Two Augusta business leaders who pitched the idea of the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center to Gov. Nathan Deal just last December will be honored with their names on the building, Deal revealed Monday at the official groundbreaking for the center.
With construction barely under way, demand has already expanded its future dimensions and may herald the need for more buildings in the future, officials said.
The names of Augusta’s James M. Hull and William D. McKnight’s will now grace the building as “planters of the seed” for the idea of the center, Deal said.
With the U.S. Army Cyber Command moving to Fort Gordon and its own headquarters building that is already under construction, as well as expansions in cyber training and an increased presence by the National Security Agency at Fort Gordon as well, the state and Augusta should collaborate with and build on those efforts, those leaders told Deal.
“It made perfectly good sense, the state partnering with federal agencies and then including outside private entities that want to be a part of it as well,” Deal said.
The Georgia Cyber center will house not only educational training programs from Augusta University and Augusta Technical College but a cyber crime unit from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, other state agencies, federal agencies and a significant amount of space for related private industry.
“So I think we have something very unique in the country and I think it is going to be the center for cybersecurity training in the future,” Deal said.
Even before a foundation has been laid, funding for the center has now increased to $60 million, not including a $12 million parking deck provided by the City of Augusta, and expanded from 150,000 square feet to 168,000 square feet, Deal said.
That is just in response to demand for space in the building, not only from the state and federal agencies who will work and train there but from private industry, said Calvin Rhodes, executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority, who is building the center.
“We’re just extremely pleased with the level of interest,” he said, which forced not only an expansion of the education and training areas but also the “secured” areas that some agencies and in particular one large private contractor needed.
AU President Brooks Keel, whose university will run the center’s day-to-day operations, said his university will also take over the cyber training component for state agencies from the technology authority.
“Nowadays, that involves just about every agency you can imagine,” Keel said, and that will establish a state mission in Augusta. But the center will provide education and training at every level, from certificates from technical colleges and industry certificates to undergraduate and doctoral level programs, as well as active research, he said.
“It will be the full gamut of training, from continuing education all the way through graduate degrees,” Keel said. With a state-of-the-art Cyber Range that few states could match, “there won’t be anything like it in the country,” he said.
Beyond the initial expansions in funding and space, “depending on its early success, (it) may very well dictate that we are going to have to have additional resources as the demand grows and I expect the demand will grow,” Deal said.
In fact, the building itself could just be “phase one” on the 17-acre AU Riverfront Campus of what Keel sees as an eventual “digital village” that encompasses both education and business and industry.
“This land is enough to bring at least two or three more buildings of this same size in and we are anticipating this is really going to be phase 1, the first phase of a number of buildings that will come here associated with cybersecurity,” he said.
Having it on the banks of the Savannah River, close to downtown, is an ideal location, Keel said.
“We have a beautiful downtown, a vibrant downtown,” he said. “That’s what business and industry and their employees want to be a part of, a community that has a quality of life associated with it.”
Standing outside a sweltering tent in front of parked backhoes atop trampled red clay, Hull and McKnight reflected on what was just an idea seven months ago that is now taking shape before their eyes,
The center is “way beyond what we thought was possible,” said Hull, who represents Augusta and surrounding communities on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. “We are so thankful for the governor’s vision and President Keel’s vision.”
The grounds around them were once part of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens before its state funding was cut and it closed in June 2007. In the decade since, various ideas were floated for the property but none had taken hold until now.
“I think it is a great use for it, a perfect use for it,” said McKnight, president of McKnight Construction Co. “It’s taken a long time to get here but we are glad it is finally here. Gov. Deal has done so much for the city of Augusta and we are so appreciative of all he has accomplished.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213