The Creative Coast’s blogspot is Savannah’s sounding board for local thinkers, innovators, wanderers and wonderers. Guest bloggers share their thoughts, opinions and creative noodling from all over the map. This week’s blog is from Kevin Lawver, technologist, crazy man and seer of Things That Can Be. Read on for Kevin’s ponderings on technology, Savannah and our future….
There was a discussion recently on the Creative Coast LinkedIn group asking ‘Is technology really the solution to revitalizing Savannah?’. I posted a comment, but the question has stuck with me for two weeks – to the point that I’m going to take this opportunity to try to answer it. I’m a technologist and have been for 15 years. I’m easy to find on the web, so I won’t bore you with my particulars. I’d rather talk about the question.
There’s a lot of nuance lost in these discussions, and in that question. Technology is never the only solution to any problem. There’s always a process around the use of that technology, the reasons that technology was developed in the first place, and the support staff that gets built up around a technology. Savannah has a lot of problems, and technology isn’t going to solve any of them by itself. But, technology can help us solve those problems faster, cheaper and more efficiently. Technology can help our young people develop talents and skills to help them succeed in a challenging and changing economy. Technology can reduce waste, corruption and mismanagement of public resources. Technology can help us better understand the consequences of nuanced changes we make in our businesses.
When I hear people talking about turning Savannah into the next Silicon Valley, Austin or Portland, I shake my head and frown. We’re not going to be the “next” Silicon Valley, Austin or Portland, and I feel strongly that trying to be is a recipe for disaster. Better yet, I don’t think we should want to be like any other place. Savannah is unique, just as all three of those other places are unique. We have different strengths, different resources and different cultures. We need to be honest about the raw materials Savannah has available and what size technology companies we can support. We have to get over whatever motive it is that drives us to imitate instead of innovate and get on with building what we can with the materials we have to work with. It’s a lot harder to actually solve problems than imitate others’ solutions, but that’s the only true path to success. Let’s talk about what I think Savannah’s path is…
The longer I live here, the more convinced I become that technology can play a huge role in solving several of our problems. Bradley Taylor says frequently that “Savannah is a great place to build things to sell to people in other places.” I think he’s proven with Rails Machine that that approach can work. Other local entrepreneurs like Rad Harrell of Talent Soup, and dozens more that I don’t have room to mention, provide further proof that lifestyle businesses centered around technology are a viable option for building sustainable and successful companies based in Savannah.
It’s time to take their hard-won lessons and build a formula for success for those kinds of companies here. Then, we can build the governmental structure, community support and ecosystem to help those companies form, coalesce and thrive. The great thing about technology companies is that they require almost no capital to start. You don’t need heavy machinery, a storefront, or years of R&D or FDA approvals. All you need is time, a text editor, a browser and lots of hard work. Both Rails Machine and Talent Soup were bootstrapped and have never taken outside funding. That gives them a huge advantage over businesses that require either large amounts of debt or investment to get started. You’re answerable to no one but yourself and control your own destiny. It gives you the ability to pivot as you see fit and grow at your own pace.
I think Savannah has the perfect environment to grow dozens of these kinds of businesses and create hundreds of local jobs. We have a low cost of living, good quality of life, lots of local universities to draw talent from, and a supportive community built around the Creative Coast. All of those businesses will eventually need administrative help, more developers, operations folks, accountants, lawyers, etc.
There’s still a lot of work to do to make it a reality. We need to convince local government officials to make the changes needed to make it easier to start a business. We need to build closer ties with local universities to connect local businesses with students and faculty. We need to build out the formula I spoke of earlier to share the lessons learned by our local “pioneers”.
We have a long way to go and I’m a little short on actionable details right this minute, but I’m proud to say that there are smart dedicated people already working to make this a reality and prove that technology, along with a lot of smart people, creativity, hard work and talent, actually can be the answer to revitalizing Savannah.