American City Business Journals has named LibraryThing’s home town, Portland, ME as the 10th-best place to start a small business. Best of all, Portland beat “the other Portland.” (And did you know they were named after us?)
Three cheers for Portland. But at the risk of being ejected from the ranks of Portland, Maine’s tech startup community, I think that—wait, there’s no local startup community to be ejected from! There’s LibraryThing. There’s Foneshow (two guys?) and that’s about it! What businesses are they talking about anyway?
This city has grown on me. It’s scenic, quirky and cheap. My wife and I think we can find both the right school and the right house, and avoid some of the craziness of Boston. But the business climate here leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you aren’t in tourism.
American City Business Journals must be talking about some industry I’m not in, with very different inputs. For a tech startup the labor market is a train wreck—way too small and illiquid. Even if you could hire them, the people are wrong. There aren’t any top-notch universities spitting smart young hackers out into the local community.* And there are too many people who want “quality of life,” which is great if you can get it, but hard-driving companies want hard-driving employees.** As Paul Graham wrote, ambition is a big city phenomenon. New Yorkers want to get richer. Cambridge people smarter. I still don’t quite understand what Portland people want. Smart, ambitious people tend to leave Maine—it’s a big problem.***
I’m sorry for the harsh tone of this post, but I generally don’t hide my feelings. Do you run a local small business? A local tech business? Send me a comment and I’ll buy you lunch. As we both know, there are some amazing places to eat around here.
*There are, it’s true, more local tech people that it seems at first. But, like Alexandria, they’re mostly “in” not “of” Portland—Bostonians who moved to Portland and still service Boston-area clients.
**That comment will no doubt draw objections. But nobody with knowledge of the community in Cambridge or the Valley work can dispute it. Startups work because people make them their lives. Any anyway, when startup people aren’t working, they want to hang out with other driven people.
***Back in 2003, a study
concluded that “half of the state’s college graduates in 1998 wanted to live and work in Maine, but three of four ultimately left.” Subsidizing
Maine graduates who stay in Maine probably helps, but it’s not the answer.
Photo by PhilipC, from Wikimedia Common (link).