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How Atlanta is Becoming “TechLanta”

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Part 2 of a 2 part series

Hotlanta is on the verge of becoming Techlanta. With world-class universities, an affordable cost of living, and some of the brightest African American entrepreneurs calling Atlanta home, it is poised to be the new Silicon Valley. But how did Atlanta become a thriving metropolis for tech jobs growing at an astonishing 46.7 percent since 2010? That is 20 percent above the national average. In our last blog, BCT Partners profiled three of the leading tech entrepreneurs. In part 2, we explore the reasons that Atlanta has become the city of choice for many of the most innovative tech start-ups.

World Class Universities

Atlanta is home to Emory, Georgia Tech, Morehouse, Spelman and the University of Georgia just to name a few. Many of the top colleges in Georgia also are known for degree programs in STEM fields i.e. science, technology, engineering and math. Over 250,000 students attend college in Atlanta, making it an amazing source of talent for company recruiters. In just a few short years, we have seen the number of tech incubators increase dramatically, such as Atlanta Tech Village, Switchyards Downtown Club and Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). The Atlanta metro area also has the second-fastest-growing economy in the country (behind San Francisco), spurred by its tech industry, which accounts for nearly 12.5% of the city’s revenues.

Affordable Cost of Living

San Francisco and the surrounding areas that make up Silicon Valley are known to have some of the most expensive real estate in the world. But it isn’t just real estate. If you compare prices in Atlanta to Silicon Valley, Atlanta is more reasonable from every perspective. For example, average market rent in San Francisco, is 149.20% higher than in Atlanta. And a $95,000 per year salary in Atlanta would have to be a $254,000 per year salary in Silicon Valley to maintain the same lifestyle. That’s a big difference when you are just starting your career or have a family to support.

African American Entrepreneurs

Over the last twenty years, the city of Atlanta has been one of the southern cities that has experienced what is becoming known as the Reverse Great Migration. While the tech boom is certainly not limited to African Americans, it has attracted many black entrepreneurs who want to start their business in a place that feels more welcoming. For example, in Atlanta’s tech industry, 25% of employees are black compared with 6% in San Francisco. Many of these entrepreneurs are also invested in making sure that Atlanta does not become a city of “haves” and “have nots.” Unfortunately, displacement is one of the downsides of growth when the cost of living simply becomes too high. Jewel Burks is one of the entrepreneurs that wants to see the wealth spread around. While in the process of selling her company, Partpic, to Amazon, she negotiated that the company remain in Atlanta. She also recently cofounded an investment fund called Collab, with local entrepreneurs Justin Dawkins and Barry Givens. The goal, as she puts it, is to “unlock the moneybags and get them distributed to the right people” because even in a city that has such a high concentration of African Americans, investment is “still being afforded to a select few.” And then there is Joey Womack who is perhaps the best-known social impact entrepreneur in Atlanta. He founded Amplify 4 Good, an enterprise that uses hackathons and rapid problem-solving to help underrepresented employees from all backgrounds create positive change within their organizations. He is also the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Goodie Nation, a nonprofit social impact organization that has a mission to solve some of society’s toughest problems. As Womack states, “We need to invest in structural changes that will help more people get to the top as well as in mentorship from those who are already on the top…”

So, while the city is attracting some of the best and brightest to its’ burgeoning tech community, there are some pitfalls that Atlanta has to avoid in order to ensure long-term sustainable growth. Those include preparing more of their local workforce for this high-tech world. Although Atlanta is home to many world-class universities, there is still a shortage of qualified candidates. For example, high-skilled sector jobs, including “computation” and “mathematics,” are growing at 15% annually, but there is only one qualified candidate in Georgia for every 10 job postings. Councilman Andre Dickens, who founded the Atlanta chapter of TechBridge, a not-for-profit that teaches coding skills and financial literacy to low-income communities, is adamant that “companies opening offices in Atlanta need to dedicate resources to job training for locals.”

As Maurice Hobson, an assistant professor of African American studies at Georgia State University and author of The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta, states, “Are we doing this tech stuff so that we can get richer, or are we doing it to make the city more accessible and inclusive?” That is the question that “Techlanta” will have to answer.

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