Originally created 09/17/00

Fort's progress goes untapped

Several years ago, community leaders began dreaming of ways to turn Fort Gordon's technology into profitable private-sector ventures.

They dreamed of keeping the fort's high-tech trainees in Augusta instead of losing them to major telecommunications companies in other cities.

They dreamed of an Augusta where start-up technology firms could thrive and grow into tomorrow's Qualcomm.

Not much has changed: They're still dreaming.

"It hasn't happened yet," acknowledges Stephen N. Xenakis, a member of the Mayor's Military Veterans Advisory Committee, a recently formed group charged with examining technology transfer at Fort Gordon. "There is a lot Augusta needs to do. It starts with getting the right kind of leadership."

Dr. Xenakis, former commander of the fort's Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, said he believes there is inadequate cooperation among Augusta's officials, its business community and leadership at the city's high-tech institutions: the fort, Medical College of Georgia and Savannah River Site.

Telemedicine technology, an "electronic house call" system that allows doctors to check up on patients using a remote two-way device, is so far the only major commercial application spun off from Fort Gordon's research.

However, the technology, co-developed by MCG and the Georgia Institute of Technology, also serves as an example of the city's failure to create local business out of research developed in its own back yard.

The telemedicine technology, which some believe will revolutionize the $36 billion home-health industry, was licensed by MCG and Georgia Tech to Cyber-Care Technologies Inc., an Atlanta-based company traded on the Nasdaq exchange.

"We exported it when it was something we could've kept here," said Dr. Xenakis, who worked on the project before the 1998 licensing decision.

Future technology transfer opportunities may exist at Fort Gordon, which is the Army's telecommunications training headquarters. The installation's Signal Corps is developing the latest in satellite systems and Internet technology.

"We're working on basically the same things that private business is working on, a lot of wireless communications, real-time video," said Marla Jones, Fort Gordon's public information officer.

Earlier this year, state officials began preparing an initiative to tap into Georgia's 13 military installations in the hope of accelerating the state's high-tech economy.

Like Fort Gordon, the installations spend hundreds of millions each year and turn out thousands of mature, technically trained workers.

"This initiative is significant and has extraordinary potential for Georgia," said retired Gen. Stephen Draper, Gov. Roy Barnes' military policy adviser when the program was announced this spring. "In the contract area alone, potential benefits to Georgia could reach $200 million."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.


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