The top cities for starting something new: Tbilisi

Why you should consider relocating to the Georgian capital in 2021.
Get up and go: Tbilisi
The lowdown

Why you should consider it: 

Tbilisi is a gritty but prospering city.  

Who it’s good for: 

Those looking for opportunities in hospitality and design.

Why now: 

It’s recovering from its Soviet hangover faster than anywhere else.

The capital of Georgia is one of the crossroads between Europe and Asia and offers an extremely low cost of living. It has an attractive hospitality industry and nightlife scene, while tourism is booming and development in infrastructure is at a record high. The government has recently been emphasising tech education and startups to further push the economy. A draw is that the city has lots of inventive young people, a great lifestyle and lots of opportunities as the country is still emerging from its Soviet hangover. It’s on the rise, but not quite arrived yet – foreigners are only just moving over. Move there now to stay ahead of the curve. 

Georgia's cultural comeback 

Valeri Chekheria is the chairman of the board of directors of Adjara Group Holding, whose hotels and buildings have become a hub for Tbilisi’s design scene. 

Why are Tbilisi and Georgia good places to do business today?

‘Firstly, because we have a liberal taxation system [that never exceeds 20%]. Secondly, we have free-trade agreements with Europe and China, and we’re working on ones with the US and India – so it’s a good opportunity to export.’

Which are the most promising industries in Georgia?

‘Agriculture – we have vast amounts of arable land here, especially for wine – and hydropower, as we have plenty of mountains and water. Hospitality was sizeable before Covid and, when it picks up again, eco-resorts and gastronomic tourism will be big.’ 

Can an expat get around without Georgian?

‘English is widely spoken in Georgia – even in the villages – and especially by the young. It was only because we were under the Soviet Union that our second language was Russian, but that changed in 2010 when the second language officially became English.’ 

Is property affordable in Tbilisi?

‘Totally, especially on the east side, near our hostel Fabrika – you have lots of co-working spaces, bars and restaurants there. We’re also working on a space called Radio City, just outside of town. It used to be a Soviet radio factory and our idea is to develop a creative neighbourhood, like Industry City in New York.’

Wine-making and going against the norm

For Baia Abuladze, the co-founder of Baia’s Wine, the biggest opportunity in wine-making in Georgia is exporting bottles abroad. 

Georgia is a country that is maintaining its historic winemaking reputation, and exported more than $200m worth of wine to more than 50 countries in 2018 – a 30-year high – capitalising on its newfound economic freedom following independence from the USSR in 1991. (In comparison, neighbouring wine-making countries like Armenia managed only $9m in the same year, mainly to Russia.) 

All industries must continuously adapt, however, and the most traditional ones are the most stubborn. For winemakers like 27-year-old Baia Abuladze, who is the fourth generation to cultivate her family estate in the region of Bagdati, it meant going against all established norms. 

‘In 2015, we started bottling’– bottling wine is not widespread in Georgia – ‘and labelling our wine and growing organically, so no pesticides,’ she says. ‘We tried to break into the big wine exhibitions, both in Georgia and abroad. This required a lot of finances, but we can’t go forward without it. It was a battle: not many people in our family believed in it.’ 

Baia’s approach has paid off, drawing attention from customers in Georgia’s fastest growing export market: the US. Georgian wine exports there grew by 88% in the first half of 2019 alone, and 90% of Baia’s product is destined to end up in the US, at restaurants like Maydan in Washington DC. 

Find more of the top cities for starting something new in 2021.

This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the full issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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