As plans for the new $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center become clearer, a few new details emerge.
The plan is for parts of the building to be public, including its new parking deck, and accessible from Riverwalk Augusta, with half of the center possibly occupied by private industries or startup companies. Its cyber range will be collaborative with other states, particularly the nation’s most established cyber range in Michigan.
The range is moving toward signing a contract with an architectural firm, but some details about the building on the former Golf and Gardens property are already clear, including the desire to be a part of the Riverwalk and for its 320-seat auditorium to be available for public use, said Calvin Rhodes, executive director of Georgia Technology Authority.
“I think we are getting down to being close to the final product on just where the building will be located,” he said. “That does include a couple of connecting points into the Riverwalk.”
Rhodes said one plan envisions the public being able to go from Springfield Village Park, across Reynolds Street from the riverfront property, and cross the property on a wide sidewalk.
“Then they could actually go up and access the levee” and the Riverwalk from there, he said. The plan is still conceptual, and the authority wants to run it by Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and the Augusta Commission to ensure it fits in with their plans, Rhodes said. Because parts of the building will be secure and not accessible to the public, there was originally some questions about whether the parking deck could be public, but it is now clear parts of it can be, he said.
Plans call for the city to provide a 500-space parking deck, which officials have said could cost $10 million to $12 million , so having public access is important, Rhodes said.
“We were excited about that because truly the partnership with the city is very important to us, because that is allowing us to add the additional space to the building to encourage the private-sector businesses to join us,” he said.
In fact, plans call for only 75,000 of the 159,000 square feet of the building to be initially finished out, with the rest available for either private industry or others. With the level of interest it has drawn already, that space is likely to be claimed and finished soon after the state’s portion is done, Rhodes said.
Companies interested include aerospace and defense contractors as well as federal agencies looking to partner with state agencies that will occupy the building, Rhodes said. It is beneficial for the center and the city, as well as others doing training like Augusta University Cyber Institute, to get those companies in. The companies benefit as well, he said.
“I think it is definitely good for us because it will bring that cyber skill set into the facility from the private sector, but it is also bringing economic development to Augusta, so everybody is winning,” Rhodes said. “Those businesses, they are excited about being around that talent, especially the talent coming out of both the Technical College System and the university. ”
One thing that will be drawing both students and companies alike is the ability to use and train at the center’s new cyber range, which can provide a variety of testing and training opportunities to face threats and problems in a safe environment that can replicate real-world systems. It’s important “to have that tool to take a student and move them from theory and limited lab work to actually being able to put them in networks that could resemble a global organization’s network and get true hands-on experience,” Rhodes said.
The state is being assisted in creating it by the Michigan Cyber Range, the country’s oldest at only 4½ years old, and talks are already proceeding on potential collaborations with Michigan, he said. Having one serves the state well to work with others in the future, said Dr. Joe Adams, executive director of the Michigan Cyber Range.
“It positions the state of Georgia to be able to participate with some of the other states that have been launching cyber ranges,” he said, including new ones in Texas and Virginia. “It’s a very collaborative, exchanging ideas kind of environment.”
There is interest from Texas, for instance, in exchanging course modules and potentially competing against each other in exercises, Adams said. Rhodes said Georgia might also be interested in doing joint exercises. There is already a deficit of qualified people to fill cybersecurity positions, and estimates are there will be between 1 million and 2 million unfilled cybersecurity positions in 2019, with a majority of employers already complaining most applicants are not qualified. That “qualified” is the key where the cyber ranges and their affiliated programs and networks can help, Adams said.
“You have a lot of folks who have parts of the puzzle, and what we do is help them complete the picture,” he said. It is important, however, for it be public and open to collaborations with industry and academia, Adams said.
“One of the things that we promote heavily is this partnership between academia, community and industry,” he said. “And two-thirds of those folks are unlikely to ever have security clearances. But they are the ones who are actually operating the critical infrastructure; they own the critical infrastructure. So they need to be the ones in charge of securing it.”
It also comes back to the things states and cities are most interested in adding: jobs.
“That’s also part of the economic development of the area,” Adams said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213