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Out-sourcing on a new level

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Oxford native uses rural background to develop new business

While many successful people reject their small town roots, Kathy Brittain White, a native of Oxford, has created a business by embracing hers.

Rural Sourcing is White's current venture into the business world and it has been making ripples through the American business community, gaining attention from both companies and the business press.

Rural Sourcing is a decentralized software development firm that opened its first development center in Jonesboro. A decentralized business does not have one center of activity, but many. The business has expanded to open satellite centers in Magnolia and the University of Arkansas in Monticello.

"We do software development and Web development," White said. She added it's the kind of work information technology graduates do.

"IT (information technology) is anything related to computers -- they provide the systems for ATM machines, Internet transactions, airline reservations and all related to wireless technology that we all use. Most business could not function even one day without the computers where they house their customer files, data, and business processes," she said.

"We have been in existence since 2003," White said, "We opened the first center in 2004 in Jonesboro." Within a year and a half, Rural Sourcing had more than 50 employees and over 20 clients.

"We locate in non-metro areas, as compared to metro areas like Chicago," White said.

White said part of the idea for rural sourcing originated through the Virtual Internship program at Arkansas State University and Allegiance Healthcare, which had students working as interns from a location on the campus on technology projects for the company.

"That initiative plus my own rural background provided the impetus for the company," White said.

White said the premise of the company is that it can offer high-tech jobs where those jobs are usually not available. She said many technology graduates from college would usually not be able to find work in their field in their local area, which means they'd either have to find a different field of work or move away.

"The purpose was to tap into the workforce offered in these regions. Because of the technology, you can do this work anywhere with a high-speed connection (to the Internet)," she said.

"We're developing a work force in the field that might not be there if we were not in the areas we are in," she said.

"I believe over the next 10 years college graduates can live almost anywhere and be able to work. We are already seeing what I call the 'virtual organization' where people telecommute or do work from home," White said.

White said the company has expanded into North Carolina and Rockport, Mo., as well as management staff in the Chicago area and Chapel Hill, N.C., where White lives.

She said there are no corporate offices; the company's centers are the hub of its activity.

White said she is excited by the customer response to Rural Sourcing. "We've had a tremendous amount of support from business in Arkansas," she said.

"There are many large companies in the field, and a lot is going offshore to India," White said about competition for rural sourcing, adding that there are regional companies to compete with, too.

"The appeal of outsourcing is lower cost. That is why most of Wal-Mart's products are now manufactured in China and India. The same is true for computer related work -- it is to reduce the cost," White said.

"We have an experienced management team, quality results and are competitive with off-shore rates," White said.

"The management team has experience from Fortune 500 companies across the United States, including Wal-Mart and Cardinal Healthcare," she said.

She said Rural Sourcing offers simplified negotiations, compared to India, which is far away. She added it is also closer to home, which makes it easier to get the job done.

"We sell nationally," White said. Her company serves customers all around the country from Chicago to California. She said clients range from very large companies to startups.

She said Rural Sourcing helps bring customers and revenue that might not otherwise be in the state.

White donated $2 million to Arkansas State University in 2003. She remains involved with the campus. The donation established the Horizon Institute of Technology. Horizon's purpose is to expand technology education at ASU as well as support technology outreach initiatives in rural America.

"The Horizon Institute was formed with an initial grant to support and fund technology research, faculty development and economic development. Each year, numerous grants are given in these areas. It is part of the ASU Education Foundation," she said.

During the time of the donation, White was executive vice president of Cardinal Health Inc. of Dublin, Ohio. Shortly after making the donation, she left the company to found Rural Sourcing.

White said she is encouraged by the movement of many businesses to non-metro areas. On a recent trip to Seattle, she learned of five companies that were moving to rural parts of Washington state.

"You can do anything from a rural area as an urban area, given the right set of factors," White said.

White is a graduate of Oxford High School. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees from ASU. From there she earned her doctorate at the University of Memphis. All her degrees were in business.

White still has family in the area, mostly in Salem and Mountain Home.

Over the years, White has gained much recognition for her accomplishments. These include being on the 2001 list of Forbes magazine's "Top 25 America's Businesswomen," Computer World magazine's 1998 list of 25 IT people to watch, PC Week's 1997 list of Top 10 CIOs in America, Information Week's 1997 top 10 CIOs in the United States and Open Computing's 1994 top 100 women in computing.

"CIO stands for Chief Information Officer and it is the individual that is over all of the data processing and computer related work at a company. For example, when I was CIO of Cardinal Healthcare, I had 1,600 people in my organization and a budget of $350 million. Wal-Mart probably has an information technology organization that is much bigger," White said.

Rural Sourcing offers its clients a number of services which include design, development, integration, maintenance, support, testing, data migration, data conversion and project management.

White will be sharing her story April 11 at the Techpreneur meeting in the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce conference room, located at the corner of Markham and Scott Streets in Little Rock.

"I believe service businesses can be done anywhere thanks to technology. So I believe there are opportunities for areas that would have not been possible 10 years ago," White said.

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