Georgia: The Making of a Tech Powerhouse

By John Watson

Over the past few years, Atlanta has been called a “corporate stronghold,” the “tech hub of the Southeast,” a “Southern belle,” and the “Silicon Valley of the Southeast.”           

John Watson
John Watson

In fact just this January, Cox Enterprises announced it would invest $250 million in tech startups in Atlanta. In addition to adding 1,000 jobs statewide, AT&T recently announced that its fourth Foundry facility – an innovation center devoted to developing telecommunications technologies and applications – will be in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola recently reported it would soon open an information technology center in Atlanta that will also bring 2,000 jobs to the city.

So why have so many new startups and existing tech giants come to call Atlanta – and, indeed, all of Georgia – home and what will it take to continue the momentum?            

It doesn’t hurt that Georgia has one of the world’s busiest airports and world-class universities, as well as a young and vibrant population of creative, well-educated individuals who are at the forefront of the tech industry. It also doesn’t hurt that Atlanta has a diverse culture and offers a good quality of life.           

The confluence of these factors might have been enough to drive the remarkable growth in the city witnessed over the last decade, but what has also played a very important role are public policy and massive investment in a wireless infrastructure to support the explosive mobile technology industry (think health apps, machine-to-machine communications and mobile payments). As a result, Atlanta’s population grew by about 23,000 between 2010 and 2012, a 5.6 percent increase and more than three times the national growth rate, and was No. 2 on the Kauffman Foundation’s Index of Entrepreneurial Activity in 2012.          

Most importantly, Georgia lawmakers have fostered an environment in which private investment in technology and telecommunications can flourish. And while removing hurdles to building new infrastructure to support the needs of entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes should remain a priority, policy-makers have sought to partner with the private sector rather than act as a barrier. The Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech is one example. The business incubator, which is funded in part with state revenues, has a robust program to help startups.

Governor Nathan Deal deserves applause for leading the effort to preserve an environment that embraces business, investment and entrepreneurs. The state’s top marginal corporate income tax rate is lower than in most states. Its per capita debt burden is the fourth-lowest in the nation and its per capita tax burden is the lowest. As a result, the state’s outlook for the economic growth is the eighth strongest in the United States for 2013. (The state’s economy expanded a respectable 2.1 percent in both 2011 and 2012.)           

The practical results of these policies are impressive: companies flocking to Georgia with more jobs in a sector that pays almost twice the national median income.           

Atlanta is the fourth-highest ranked high tech city in the country. The number of digital media job openings has increased by nearly 50 percent in Atlanta in the last two years. As a result, the city has twice as many jobs available per capita in digital media than any other city in the nation. Job postings in health care information technology have increased a remarkable 167 percent. Overall, the city has created 16,000 new high-tech jobs since 2010.           

Other cities and states are beginning to catch on to the recipe for success and reforming their laws in ways that level the playing field between telecommunications and technology competitors. Thankfully, public policy has consequences and Citizens for a Digital Future looks forward to working with lawmakers to ensure that Georgia remains one of the nation’s most cutting-edge environments and to encourage continued investment in the state’s wireless infrastructure to support this growth industry. 

John Watson is Chairman of Atlanta Based Citizens for a Digital Future, a 501 (c)(4) advocacy organization that promotes the adoption of public policies which encourage broadband expansion and development of advanced digital technologies. Watson is also a founding member of Massey, Watson, Bowers and Hembree and is active in commercial real estate and economic development. He was Chief of Staff to Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.

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