Talented people are attracted to other highly talented people. Seems obvious, right? But how does talent find other talent? Particularly in a town like Athens? If you look around Athens, we have a ton of talented musicians. They didn’t simply come to be or grow out of nothing. When they moved to Athens (or were growing up here) they moved here because they were attracted by the talent before them. How did they know about this previous talent? It is because Athens has created a cluster of artists. These artists feed off of each other, encouraging, competing and improving because of the competition in the ecosystem.
This ecosystem was not created by a bunch of singular musicians doing their own thing in their own corner of Athens. Instead, musicians collectively grouped to share knowledge, resources and skills in bars, recording studios and practice spaces. Imagine if every band created their own recording studio, their own stage to perform on and their own practice space. You’d never have any collaboration or growth. You’d have a huge hurdle to even getting started.
And yet, that’s exactly what is happening in Athens among the tech startup community. We have too few shared spaces to collaborate and grow. We don’t have any spaces to tinker with hardware or share expensive equipment. Without these physical spaces, we don’t have anywhere for the members of a particular community to congregate and have spontaneous interactions. This immensely limits the talent pool in Athens – if talented graduates of UGA don’t see others “doing” in a tangible and real manner (ie not tucked away in their private dorm or apartment) they will leave to go to a place that is outwardly doing.
Lest you think this problem isn’t of consequence to you as you are not a founder or part of a startup, it is a problem that effects the whole community. Established companies need continual talent. If the best & the brightest from UGA are not staying in Athens and we are not attracting enough people from outside that are skilled and talented (not all employees are created equally!), these companies will have an increasingly difficult time retaining existing employees, improving their products or expanding their markets. With this comes a decrease in living for everyone followed by even more challenges in retaining talent. A vicious cycle.
So, what can we do?
Startups start engaging with others. Create meetups around your interests. Seek out others in town working on similar ideas and collaborate. Share ideas. Offer hints, tips and suggestions to others. Don’t hide your knowledge and skills for fear that others will learn. Help them learn with you and you’ll both improve.
Established companies in town. Become leaders. Sponsor space, outside of your office, to hold meetups, gatherings and events. Do this altruistically with no expectation that it will immediately benefit you. Don’t host these events at your office – your employees want to feel like they are working on something different and not the same stuff they do for “work”. In the end, a more connected, engaged and knowledgeable workforce will benefit your company.
Talent pools around the world do not just happen. They are the result of significant hard work, challenge and money. We can’t just wish that we did a better job retaining talent in Athens. We can’t just wish we had a higher average wage or more challenging jobs. And we certainly can’t wish the ideas above into being. Take action and together we can create a better Athens.