Georgia can leverage its tech industry and plan for its future

By Guest Columnist TINO MANTELLA, president and CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia

Georgia is home to more than 250,000 technologists and 13,000 technology companies (both producers of technology and tech-enabled businesses). Fourteen Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in our state. And we were recently ranked by the Kaufman Foundation as the top state in the nation for new businesses (tied for first with Nevada).

But our prowess in technology is still, unfortunately, one of Georgia’s best kept secrets.

In the late 90’s, Georgia—along with the rest of the nation—felt the excitement of the tech boom. New businesses began popping up everywhere and investment in the technology industry was strong. In Georgia, companies such as Internet Security Systems (now part of IBM) and CipherTrust (which became part of McAfee after the company purchased Secure Computing) helped thrust the state into the technology spotlight.

When the tech bubble collapsed, Georgia felt the strain along with the rest of the nation. But, while the state slipped into the shadows of tech giants like the Silicon Valley, something was happening behind the scenes. The technology community was picking up the pieces and building a new industry, much of it coming from some very specific clusters, including health IT, information security, logistics, IT communication and financial technology.

Tino Mantella

Today these clusters represent more than 12,000 companies and more than $80 billion in revenue for the state.

Even during the depths of the recession, Georgia’s technology industry remained stable and grew in some segments, including internet, and multimedia and telecommunications. This occurred as many other industries, and even the national technology economy, experienced either nominal growth or major losses.

Technology jobs are picking up. Every month, TAG and partner SkillProof track the number of open technology jobs in the state. In July, there were 5,200 technology jobs open (up nearly 2,000 jobs from the same time last year).

And the number of technology companies in Georgia is growing. The state has been successful at attracting new technology business, including Fortune 500 companies NCR and First Data.

The job opportunities are on the rise and the technology community is expanding, but there’s still more we need to do to make Georgia a top state for technology.

First, we need a strategic plan for science and technology. Georgia is one of only eight states working towards a plan for this area—which puts us on the cutting edge. The plan needs to tackle everything from business issues (including benefits and tax incentives) to educating and retaining the next generation workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

Governor Deal recently passed a resolution to establish a commission that will meet with business leaders in cities around the state over the next few months to determine the needs of each region. The ultimate goal of the commission is to develop Georgia’s first strategic plan for science and technology. The first meeting kicked off on July 20 at Cisco.

Secondly, as a leader in entrepreneurship, we need to do a better job at keeping our start-up companies in Georgia.

In the spring of 2010, young companies received a shot in the arm from legislators with the passage of the Angel Tax Credit. The tax credit is designed to provide motivation for early-stage investors in Georgia to support local start-ups and give them the resources needed to grow and thrive in our state.

But Georgia still does not have a plan for to attract and build investment firms, putting it at risk of falling behind competing states in recruiting and developing knowledge industry companies and jobs. It is imperative that we put an emphasis on bring venture capital to the state.

Finally, we need to work together to better promote the great things Georgia has to offer. This includes promoting the industry-leading businesses and incredible talent our state has to offer, as well as talking about the great way of life.

We spend a lot of time focusing on our challenges and issues and not enough time sharing what we love about Georgia, including the access to parks and recreation, an easy drive to the beach and some of the best food and personalities in the south. It takes a community effort to help change perceptions and improve the reputation of a state.

Together we can help our companies and talent grow and thrive and help Georgia take its rightful position as a leader in technology.

To learn more about Georgia’s leadership in technology, visit: www.wheregeorgialeads.com. For more information of the Technology Association of Georgia, visit: www.tagonline.org.

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