When Augusta was named one of the worst cities in the country to start a career this year by the personal finance website, WalletHub, it kind of stung a little bit.
Not only did WalletHub give Augusta such poor marks, but the fact that several national media outlets picked up the story and ran with it, didn’t really help this city’s image.
“Of the 150 most populated cities in America, one Georgia city ranked among the worst places in the nation to start a career,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in May after WalletHub released its list. “In fact, Augusta (about two hours east of Atlanta) came in third to last.”
Of course, the AJC was quick to point out that Atlanta was ranked very well on the list by WalletHub.
“With a total score of 68.72, Salt Lake City, Utah, was named the best city to start a career in 2017,” the AJC wrote. “Atlanta, which ranked sixth on the list, ranked in the top 10 for both professional opportunities and quality of life. But Georgia cities Columbus (No. 133) and Augusta (No. 148) were recognized as some of the country’s worst cities to start a career. Augusta received a total score of 36.03 and ranked 144th for professional opportunities and 143rd for quality of life. The only cities on the list with scores worse than Augusta were Newark, New Jersey, and Cleveland, Ohio.”
But the criticism didn’t stop there.
“Both Augusta and Columbus were also recognized as one of the 10 unhappiest cities in the country in WalletHub’s ‘Happiest Places to Live’ ranking for factors such as income/employment, emotional/physical well-being and community/environment,” the AJC wrote.
But while Augustans may cringe at such “national rankings” and feel deflated when they hear nicknames like “Disgusta” being thrown around town, the Garden City actually has a lot to be proud of lately.
In the cover story this week, Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis talks about an article published in Forbes Magazine earlier this year called, “How Augusta, Georgia, Is Becoming A Model For Tech Innovation In Small Cities.”
In the April article, Forbes contributor Mike Montgomery praised a team of young “action leaders” and business owners including former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, John Cates, Virginia Claussen, Tom Patterson, George Claussen and Tommy Wafford for a new downtown development called the Augusta Innovation Zone.
The Augusta Innovation Zone is about creating a culture and community like none other in the downtown area that will appeal to the millennial generation.
It’s about an environment that replaces isolating cubicles with open-office workspaces that are located just seconds from retail shops, high-end lofts and even a rooftop bar.
“The iZone team wanted to create a physical space where people could come together to brainstorm ideas, find mentors and bounce entrepreneurial projects off venture capitalists,” Montgomery wrote in April. “They wanted a place where people could inspire one another to bring their visions to fruition. And they wanted local businesses to turn to a creative space for recruiting events.”
This new way of thinking could help make Augusta a leader in tech innovation, he wrote.
Clearly, the Augusta Innovation Zone is attracting national attention.
“Over 200 people are on the waitlist for memberships, and 40 percent of the office space on the second floor has been reserved,” Montgomery wrote. “Not all of those interested are locals.”
One of the individuals that Montgomery spoke to for the article was Tommy Wafford, CEO and co-founder of the local company, MealViewer, an Augusta software company that offers students, parents and the school nutrition industry a cutting edge digital menu system that focuses on communication, student health and program growth.
Wafford is also a member of the Augusta Innovation Zone team and proudly praises the local project.
“We said that something’s got to be done with startup innovative culture in our city,” Wafford told Forbes in April, adding that he hopes Augusta’s iZone becomes a model for similar-sized cities around the country. “I definitely think there is an opportunity to help other post-industrialized cities thrive again economically. Obviously, being able to offer startup companies an ecosystem that has access to talent and funding is a key component to their success and longevity.”
But smaller cities like Augusta can do it, Wafford said.
“The wifi is just as good here as it is in Silicon Valley,” he told Forbes.
Seems like a pretty cool guy, right?
Well, others around the state agree.
Just this month, Georgia Trend magazine named Wafford’s MealViewer as one of the 2017 Best Places to Work across the state.
“At MealViewer, an Augusta software company, after five years on the job, employees receive a three-week paid sabbatical designed to help them check off their bucket list,” Georgia Trend wrote, adding that Wafford and his staff surround themselves with positive reinforcement. “Superior performance at MealViewer is rewarded with a plush ‘Wow-Cow’ signed by the entire company. The highly coveted cows are considered collectibles and are proudly displayed around the office.”
Not too shabby, eh?
So, don’t believe all the doom and gloom about Augusta.
There are some incredible places to work and start a career here in the Garden City.
You just have to open your eyes.