Thousands of miles and a world away from those twin meccas for designers--New York City and Los Angeles--Tracy Porter runs a multimillion dollar business from her farm in Princeton, Wisconsin. A kind of Midwest Martha Stewart, 32-year-old Porter is an industry unto herself. Her eponymous line of home furnishings has grown faster than you can say "dinner party," with her creations--including fabrics, wallpapers, hooked rugs, dinnerware and books--being sold in more than 15,000 stores.
Porter and her husband, John, new parents of twin boys, have found it unnecessary to leave their 26-acre paradise, often referred to as the "Fantasy Factory," in order to grow the business, which employs 13 others. "We talk every day about the wonderfully unique options we have to run this company in any way that suits our lifestyle," Porter says. "Believe it or not, because I was bed-bound for so much of my pregnancy, the girls [her staff] and I would have meetings right in my bedroom, as often as we felt like it."
Although her financial success is exceptional for a rural homebased business, Porter is just one of thousands of people running their ventures from beyond suburbia, according to Lisa Rogak, author of The Complete Country Business Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Become a Rural Entrepreneur (Williams Hill Publishing, $24.95) and the owner of a publishing company in Grafton, New Hampshire.
Tethered to the "real world" by an array of affordable technology--everything from cell phones to sophisticated Internet hook-ups--these entrepreneurs are free to float above the maddening crowds while pursuing their dream of financial independence. Statistics aren't available on exactly how many people are operating businesses at the end of a country lane, but recent improvements in technology--as well as the millennial trend toward "cocooning," or focusing on home and simplifying your life--have sparked a thriving economy amid the trees and cows.
"Moving to the country and starting your own business have combined to create the one kind of lifestyle that, to many people, represents the most perfect kind of life possible," says Rogak, who has been running her business from tiny Grafton since 1988. People with rural businesses generally fall into three categories: those who grew up in a rural setting and left, returning later for personal or lifestyle reasons; those who never lived in a rural area but fell victim to urban burnout; and those who've always lived in a rural area and wouldn't dream of moving their business anywhere else.
Some entrepreneurs run businesses that are oriented around the rural lifestyle--a bed-and-breakfast or a business selling homemade jams, for example. But many more are professionals whose businesses could be run equally well from an office in Manhattan or a home office on the outskirts of Lone Tree, Iowa.
Pamela Rohland writes from a home office in tiny Bernville, Pennsylvania, where sometimes the birds chirp a little too loudly.