UPDATE: Airbnb to open Atlanta tech hub, bring hundreds of jobs

People walk near the campus of Clark Atlanta University, Wednesday, August 21, 2019. Airbnb decided to expand in Atlanta to help boost its workforce diversity and plans to recruit aggressively at the Atlanta University Center. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
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People walk near the campus of Clark Atlanta University, Wednesday, August 21, 2019. Airbnb decided to expand in Atlanta to help boost its workforce diversity and plans to recruit aggressively at the Atlanta University Center. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Online rental marketplace cites diversity hiring push

Airbnb is expanding to Atlanta, the latest West Coast tech titan to move here amid a diversity hiring push.

The online platform for vacation home rentals will open later this year an engineering hub, where it will hire hundreds of workers over time, in both technical and non-technical roles, it said Thursday.

San Francisco-based Airbnb said Atlanta can help it improve its workforce diversity. It joins Microsoft, Apple, Comcast and other tech companies to choose Atlanta for expansions, new partnerships and charitable giving recently, with much of the focus on the city’s Black workforce.

Airbnb wants to increase underrepresented minorities to 20% of its U.S workforce by 2025, up from 12% now, according to Laphonza Butler, the company’s public policy director. Airbnb also wants women to make up half its global workforce by 2025, up from about 47% now.

“We wanted to set our expansion roots in a city with leaders who are committed to economic empowerment,” Butler said in an interview.

Blacks, Native Americans and Latinos are considered underrepresented minorities, according to the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. Many tech companies are making it a bigger priority to increase diversity in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Atlanta has become a top landing spot for Black technology workers and entrepreneurs‚ fueled by the city’s large Black population and higher education, including Georgia Tech and historically black colleges and universities. A Brookings Institute study in 2016 found that four times more Black people worked in the tech sector here than in San Francisco.

ExploreAtlanta fast becoming a mecca for African Americans in tech

“We’ve known for years that Atlanta is a hidden gem from a Black talent perspective,” said Joey Womack, CEO of Atlanta-based Goodie Nation, which partners with Google to provide funding to minority-owned tech companies. Womack is not involved with the Airbnb project.

Airbnb didn’t disclose other details of its local expansion plans, such as a specific location in metro Atlanta for its office or an exact timetable. Details of financial incentives offered to Airbnb also have not been made public.

But the company said it plans to donate any tax incentives or other economic benefits that it receives to the city of Atlanta for “community impact initiatives.”

Airbnb said it has discussed its plans with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Gov. Brian Kemp, including strategies to “promote equitable access to education, development and training opportunities for Atlanta youth.”

Bottoms, in a statement, said Atlanta’s “prosperity depends on cultivating a diverse company base that brings jobs and creates opportunities for our residents.”

ExploreAirbnb co-founder got start in metro Atlanta

The company also has formed or plans to establish relationships with the colleges of the Atlanta University Center, the NAACP, the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and other groups.

Airbnb in December held an initial public offering and its shares have continued to rise in value. As of Thursday, it had a stock market valuation of about $118 billion. That’s larger than Delta Air Lines, Equifax or Southern Co.

Still, the pandemic has taken a toll on the travel industry and its recovery is expected to be slow, according to travel executives. The Atlanta hotel industry does not expect a rebound until the second half of the year, Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO William Pate said in December.

ExploreFrom December 2020: Atlanta hotel industry recovery not likely until second half of 2021

Airbnb hasn’t escaped the travel downturn. The company said Thursday it decided at the end of 2019 to establish a technical hub in Atlanta, but paused plans as the pandemic set in. Last May, it cut its staff by 25%.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said last month that, once vaccines start to work, consumers will first want to travel regionally to visit family and friends before taking longer trips.

Amid its rapid growth, the company also has faced a backlash in some communities for large parties held at Airbnb-leased properties. In August, Airbnb banned parties and events with more than 16 people, after 50 Atlanta party houses were removed from its listings for rules violations. The city of Atlanta has been considering a ban or other restrictions on short-term rentals to deal with the problem.

Airbnb already has an Atlanta connection, in addition to the homeowners and apartment owners who use the website to rent their properties. Joe Gebbia Jr., who co-founded Airbnb in 2008, grew up in metro Atlanta and graduated from Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County.

ExploreMicrosoft plans to expand in Atlanta, turn city into major hub

WHAT IT MEANS:

Airbnb is the latest West Coast tech titan to pick Atlanta for an expansion, attracted to the city’s diverse workforce. The San Francisco company plans to hire hundreds of workers here with both technical and non-technical backgrounds. Airbnb will open a physical office this year at an undetermined location in the metro area.