Microsoft became the latest tech company to announce an expansion in Georgia as it unveiled plans last week for a major hub in metro Atlanta.
The Microsoft announcement came almost one year to the day after Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan called together the first meeting of the Georgia Innovates Task Force, which is co-chaired by retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and former Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson. The goal of the task force, starting with the original press release from Duncan’s office, is to make Georgia the “Technology Capital of the East Coast.”
But not long after that first task force meeting in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Duncan says the need for remote learning and working, and telehealth made their work even more pressing.
“All of these things, in all honesty, in maybe a five-month period of time have accelerated five-plus years’ worth of adoption rates,” Duncan said.
Duncan says over the next 12 months, the task force will be looking to spur investment in tech and push the expansion of broadband to make sure rural parts of the state won’t be left out.
“If we can get the right talent in those places that either want to stay there or relocate there, create the right environment for economic development around whether it be data storage centers, programming units or just data analysis companies, then I think we’ve got an opportunity to really grow those rural areas,” Duncan said.
Duncan says the state’s colleges and universities can also play a big role in developing talent for tech companies, something Microsoft President Brad Smith noted when he talked to WABE’s Closer Look last week.
“For a tech company, it gives us the opportunity to literally be surrounded by great colleges and universities from Georgia Tech and Georgia State to three of the country’s most renowned HBCUs in Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman,” Smith said.
While Microsoft’s major expansion is expected to take years to complete, the company says it could have 2,500 employees working in Atlanta by year’s end, about a third of what the company has in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
“It’s a great place for us to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘We’re going to invest here. We’re going to grow here,’” Smith said.