Rural Online Initiative opens doors to remote work opportunities for rural residents

A screenshot of the Rural Online Initiative's team meeting. The initiative allows those living in rural areas access to higher-paying remote jobs.

A screenshot of the Rural Online Initiative's team meeting. The initiative allows those living in rural areas access to higher-paying remote jobs. (Paul Hill)

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

PRICE — While Utah ranks among the fastest-growing states in the nation, it also only averages 32 people per square mile. And according to Paul Hill, founder of the Rural Online Initiative and a Utah State University Extension professor, it's the rural residents who are struggling to find high-paying jobs and stay in their communities.

Hill noticed that job opportunities were limited in Utah's small towns, leading many residents to move to larger cities and deplete the richness of Utah's rural communities.

"The idea that there's not talent in rural Utah — it's just not true. And it's only true because the talent has no choice; it has to go somewhere else," says Gov. Spencer Cox in Rural Online Initiative's 17-minute documentary.

In 2018, USU's extension program created the initiative after Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB327, which was initially planned as a pilot program; the sunset date has since been repealed, and the program has continued since then.

The program provides specialized training for individuals on how to work remotely, and when the workers are finished, they can receive remote work job recommendations — employment opportunities that might not even be based in Utah but are well-paying, according to Hill. That way, individuals can remain in their communities and enrich the economy of not just rural Utah, but all of Utah, he said.

Rural Online Initiative also provides the Certified Remote Work Leader course, a certification for business leaders looking to recruit remote employees from rural locations.

Since its implementation, 429 people have found jobs after obtaining the Rural Online Initiative certificates, according to the program's documentary.

"We're positioned really well to succeed in the global economy without leaving our state," Hill said. "COVID accelerated remote work adoption by some estimates by 20, 30, 40 years at the current rate it was going before the pandemic, and so it's changed our economy and it's an opportunity for rural communities."

This month, the program received the 2023 Award for Excellence in Community Development Work from the National Association of Community Development of Extension Professionals.

"The Rural Online Initiative is one of the best rural economic development initiatives that we've done in the history of the state of Utah," Cox said.

Lezlie Johnson, a remote employee with Rocky Mountain Power who recently received her Rural Online Initiative certification, noted how the program has helped her not just obtain training on how to work better, but it's helped keep her in Price's tight-knit community.

"When you work in Price, it's a small city, small area, community and there aren't a whole lot of high-paying jobs for people, specifically women, that are in this area," Johnson said. "And so that has made a big difference for me working and living in a rural area but still working a job that pays well. It makes a big difference in my ability to take care of myself."

For others, like Erin Shepherd, a Rural Online Initiative-certified remote worker, the program helps her to take care of her family and job.

"It's allowed me to be a mom. And a lot of jobs, you just can't do that; there's more and more demands put on parents these days," Shepherd said. "When it comes to working from home and being a parent, as far as being rural, obviously there's not too many job opportunities; lots of changes are going on in the economy, stuff like that. From what I understand, it gives you a lot more marketability."

Now, Hill plans on continuing to work with the Utah House of Representatives to further the Rural Online Initative — especially state Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, who "has been the champion of rural Utah," Hill said.

In the future, legislators will especially be helping the program develop to help not just rural workers, but to provide funding for rural businesses needing digital tools to expand their workplace.

"Remote work provided new opportunities for residents of rural Utah and their careers, expanding the careers of rural residents," Hill said. "E-commerce can expand and help rural businesses grow."

Most recent Silicon Slopes stories

Related topics

Utah higher educationUtah growth and populationSilicon SlopesBusinessEastern UtahEducation
Kris Carpenter is a student at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast