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As much as 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is projected to be working in freelance positions by 2020. But, as in many emerging industries, much of that growth is taking place in coastal hubs. Today,  Fiverr, Udemy, and Samaschool are coming together to launch a program they hope will help individuals in more parts of the country be able to make a living in the freelance sector.

As part of the program, called the Digital Workforce Development Initiative (DWDI), the three organizations are bringing a variety of resources to independent contractors in four cities:  Memphis, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Stockton, California; and Richmond, California. Participants in partner cities will receive access to free in-person workshops and networking events; online modules on Samaschool that detail how to start a freelance business; online courses on Udemy that train workers in fields such as graphic design, web development, and search engine optimization; and “accelerated onboarding” on Fiverr. The program will work with city governments and economic development organizations in each of the four cities to help spread the word.

“Historically, we have looked at employment growth as jobs at major organizations, but that has obviously changed over the past 20 years,” said Drew Solomon, a senior vice president at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City. “We see this as a way for folks to earn and create new wealth pathways in our community.”

Fiverr, Udemy, and Samaschool each have a vested interest in seeing the gig economy grow. Fiverr is a marketplace where independent workers can find and solicit work, and Udemy is an online learning platform with courses to develop skills many independent workers either offer or need in order to help market their business. Meanwhile, Samaschool is a nonprofit whose mission is to give members of low-income populations the training needed to become income workers.

“In theory, everyone has access to the independent freelance economy,” Brent Messenger, Fiverr’s global head of community, told VentureBeat. “But the one thing we think seems to be missing — and this is true of large cities and rural markets — is just an understanding of how to do it.”

As part of the announcement, Fiverr today released a Freelance Economy Impact report that examines the prominence of independent workers in 15 metropolitan areas across the U.S. The report found that the majority of freelance workers are clustered in the biggest cities — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.

The report, created in partnership with a research firm called Rockbridge Associates, looked at tax return data filed in 2011, 2013, and 2015 from self-employed individuals. Rockbridge Associates and Fiverr then used those datasets, along with other publicly available data, to project how many independent creative professionals were conducting business in 15 metropolitan areas in 2017, and how much they were earning.

Independent workers were also classified as providing one of three types of services, using the NAICS codes that federal agencies use to categorize types of jobs. The three groups were creative services (artists, writers, graphic designers), technical services, (data processing, programmers, and IT professionals), and professional services (accounting or legal services).

San Francisco and Seattle had two of the largest shares of independent workers providing technical services — which makes sense, given that they are two of the cities with the highest density of tech workers and likely have more connections to companies or startups that need independent workers with technical skills.

Messenger said that, as of now, the programs in Memphis, Kansas City, Stockton, and Richmond are still in the pilot stages, but the DWDI hopes to bring programs to more cities by the end of the year.


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