The Ecosystem of Work: Joshua Robertson and Kate Borg
Dec 21, 2017
Two civil engineers walk into a bar….It’s a joke set-up, no doubt, and perhaps a bad one, but Josh and Kate are getting the last, and enduring, laugh after they each, at different times, walked up to the “bar” at Local Works. Think of that bar as the elevated counter workstations that surround the light, airy and quietly-buzzing-with-productivity co-working space at LLF’s headquarters at 1600 Meeting Street.
“I initially thought this was an incubator space,” says Joshua, whose firm, Robinson Design Engineering, specializes in water resources engineering. He was first introduced to LLF while he was assisting Charleston Waterkeeper, a 1600 Meeting neighbor, on a project. At the time, Joshua was renting an office in a James Island office park, but after his landlord sold the building, he spent a lot of time, and coffee money, working out of coffee shops. “That got old fast,” he says. “I mean, I’m a grown up with advanced degrees, but here I was spending 20 bucks on coffee and donuts so I didn’t have to work at my kitchen table.” He remembered the space at Local Works and decided to check it out.
“I was wrong about the incubator bit. The atmosphere wasn’t start-uppy at all. I immediately met people doing really cool projects. A computer programmer, an attorney, a music manager for nationally touring bands,” he says. Enter Kate Borg, another person he met in short order, and a fellow civil engineer who five years ago left a large firm to start her own environmental consulting gig, Oyster Point Consulting.
“At the end of year three on my own, I realized I needed to get out of my house,” says Kate. Bryan Cordell at the Sustainability Institute suggested she check out Local Works. “There was something about the way Bryan said ‘just visit, trust me,’ that made me follow through,” she recalls.
When Kate came to tour the space, Larry Downey introduced her to Joshua, but Kate says that was just icing on the cake. “Two hours into my ‘free trial day’ I was already filling out my lease paperwork. I loved how Larry was so supportive and into connecting people with each other, especially those whose areas of interest and expertise overlapped. That’s exactly what I was missing when I was working alone at home,” Kate says.
And about that icing: within five minutes of meeting each other at Local Works, Joshua and Kate discovered their professional worlds overlapped in all sorts of ways, including the realization that they had a long list of mutual friends and colleagues, and that many of those colleagues were also independent players or small operations. “So we asked Larry if we could invite 15 or so of our fellow environmental-related colleagues to Local Works for a lunch working group meet-up,” says Joshua.
Today Joshua and Kate’s Lowcountry Environmental Design Group (LEDG) has grown to a roster of some 37 people, including coastal engineers, landscape architects, construction managers, and other eco-related professionals. But the kicker is members have to be from “truly small and truly local” firms, says Kate. Each month 25 or so of them gather for a catered (local, of course) lunch at Local Works, to brainstorm ideas, share resources, problem-solve, and get to know each other better. “It’s a lot like the eco-system at Local Works itself,” says Kate. “The LEDG is all about resource sharing, collaboration and camaraderie.”
That camaraderie has paid off both personally and professionally, through meeting colleagues with complimentary skill sets. “We’ve been able to partner and put together a competitive bid for big projects that typically only a diversified multinational firm would win,” says Joshua.
“My work culture is really important to me, but as a small firm, it can be hard to cultivate that,” Joshua says. Local Works has not only made sense from a bottom line perspective, “it’s been good for my own mental health,” he adds, a sentiment Kate echoes. “The community connections you make here are so motivating,” she says. “I have so much admiration for my co-workers who are doing really amazing, inspiring things. We bounce ideas off each other, share food, share computer cords…”
And then Kate confesses the real reason she can never leave Local Works: “Roots Hummus occasionally comes by and stocks the fridge with hummus,” she says. “Oh my goodness, I’m completed addicted.”