Changes in how people live and work are a major characteristic of the New Economy.
According to Dunn and Bradstreet, there are about 20 million business enterprises in the U.S. Only 4.4 million are corporations, though they employ more than half the labor force. The rest are partnerships (1.8 million) or sole proprietorships (14.2 million). Most among these 20 million enterprises are tine; only 7,000 have 500 employees or more.
But large corporations are changing to adjust to the requirements of the New Economy. Many corporations are downsizing to become more competitive, to take advantage of new technologies or to try new approaches to quality management.
Some are “delayering” ‹ placing top managers closer to the action and getting rid of bloated corporate staffs, professional economist, planners and writers who provide a range of staff support services.
As a result, a growing number of professionals are finding opportunities as freelancers and independent contractors. This approach benefits both sides. It allows corporations to eliminate costly overhead ‹ including office space, parking, and health insurance. It permits laid-off knowledge workers who do most of their work on a computer, to have more freedom in how they work and where they live.
I call these knowledge workers Lone Eagles. Numbers from a recent Inc. magazine article (June 1992), show about 9 million workers in the Lone Eagle category, which includes consultants, freelance professionals, independent brokers, manufactures reps, financial advisors, writers, analysts and others who live by their wits.
The fastest growing occupational group within the Lone Eagles category is “managers and professionals.” This group grew by 23% during the past decade and now constitutes one-third of the nine million total.
Lone Eagles can live and work anywhere. They require on a computer, a modem, a fax machine and express mail services to remain linked to the outside world.
Most Lone Eagles want same day delivery of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times; access to good health care service; cable television; and a good bookstore. A large number of Lone Eagles have young families, so good K-12 education is important. There is growing evidence that Lone Eagles are moving to micropolitan America ‹ and especially to the West, where good weather and outdoor amenities are a powerful magnet.
By the same token, more micropolitan communities are seeking to recruit Lone Eagles instead of companies, satellites instead of smokestacks. Telluride, for example, has developed a focused program to attract high net worth Lone Eagles to their town in the mountain.
The rationale is compelling: Lone Eagles become major community assets. Recruit ten Lone Eagles and you bring more than a million new dollars into a community. Reason:” the typical Lone Eagle carries work orders for $50,000 to $150, 000 ‹ and many have much higher annual revenues. Most Lone Eagles hold advanced degrees. They sink their roots into the community. The spouse helps out at the library or runs for county commission. They contribute to the community’s volunteer leadership. And they do not require tax subsidies or other give-aways that large corporations often require. For these reasons, Lone Eagles are likely to become a centerpiece of new approaches to economic development in rural America.