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Nov 25, 2008

Small-Town Tech Firm Reversing Outsourcing Tide

Eleutian Technology, based in rural Wyoming, is poised to do big business teaching English to Korean and Chinese students over the Internet

By W. David Gardner

A small but vigorous countermovement to offshore outsourcing is brewing in a tiny town in Wyoming. The company, Eleutian Technology, is teaching English to Korean and Chinese students over the Internet.

Eleutian uses the same technologies that have been essential to generating the flow of jobs out of the United States -- high-speed Internet links and VoIP calling services like eBay (NSDQ: EBAY )'s Skype.

Eleutian is based in Ten Sleep, Wyo., population 350, and has nearly 300 teachers based in remote areas of Wyoming. The teachers use videoconferencing techniques to teach English to Asians.

Although it's still in its infancy, online distance foreign language learning can be a big business. "Between Korea, Japan, and China is a hundred billion dollars a year," Eleutian founder Kent Holiday told a Wyoming television station last year, "There's not many hundred billion dollar markets, and that's just Korea, Japan, and China. You take the world market and it's trillions of dollars a year."

 

Holiday isn't the only entrepreneur to spot the potential of online language learning . Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, and even iTunes are providing their own versions of language learning. A big difference is that Eleutian's prices are generally lower than those of established language courses. For instance, Berlitz charges a few thousand dollars for a course while Eleutian charges just $150 a semester.

 

According to the Associated Press, Holiday was convinced to start Eleutian in Ten Sleep after he learned that the tiny village had fiber optic cable installed throughout the town, located in the Big Horn River basin. The cable made it possible to establish video links with Skype, whose inexpensive service features videoconferencing technology. Today, teachers in Wyoming work from home and in Eleutian offices chatting and drilling Korean students in the finer points of English.  Eleutian has also organized visits to its facilities and Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., by elementary school teachers from Incheon, Korea.

Eleutian's teachers have teaching certificates, but Holiday has said that demand for the firm's services has grown so rapidly that the company is likely to employ teachers with lesser academic credentials.