Collaboration Will Make Georgia’s Cyber Center a Success

A variety of partners are invested in the future of the rapidly evolving Hull McKnight Cyber Center for Innovation and Training in Augusta.

by Tom Corwin, The Augusta Chronicle / March 26, 2018
A rendering of The Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center. gta.georgia.gov

(TNS) — As the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Center for Innovation and Training in Augusta races toward completion this summer, officials are working with partners on not only what the space will look like but also what will be offered there. Cyber programs are being touted on both sides of the Savannah River, and the efforts in Georgia could help make the state more attractive for a big prize such as Amazon's second headquarters, officials said.

The first building remains on schedule or ahead of schedule for its July 10 opening, and all but 3,000 to 5,000 of the 167,000 square feet is spoken for, said Calvin Rhodes, the executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority, which is building the $100 million project.

"And in a similar manner, a tremendous amount of square footage is in the same situation with Building 2," he said about the 165,000-square-foot second phase that the state decided to build after seeing the interest in the first building. "There's just been lots of activity, moving along much faster than we had anticipated, especially for Building 2."

That building is scheduled to open in December. In the meantime, officials from the state, Augusta University and the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon visited officials at Fort Meade, Md., and at U.S. Army Cyber Command, which will soon move to Fort Gordon, as well as businesses there, Rhodes said.

"That has been extremely valuable in establishing some of those relationships," he said. "Army Cyber is there today and we want to make sure we are offering, between all of our different partners involved here, to make sure that we are a great community for them to come and bring their mission to."

AU and the state have been working with a broad range of partners, including many in the University System of Georgia as well as business and industry, to shape the kind of training and coursework that will be offered at the Augusta center, said Michael Shaffer, AU's executive vice president for strategic partnerships and economic development.

"We called in each of our partners and asked, 'OK, as we are building this, what is it that you need?'" he said. "We have taken that into account from day one."

Training is a big part of what those forces at the fort need, but it is also being sought by business and industry and is needed at all levels, Shaffer said.

"The building itself will offer that whole spectrum of training, that if you are at the fort or you are a contractor, one of our corporate partners or one of the industry partners, anything from a training certificate all the way through a master's degree, you'll be able to accomplish that inside the building," he said.

All of the university system will have access to the center, either virtually or in person, Shaffer said.

"You'll have a traditional student that is somebody going out and getting their first higher ed (degree), and then you've got returning students," he said. "It's a constant training of the workforce. We are getting feedback from our partners, both from the industry side and from the (Department of Defense and National Security Agency) side, about some of those needs they have, right down to the type of coursework they need."

A diverse and large body of students, including those from Augusta Technical College and the Technical College System of Georgia, will be coming in and out of those buildings probably from the time the first courses start around the first of August, Shaffer said.

"At any given time you might have 500 people in the building that are there for some sort of education," he said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Cyber Crime Unit headquarters will begin operations around then, and the Georgia National Guard should be ensconced by then as well, Rhodes said.

All of that activity is one reason SC Cyber opened an office in North Augusta and why it is urging South Carolina to move its cyber assets to the Aiken-North Augusta area, said Tom Scott, the executive director of the statewide cybersecurity initiative. For instance, he asked, with the GBI cyber unit in Augusta, why not have the relevant unit for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division nearby?

"There is a level of synergy" that could be obtained from those agencies working together, Scott said.

SC Cyber would like to leverage what Georgia is doing in a cooperative way, said Les Eisner. "There's enough economic opportunity, there is enough protection needs, it's going to take the whole region to be able to tackle and meet the challenges of the 21st century," he said.

Building the center and making that investment should give the state a leg up as Atlanta competes to be the place where Amazon builds its second headquarters and brings 50,000 jobs, Rhodes and Shaffer said.

"Of course, that is up to our state leaders," Shaffer said. "But a state initiative that is focused on training the state's workforce and the future workforce in the state, with a company that is heavy in this arena, I think you would almost say yes, there is certainly an opportunity for us to have a certain play in that."

"For any company today and especially those that are so focused on their online presence, cyber is critical, Rhodes said. "And as we all know, it changes so frequently. This is a great asset for them and any other private-sector company across the state. I really believe it is a competitive advantage for the state."

©2018 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.