Continued growth expected in Augusta high-tech market
Jul 04, 2013 (The Augusta Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The allure of job security helped sway Tony Roberts' decision to pursue a job in computer science.
Roberts, who is scheduled to graduate from the University of South Carolina Aiken in December, has interned for the past four months at Rural Sourcing Inc., a technology company in Augusta's Enterprise Mill that offers employment in computer coding, software design, security and other IT jobs, which traditionally have been outsourced outside the U.S.
"Technology is not going to go anywhere unless something very bad happens," the North Augusta resident said. "There's always going to be more new jobs as we figure out how to do new things."
Statistics bear him out.
Within the past five years Metro Augusta ranked second in the country for growth in the high-tech job sector and increased its number of technology positions by 81 percent, according to a 2012 study from San-Francisco based Engine Advocacy.
Findings of another recently published study, conducted by the Brookings Institution, revealed that in 2011 there were more than 38,000 local positions based in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, which comprised about 20 percent of the Augusta metro workforce.
Health care provided the vast majority - nearly 9,300 -- of those jobs, and engineering came in second with about 4,300 positions.
Computer occupations, like the one Roberts plans to find, accounted for about 2,600 jobs.
Roberts hopes to join the Rural Sourcing team of about 75 employees after he graduates. The 29-year-old said he's learning to become a more diverse programmer and is currently assigned to a project centered on the Java programming language.
"That's why I like this market because you're not stuck in one spot," Roberts said. "Even the spot you're in changes constantly."
Rural Sourcing CEO Monty Hamilton said the tech market in Augusta is "burgeoning," which he attributes to a talented workforce, rich educational community and supportive city leadership led by Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver. Hamilton brought the Atlanta-based company to Augusta in late 2011.
"Folks have come out of the woodwork. We've found these entrepreneurs who were in their garages or home offices building apps with the iPhone, and suddenly they realize there's a bunch of people like me out there," he said.
Technology Association of Georgia President Tino Mantella also pointed to the medical and educational institutions in Augusta, as well as Fort Gordon and the Savannah River Site, as the major driving forces behind the area's precipitated tech growth.
"Any time you have that university presence, it drives talent and thought leadership," Mantella said.
Because of that, Mantella said, Augusta is well positioned for the future. It's estimated that more than 210,000 STEM-related jobs will open in Georgia by 2018.
Rural Sourcing alone will add 20 to 30 more positions in coming months with the addition of its software-based lab and information-management system.
Hamilton said he can easily see the company growing to a 200- to 300-person software development center.
In a nod to the local growing tech- and innovation-based economy, Eric Parker and Chris Williamson launched theClubhou.se in December, providing a place at 816 Broad St. for tech professionals to share ideas and work on projects. Since its inception, the group has grown from 12 founding members to 22 standard members. There are also four part-time student and active-duty military members.
"Every week we get contacted by employers looking for Web and software developers and are seeing a large increase in hardware development as well," said Parker, who also serves as the local liaison for the Technology Association of Georgia.
In addition to Rural Sourcing, Augusta is home to several emerging technology companies, such as tech consulting and IT solutions provider EDTS; crisis incident management technology group ESI; Web design and big data marketing firm Power Serve; and online-based tax prep software company TaxSlayer.
Most agree that tech-inspired events, including a June block party in downtown Augusta for the National Day of Civic Hacking and Rural Sourcing's "hackathon" competition during the Westobou Festival, will help keep the tech market growing, as will continued educational training and internship opportunities.
Parker said he believes the key to cultivating local STEM jobs is found within the entrepreneurial community.
"We have a foundation of several high-growth companies that will continue to drive employment opportunities," he said. "But community growth will be exponential once there are more businesses solving more problems, generating more revenue and encouraging more startups."
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