Higher education institutions have grown nearly as integral to Georgia’s economic development as its utilities, ports and airports have been for decades. Take a tour with us to where the intersection of talent, training, R&D and incubation at schools across the state is producing value worth the attention of growing companies.
Technical College System of Georgia
At the grand opening of Kubota’s latest expansion in April in Gainesville, on I-85 northeast of Atlanta and just adjacent to Lake Lanier, Dr. Ray Perren, president of Lanier Technical College, told me about the new 95-acre (38-hectare) campus the school is building just down the road from Kubota, which first located in the area in 1988 and has operated in Georgia for 40 years. Lanier has worked with the company via its welding technology program. Now it’s time to go younger.
“We work with Kubota to develop some pilot positions along with Hall County Schools,” he says. “We’re getting a cohort of 18 students every semester into our welding programs.”
Lanier Tech, part of the 22-institution, 85-campus Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), was the fastest-growing college of any type in Georgia just three years ago, and enrollment is up about 4 percent today over last year. The school — like the TCSG system in general — also continues to benefit from global connections, including an apprentice program in partnership with IMS Gear. “Some students just returned today from a week in Germany,” Perren said.
Perren notes how quickly TCSG can create programs based on company need. But collaboration across institutions is also becoming increasingly valuable, via articulation agreements that allow, for instance, students coming out of Lanier’s early childhood program to fully transfer all two years of that program to the University of Georgia.
“We do more and more of those,” said Perren. And it fosters improved relations in general: “Two weeks ago, the executive leadership of UGA and Lanier Tech met in a joint meeting, the first time in 50 years that has happened,” he said.
TCSG is synonymous with the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s award-winning Quick Start program, which offers free training services to companies of all kinds that are expanding their workforces or bringing in new technology to remain competitive. But TCSG’s own portfolio stands alone: 600 degree, diploma and certificate programs and 28 important articulation agreements with other higher education institutions in order to ease credit transfers. TCSG also delivers customized contract training, to the tune of 3,682 projects developed with area industrial leaders by each college’s vice president of economic development.
Among the innovations in policy showing results at TCSG is the state’s dual enrollment act, known as “Move On When Ready,” that allows high school students to earn credit. The legislation that streamlines the process and provides more funding became effective in July 2015. As of 2016, enrollment was up to 14,000 students from a mere 5,100 statewide as recently as 2012. TCSG also is an active partner in the state’s Complete College Georgia program, which has the goal of graduating 250,000 additional students from the state’s technical colleges and universities by 2025 (only 42 percent of young adults in Georgia had college degrees or certificates as of 2015). One way is via strategic industry workforce development grants in 11 targeted sectors, from practical nursing to welding/joining to commercial truck driving. New sectors added to the program in 2015 include film and set design, precision manufacturing, certified engineering technician and computer programming.
Georgia Tech Busy in the City
Any discussion of university-led economic development in Georgia — and truly, in the nation — begins with the Georgia Institute of Technology, which has been perfecting how to align with both company and state business development interests for decades.
One illustration: In April, Siemens became the 16th company to open an innovation center on the Georgia Tech campus, launching its new Data Analytics and Applications Center on the school’s bustling Technology Square. The center will help transportation providers use big data to improve operations and safety. Other companies with centers on campus include NCR, Panasonic, ThyssenKrupp, AT&T Mobility, Stanley Black & Decker and Chick-fil-A, which just announced theirs in March, at the historic Biltmore hotel property that the university bought last year.
The school has partnered on more than 20 projects with Siemens over the past four years in manufacturing, health care and energy, and Siemens recruits about 30 Tech students annually. The center is part of a new Internet-of-Things business unit Siemens is launching to digitize the US rail sector. Tech operates its own IoT research center, the Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT), which just welcomed Honeywell, its 19th member, joining a roster that includes Amazon Web Services and India’s Wipro (which just announced it would create 10,000 US jobs). Honeywell last year announced it would create more than 730 software engineering jobs at its new US Software Center and establish a global headquarters for its $10.7-billion Home and Building Technology business in Midtown Atlanta.
“Atlanta offers us access to some of the brightest and most innovative software talent in the US,” said Krishna Mikkilineni, Honeywell senior vice president of engineering, operations and IT.
The Georgia Tech Supply Chain & Logistics Institute (SCL) in April hosted its first port logistics conference in the booming port city of Savannah, where the Georgia Ports Authority’s growth has stoked an unprecedented new alliance with a competitor port in Virginia in order to collaborate to make both locations top East Coast choices for logistics companies and shippers.
“This is just one more way Georgia Tech fosters a global ecosystem of academic, industry, and government partners focused on next-generation research and education,” said SCL Managing Director Tim Brown.
Savannah College of Art & Design
This school is known for almost single-handedly turning around downtown Savannah, one building at a time. Not long ago, it expanded to Atlanta, adding to a global footprint that includes campuses in Hong Kong and France. SCAD’s creative depth and breadth is recognized worldwide, from such signature projects as curating the public art to be displayed at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to a high ranking for its motion graphics school — a perfect fit for Georgia’s booming film and TV production scene. SCAD enrolls 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 100 countries in its 100 programs and 42 majors.
But just an art school? Think again.
In April, leaders from across corporate teams at Delta Airlines met at The Hangar, Delta’s global innovation center, with a select group of 15 SCAD students as the company launched its first partnership with SCAD: a two-month course focused on researching, creating and solving for a wide range of topics related to the future of air travel. Delta’s partnership with SCAD is part of the university’s Collaborative Learning Center program, where the school partners students with industry to research and solve challenging problems facing companies.
University of Georgia
UGA in Athens is an engine all by itself, with a $5.2-billion economic impact on the state. Its IP helped it earn $7.6 million in licensing revenue in 2016, putting it in the top 20 among public universities for the 12th straight year.
Among recent initiatives, the school launched a new Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy, which will be among the participating institutes of the university’s campus-wide Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education, joining the Health Informatics Institute that was established in 2016 and the UGA Institute for Bioinformatics, which was launched in 2002.
University of Georgia outreach programs had a $753 million impact on the state of Georgia last year, with communities benefiting from leadership training, downtown revitalization, workforce development and assistance to small businesses, among others.
Over the past five years, business owners and entrepreneurs who have sought assistance from the Small Business Development Center, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, have created more than 1,600 businesses and over 12,000 jobs, including establishments such as two brewpubs helping to rejuvenate downtown Macon.
Innovation Gateway helps UGA researchers move their research breakthroughs into the marketplace through licensing and startups. Via licensing, 600-plus products have been introduced to the marketplace and the school is among the top five universities nationally for the third consecutive year in new products reaching the marketplace (35 in FY2016). The biggest categories were agriculture-related, from peanuts to turfgrass, but another large sector is pharma/biotech.
Kennesaw State University
Collaboration’s the name of the game along I-75 in Greater Atlanta too, where Kennesaw State University’s growing by leaps and bounds, including its own new incubator and accelerator called IgniteHQ in Marietta, not far from the new Cobb County home of the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Stadium.
Long considered a commuter college, the school has grown so much in the past decade that this year it was categorized as a national university in the annual US News & World Report college rankings. The University also was recognized as one of the top 28 universities nationwide for its first-year program.
KSU, part of the University System of Georgia, today has 35,000 students across its more than 150 degree programs at two metro Atlanta campuses. It’s one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country since merging with Southern Polytechnic State University two years ago. The Michael J. Coles College of Business is the second-largest business school in Georgia, with more than 6,000 students and 160 faculty members.
The Ph.D. in Analytics and Data Science at Kennesaw State University was one of the first of its kind in the nation, and has been backed by Atlanta-based Equifax since its launch in 2015. In March, the program officially opened the new Equifax Data Science Research Lab. “As a public university, we have a fiduciary responsibility to be contributing to the economic competitiveness of the state,” said Jennifer Lewis Priestley, director of the Ph.D. program in Analytics and Data Science. “This partnership with Equifax, one of the largest corporations headquartered in the metro Atlanta area, is a great example of how a university/private-sector partnership creates value for the company, the students, and the state of Georgia.”
Georgia State University
Steadily increasing its downtown Atlanta footprint as well as its national and global connections, GSU how counts nearly 51,000 students, including more than 18,000 at its Perimeter College campus on Atlanta’s outskirts, and has an annual economic impact of $1.5 billion. Thanks in part to the school, there’s every indication that the property formerly called the home of the Atlanta Braves is, after years of non-development, now finally following the neighborhood model that new stadia across the country — including the new Braves digs just up the road — have employed to great success.
Last August, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority’s decision to sell the Turner Field stadium site to the Georgia State University Foundation for $30 million. In November, the Board of Regents approved GSU’s purchase of about half of the property from the Foundation for $22.8 million. The reuse and renovation plan devised by a consortium including Carter, Healey Weatherholtz Properties and Oakwood Development aims to completely rejuvenate the area known as Summerhill.
Construction got underway in February in the area the developers say will become a mixed-use neighborhood including corporate office, traditional multifamily apartments, specialty and neighborhood retail and private student apartments. As the partners’ website declares, “The Beatles played here. Hank Aaron hit home run 715 here. World Champions competed here. Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic cauldron here. And here, shaped by a history spanning the Civil War and the civil rights movement, one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods begins its next evolution.”
Collectively, the dozens of colleges across the state are helping Georgia do the same thing.