Greenville, N.C. I think West Virginia and probably Ohio will be next. The places we select have universities with strong computer science and information science departments, workforce training, and technology incubators -- but they're in locations that don't have jobs. That's where we come in.

Being an entrepreneur is a lot different than working for a big company. I used to be able to throw something over my shoulder and someone would catch it. Now when I throw something over my shoulder it lands on the floor. It's me who has to pick it up and finish it. The most frustrating part is selling -- the false leads, how long it takes to close a deal. I'm on the road 80% of the time. One of the reasons I got out of corporate life was the traveling, so that's pretty humorous.

I wake up every day excited. Even on my worst days, I believe lives will be changed because of what we do. I feel blessed.

As told to Marilyn Harris


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