Last week’s Courier Herald column:
I had a long drive Tuesday, and much of it was punctuated by recurring news updates regarding President Biden’s summit of leaders from the tech and financial industries on Cybersecurity. While the meeting had been highly choreographed to emphasize what private industry is already doing to combat the ever present threat of cyber-attacks and ransom demands, one of the areas featured kept drawing my attention every time it was mentioned.
Various companies talked about what they were doing to fill the 500,000 cybersecurity jobs that go unfilled year after year. These aren’t the kind of jobs that have been getting all of the attention since the economy began to fully re-open.
They aren’t the former $10 per hour jobs that have suddenly become $15 per hour or more for unskilled labor. They are highly skilled positions with commensurate pay. These are career track jobs that could lift a family from poverty to prosperity in one generation. And yet here in America, where we constantly talk about ways to close gaps in income inequality, we have one half million positions in need of workers with skills able to complete the required tasks to keep our nation’s IT infrastructure secure.
My thoughts drifted momentarily to my junior high Georgia History class. In it we learned about the Atlanta Constitution Editor Henry Grady’s “funeral speech”, in which he spoke of a “New South” that would rebuild its post-civil war economy with industrial production, rather than a return to relying solely on agriculture.
In this speech he spoke of buying a Georgian in Pickens county near a marble quarry, but the marble of his tombstone came from Vermont. Despite the grave being in a pine forest, the wooden coffin in which he was buried was from Cincinnati.
It went on to highlight the various resources readily available to Georgians and Southerners in a post-reconstruction era that had remained largely untapped. It was a declaration that future prosperity meant moving forward to what was next rather than trying to recreate an era that would never return.
In the world of cybersecurity, Georgia again finds itself sitting on unique resources and is positioned to dominate this field critical to the economy and to national security. It’s not as if the state nor its corporate citizens have been asleep on this subject. The pieces have been put into place over the last few decades.
It was Governor Zell Miller who saved the emerging fintech industry in Georgia by creating a workforce development program in Columbus. The partnership with Columbus College ensured that payment processor TSYS would have enough highly skilled workers to fuel its exponential growth without having to move to a state where IT workers were more plentiful.
Instead, Georgia became a leader in financial technology with other companies moving or growing here. A quarter century after Miller’s program was launched, 70% of all American credit card payments were being processed by a Georgia based company.
On the other side of the state, Augusta’s Fort Gordon is now the home of the U.S. Army’s Cyber Command. The state has similarly co-located the Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta to bring private industry, academia, and the government together to deliver specialized training to workers for cybersecurity positions.
Note that thus far “Atlanta” hasn’t been mentioned. While Midtown’s Technology Square has been a huge success in capturing and retaining talent across the Downtown Connector from Georgia Tech, it’s important to note that two other Georgia cities with more direct influence on rural areas have been able to transform their employment base for the 21st century economy.
Atlanta also helps position itself and the state for the next leg of growth is an area that the tech industry has just begun to tap. Silicon Valley has long since relied on a labor pool that is predominantly white and male. The largest companies are putting regional HQ’s in Atlanta, and making direct partnerships with Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to help them diversify their workforces.
Georgia is positioned to meet the challenge of developing the workers needed to protect our nation’s information infrastructure. With the White House now calling for a national discussion on the issue, it’s Georgia’s time to speak up. We’ve got this. Let’s brand it. Let’s own it. Let’s ensure Georgians – all Georgians – share in the next level of economic prosperity from an ever evolving new economy.