Months ago, I was in a meeting with Chamber Chairman Michael Gallagher, when he briefly mentioned that city leaders were doing their best to solve one of Gainesville’s biggest challenges: the brain drain. Well, I’m excited to report that they just might be well on their way.
For years, Gainesville had the University of Florida, and then it had its residents. They didn’t interact much past the four-year mark. Those who did get a job locally after graduation didn’t stick around for long. Some came back to raise families years later.
It was pretty evident when I began working after college that I was the odd one out. With each graduation rotation, friends decamped to more prosperous pastures while I re-introduced myself to new friends (who were the same age as my old friends, while I was only growing older) and re-acquainted myself with the newest club or restaurant.
Gainesville is still a town full of change, both with new faces and new businesses, but I’m starting to notice a different kind of change: It’s become easier to make, and keep, friends my age. And I don’t mean grad students. I mean people who live and work here, period—not just “in the interim.” At first, I wasn’t sure if it was me, or them.
Turns out, it wasn’t just me. Recent grads are starting to stick around, and it’s both because they realize Gainesville offers a high quality of life and because businesses have more opportunities for them.
Take, for example, Prioria Robotics. The company could have out-grown Gainesville, but it stayed for these reasons and more.
The other night while I was picking up some dinner downtown, I ran into a group of friends returning from a small entrepreneur roundtable hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Among them was Grooveshark co-founder Josh Greenberg. I asked him about the state of the infamous “four-year pit stop.” He agreed that the tides had begun to turn.
When he started the music-sharing and -streaming website in 2006, he had no intentions of making Gainesville home base; he was waiting to save enough money to move to Silicon Valley. Now, he says, he and his growing team are happy to live in a town with both a “cool quality” and a low cost of living—and a place that’s become a welcoming place to raise capital and pitch new ideas. And, he says, recent comparisons to areas like Silicon Valley are a good thing.
“The ‘brain drain’ isn’t a new issue, but Gainesville has started to become more attractive to the start-up and entrepreneurial community,” he said, citing the popular monthly “start-up hour” where he regularly meets with those like Augi Lye, founder of another high-caliber tech employer, Trendy Entertainment.
I also met Fabulous Coach Line founder Ray Land, who was a finalist in BusinessWeek’s 2010 “Best Young Entrepreneurs” competition and who says Gainesville has become an “up-and-coming scene” for young entrepreneurs.
“When I started my business at 17, I often felt alone, that there weren’t many other young people in business—and that was true then,” Land says. “Groups like the roundtable that Kristen (Hadeed, of Student Maid) and Josh (of Grooveshark) are putting together really provide something much nicer than you find in larger metros, and that is close relationships.”
The Business Report recently interviewed SumTotal president John Borgerding, who moved the company from Silicon Valley to Gainesville. When they made the announcement, others in the industry asked, “Why would you do that? You can’t make that work.” Well, in two years, they’ve added more than 150 employees.
“We actually made it work,” Borgerding said. “We found great talent here, and we continue to grow the business and to be successful. It’s a great testament to the community.”
I recently met with leaders from the local United Way, who shared an exciting new program that starts next month to help foster our next generation of business leaders. It’s called Boardroom Basics, and it’s designed to help young professionals feel confident in accepting a position of leadership as a board member, and to provide them with the baseline skills to be successful in that role—especially in serving non-profits.
Perfect timing, no?
And, if Gainesville ends up working out in the long run, I’ve got good news: AARP The Magazine just named Gainesville one of the 10 best places to retire on a budget, thanks to our high quality of life and low cost of living.