The city of Augusta might not come to mind immediately as a cybersecurity hub, but it’s actually on the front lines of fighting cyberwars in the United States.
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The U.S. Army, National Security Agency and Department of Energy have cyber command operations in Augusta.
The city’s also getting a big boost from the state of Georgia with the opening of the $60 million Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in 2018 that could help it challenge Atlanta’s position as the cyber capital of the South.
‘Not A Small Town’
When you ask the former mayor of Augusta, Deke Copenhaver, about all the cybersecurity buzz in his city, he notes a significant shift.
“Not that we have been for many, many years, but we are definitely not a small town anymore,” Copenhaver said.
Copenhaver served as mayor from 2005 to 2014 and now works with the Augusta Economic Development Authority.
Augusta is home to Fort Gordon, where the U.S. Army is opening its $85 million cyber command center. The military also plans to invest nearly $2 billion in future cyber ventures.
The state of Georgia wants to spend another $60 million to build a cyber innovation and training center there.
These investments make it easier for boosters like Copenhaver to attract private business to East Georgia.
“We have to be very aggressive because we as a community have a once-in-a-lifetime chance here,” Copenhaver said.
He can promote things like the center’s startup incubator, classrooms, office space and a planned cyber range, where companies, students, police officers and soldiers can test products and practice fighting off cyberattacks. The center will also be home to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s new cybercrime unit.
Calvin Rhodes, chief information officer for the state of Georgia, said the need for the center was critical, especially as more data breaches regularly make the news.
“Atlanta companies that work in this space understand the demand and shortage is so significant that as we look to build these partnerships, this is only a plus,” Rhodes said. “It’s all about workforce development and trying not only to meet the need in Augusta, but across the state.”
He said there are about 15,000 cybersecurity openings expected in Georgia by 2021.
Some cyber firms have already moved to Augusta. Others, like Roswell-based Core Security and SecureAuth, are now seriously considering expanding there, said chief marketing officer Jeff Nolan.
“Our biggest challenge is recruiting and hiring the right people,” Nolan said. “So if we have a resource that’s available to us and helps us solve that problem, yeah, absolutely, we’re going to take advantage of it.”
Nolan said Atlanta’s traffic and transit options hurt the city’s businesses, but he said one major drawback for the city of Augusta is that it doesn’t have an international airport.
Kennesaw State University information security professor Humayun Zafar said the Atlanta market is much more mature.
“Startups might start moving there, someone wanting to actually get into the arena, but I think Atlanta itself has got a lot going for it,” Zafar said.
So cybersecurity firms won’t be rushing to leave Atlanta just yet.
For one thing, Zafar said, metro Atlanta has more universities with more students graduating with cybersecurity degrees.