Scuttlebiz: Augusta as world cyber capital? Fortune says maybe

It’s not uncommon for Augusta to get mentioned in a national magazine during Masters Week. What is uncommon is when that mention doesn’t involve golf.

 

And that’s what happened over this year’s tournament when Fortune magazine included the Garden City in an article titled “7 Cities That Could Become the World’s Cybersecurity Capital.”

You might have missed the story because you were out of town on vacation or, like me, engrossed in the biggest local news event of the year.

I might have missed it entirely had Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce President Sue Parr not sent me an online link. (Thanks, Sue!)

The Fortune writer, Jeff John Roberts, spoke to investors, entrepreneurs and academics to come up with seven cities – five U.S. and two foreign – that are “most destined to become the capital of the cybersecurity industry.”

In addition to Augusta, there was Atlanta; Boston; San Francisco (Silicon Valley); Washington, D.C.; London and Tel Aviv. All in all, pretty good company.

I’m not going to regurgitate an entire article that is just two mouse clicks away, so here are the highlights:

Atlanta: Has Georgia Tech, vibrant venture capital and an overall large corporate presence

Boston: Helped pioneer the industry in the 1980s; has world-class research universities

San Francisco: Already possesses high-tech capital, entrepreneurs and talent

Washington, D.C.: Proximity to defense industry; is teeming with elite military talent

London: Has fast-growing cyber companies and world-class intelligence services

Tel Aviv: Is home base for Israeli military cyber units; has cybersecurity-focused incubator

And what’s Augusta got? So far, mainly Fort Gordon’s Army Cyber Command.

The article acknowledges Augusta is a “dark horse” because of its small size and out-of-the-way location, but noted its military assets and the state’s $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center give it distinct advantages.

The piece also said cyber heavies such as Huntsville, Ala., Seattle and San Antonio shouldn’t be discounted because they didn’t make the list.

I found the most interesting part of Roberts’ article to be his description of what a ”dominant cyber hub” must have to support a “cyber ecosystem”: proximity to a research university; a large population of hackers or military types; access to angel and venture capital; and a culture of cooperation and entrepreneurship.

If those are the four boxes on the checklist, then by my count, Augusta’s got one down and three to go.

 

WE’RE WORKING ON IT: You had to figure a new parking deck was in the cards for downtown Augusta when Georgia Technology Authority Executive Director Calvin Rhodes said last month at the chamber’s Member Economic Luncheon that “300 to 500” parking spaces would be needed at the the $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center.

This past week the Augusta Commission approved plans to borrow $12 million to construct a deck adjacent to the 159,000-square-foot facility, which will be the centerpiece of Augusta University’s Riverfront Campus and a major component of Augusta’s cyber ecosystem (getting tired of that phrase yet?).

Pound for pound, parking decks are the most costly and least interesting public works projects that a city can undertake. But Augusta leaders had little choice but to approve the bond issue. What was the alternative? Accept a $50 million, job-creating gift from the state and not give those new workers a place to park?

You may recall the city also pledged parking space to Unisys two years ago as part of the deal to lure the company’s customer support and cybersecurity center to downtown Augusta. Unisys employees currently park in a deck underneath the Port Royal complex and in a leased surface lot next door.

But more parking will be needed as the office nears the 700-employee mark. The last plan I heard to address that issue involved a temporary lot behind the city-owned historic railroad depot property at the corner of Reynolds and Sixth streets, which any day now is supposed to become the site of a major mixed-use development…

 

SPEAKING OF DECKS: More parking will surely be needed off Broad Street if the out-of-town owner of the Lamar and Marion buildings follows through on plans to turn the mostly vacant structures into mixed-use developments that are heavy on the residential component.

Parking already is at a premium on Broad Street, and the opening of a couple hundred new apartment units would only exacerbate the shortage without a deck near Eighth and Reynolds.

 

MORE MIXED-USE: But the biggest mixed-use renovation project going on in Augusta right now is Cape Augusta’s conversion of the shuttered Sibley Mill into a data center and tech-focused office complex called Augusta Cyberworks. This week the investors announced a partnership with the University of Maryland Baltimore County Training Centers and the Augusta Warrior Project to provide training and job placement for those transitioning out of the armed forces.

Last year Cape Augusta and the Maryland-based cybersecurity training firm announced it would build a 9,000-square-foot training center in one of the massive mill complex’s 32,500-square-foot buildings, which also will house the headquarters for Augusta-based tech firm EDTS.

Under the Augusta Warrior Project partnership, soldiers transitioning out of the military would be given free training and job placement in the IT and cyber industries.

“Augusta has all that it needs to become a destination training venue for cyber; high-quality, low cost of living and a ready supply of recruits who have made the ultimate commitment to our country by serving in the armed forces,” said Cape Augusta CEO James Ainslie in a statement.

Augusta Warrior Project CEO Kim Elle said in the jointly released statement that the partnership could provide “the opportunity for thousands of individuals who gave a blank check to this country to tailor the skills they acquired in the military to meet the needs of a vital and rapidly growing industry.”

UMBC Training Centers, a Columbia, Md.-based subsidiary of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, provides technical, engineering and professional skills training in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“We are excited to leverage the experience we have in training active duty military, veterans and civilians in cyber supporting Fort Meade, for the benefit of Fort Gordon and the Augusta region,” UMBC Training Centers President Ken Malwitz said.

Cape Augusta, which entered into a long-term lease for the 500,000-square-foot Sibley Mill property with the Augusta Canal Authority, is under contract for a similar deal to acquire the next-door King Mill.

 

NOW FOR A LESS AMBITIOUS PROJECT…: Construction plans were put out to bid last week to renovate the former Somewhere in Augusta bar and grill at 2820 Washington Road into the newest location for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Metro Diner, a regional chain that gained notoriety from being featured on celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Earlier this year our affiliates over at Buzz on Biz reported that Jeff Freehof, former owner of Garlic Clove in Evans, will be managing partner for the Augusta Metro Diner, which is expected to open this summer.

As for Somewhere in Augusta, there has been no news on when, or if, they plan to reopen at a new spot.

 

SOMEWHERE IN EVANS, MEANWHILE: The work you see going on at 4475 Washington Road in Evans is the first Augusta-area location for the Texas-based Christian Brothers Automotive chain.

Josh Wall, the company’s vice president of development, said in a telephone interview that the repair shop being built next to the Sherwin Williams paint store will be a 5,000-square-foot garage with nine service bays. It should be open in late September or early October, he said.

As the company’s name implies, it operates on faith-based principles. That includes being closed on Sundays. Many Christian Brothers locations also are closed on Saturdays to give employees a full weekend off.

Think of it as the Chick-fil-A of the auto repair world. Or the Hobby Lobby of tune-ups.

Like nearly all of the company’s 163 locations, the Evans shop will be a franchise. Wall said the local franchisee is currently an active-duty military member. Wall called local ownership the company’s “secret sauce.”

“We want to have the owners active in their local communities and serve their customers well,” he said.

The company’s model appears to be working; it hasn’t closed a single location during its 21 years of franchising. The company has 10 shops in metro Atlanta, and Wall said he said he believes the Augusta market could support as many as three Christian Brothers franchises.

For now, the company is working on introducing itself to the community in Evans.

“We’re not overly aggressive,” Wall said. “We want to introduce ourselves and build a strong team before we would be ready to work on a second store.”

 

REACHING PARITY: Nine cents. That’s all that separates average wages in metro Augusta from the rest of the nation. According to the Development Authority of Richmond County’s latest dashboard report from Syneva Economics, average private-sector wages in Augusta reached $23.23 per hour. That’s just 9 cents per hour less than the average for all metro areas in the U.S.

The Augusta region’s historically lower-than-average wages – which are concomitant to its historically lower-than-average cost of living – have been one of its top draws for new industry, especially companies from high-wage/high-cost markets. But the metro area’s average wages during the past three years have inched upward, a sign that higher-quality jobs are being created.

I have to think the influx of cyber-related jobs has something to do with that. Same with all the construction jobs down at Plant Vogtle.

 

SUPPLY AND DEMAND: The downside of all these well-paid workers living in Augusta is they are driving up rents. The latest National Rent Index from San Francisco-based online rental service Zumper showed median rents for one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments both increased nearly 2 percent last month to $1,164 and $1,377, respectively.

The company ranks Augusta as the 86th most expensive rental market in the nation, noting that the price of a two-bedroom unit is up 14.3 percent since this time last year.

Times like these make me glad I’m a homeowner.

 

TOAST TAX SEASON’S END: Tuesday, April 18, is the tax-filing deadline.

If you want to say good riddance to the season and you’re not the teetotaling type, head over to your neighborhood Applebee’s and order a Perfect Margarita, which they’ve discounted to the “special Tax Day Price of $4.18.”

Made with 1800 Reposado, Conitreau and Grand Marnier, the drink is regularly priced at $8.50.

Tax day 2018 falls on April 17. So I suppose the drink special will be a penny cheaper next year?

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

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