I recently attended a business conference in a city suffering from chronic random violence, including the killing of four people and the wounding of 15 others over the Fourth of July weekend. The city was my home town of Boston, Mass.
If a visitor from, say, Europe had only read about the killings on the Web they might have seen a chilling editorial cartoon in the Boston Globe. It showed a newswoman in front of an “Urban Weekend Forecasts” that warned of “…sporadic lethal violence…with intermittent bands of drive-by shootings…” If they had checked on MapQuest to see how close the violence is to the site of the conference, they’d have found it is only a 15-minute, six-mile drive. And they might have stayed home.
Which would have been a mistake. The violence is centered in the Roxbury and Dorchester sections of the city, which are geographically close to the harbor but don’t pose a threat. The $350 a night hotel where the conference was held and the surrounding harbor side area are as safe as any major city. The conference rooms were luxurious, we had a beautiful view of the harbor as we pondered the mysteries of software testing, and the only danger was getting drenched by the afternoon downpour.
Seeing this editorial cartoon in my home town paper jumped out at me because earlier this year I agonized about traveling to Guadalajara for business after reading media reports of drug-related violence. Locals insisted it was fine and that the areas I’d be conducting business are perfectly safe. One local businessman told me he had no problem taking his family to an open air concert, downtown, at night, with tens of thousands of attendees. Just like in Boston, where hundreds of thousands of people safely attended the Fourth of July Boston Pops concert along Boston’s Charles River just a few miles from where random shootings will be a concern all summer.
If I’d only listened to the media and not my peers who live there, I would never have seen first hand the entrepreneurial energy and depth of IT skills that exist in Guadalajara. (Rising economic and education levels are in fact keeping more Mexicans home rather than migrating to the U.S. the New York Times reported recently.) I wouldn’t have sensed, for myself, how safe and comfortable I felt. The violence and fear behind the editorial cartoon about Boston are real, but so is the fact that within a few miles people live and work in as much comfort and security as you find in any modern city.
If you have security concerns about an outsourcing destination, by all means do your homework. But I’ve recently seen, in Guadalajara and in Boston, that trusting the locals and doing a site visit beat trying to make sense of newspaper headlines from thousands of miles away.