Thirty years ago Nortel, one of the earliest tech companies in North Fulton, opened its Alpharetta campus. Now the same region that was once dominated by cow pastures, is home to 900 technology companies and counting.
North Fulton’s self-realization as a national tech hub has given the region the confidence and focus that comes with one’s identity coming into its own. With great resolve, North Fulton continues to witness collaboration amongst its smaller boroughs as well as with the city of Atlanta to create a grander mega region that not only attracts existing technology firms but also fosters the innovation of a startup culture.
One can discuss how and when this phenomenon occurred and those are conversations worth having but as typical with technology, the conversation quickly turns to ‘what‘s next?’
When asked by law enforcement why he robbed banks; Willie Sutton, the famous bank robber of the 30s quickly replied; “because that’s where the money is.” In a similar manner, North Fulton has crystallized its understanding of how the region will continue to thrive as a technology hub – fiber and sidewalks!
It was the extraordinary vision of lying miles of fiber along GA-400 in the early 90s that did much to spur the region’s growth in technology. “We were just trying to be business friendly” says Alpharetta Mayor, David Belle Isle, as the fiber network was paving the way for a prominent data grid. Combined with the help of GA Power, Alpharetta now provides a powerful electric network throughout the city and features an abundance of enterprise and co-location data centers; not to mention incentives for growing and relocating businesses. The region, however, is not resting on its laurels as it recently invested $6 million into expanding its fiber infrastructure while utilizing innovative techniques such as directional drilling.
As equally important as data grids and tax incentives are in fostering growth, qualities such as walkability and character are critical in creating environments where innovation can thrive. One could say that North Fulton’s secret sauce is its decision to surround its infrastructure with the proper ‘feng shui’ if you will. “We want companies to not just make location decisions but identity decisions,” the Mayor adds, as the region creates a “culture of innovation.” In fact, approx. 44% of Alpharetta’s residents are employed in IT compared to 26% in Silicon Valley and 13% in Austin TX.
As companies continue to read economic reports citing future labor shortages, they are more cognizant of going where the talented work force is already located and willing to pay more to do so. The most frequent request from tech companies who are considering a relocation is “access to talent” shares Andrea Hall, the economic development director for the city of Sandy Springs, and thus the region is taking steps to further ensure it is where the talent wants to be.
Consider for a moment the number of city centers that have recently been renewed; Suwanee, Alpharetta, Roswell to name a few which now offer such areas as Roswell’s Canton Street featuring a number of restaurants that have been established within the past 5 to 10 years. North Fulton is clarifying its brand in the midst of “place making” to create the future destination of tomorrow’s workforce adds Bethany Usry of Progress Partners of North Fulton Atlanta, an economic development initiative of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
As North Fulton continues to create desirable environments, the region as a whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. “The OTP/ITP distinction will go away in time” believes Mark Hubbard, the CEO of the Alpharetta Technology Commission. For example, you can now go to lunch at Avalon and enjoy destinations such as Antico and Bocado as one does near Georgia Tech which enhances the blurring of these regional brands into one larger Atlanta mega region of technology.
Undeniably, the collaboration will benefit all. Consider, for example, a local employee or recent graduate who is exceptionally talented at coding. This type of person is now far more inclined to either stay or move to the region as opposed to viewing Silicon Valley as their only option; it is simply a less risky move considering the growing number of opportunities. A second area of evolution will be financial funding. “Access to local capital will be one of the greatest changes over the next five years” shares Mark Hubbard. On average, over 90 cents of every dollar raised by local technology companies is currently coming from sources outside of Atlanta; adds Hubbard, “this will change.”
To this continued “change,” we toast our Jekyll Island brew to you, North Fulton…cheers to just getting started!
The Author: Andy Roberts lives in Atlanta with his wife and 3 young kids where he is a self-proclaimed “foodie” in constant search for the best “hole in the wall” dining establishments and is a resident expert on which parks to visit with your family on a Saturday. Otherwise, Andy works in commercial real estate at Cresa where he consults clients on how to align their real estate decisions with growing their business.