Research, Private Investment Likely Ahead for Georgia’s Cyber Center

Augusta University President Brooks Keel said the next phase will likely include research and attracting new partnerships from industry.

by Tom Corwin, the Augusta Chronicle / January 14, 2019
A rendering of The Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center. gta.georgia.gov

(TNS) — As he looks to the next phase for the Georgia Cyber Center, Augusta University President Brooks Keel thinks research and graduate education could be the key while being careful to preserve the "ecosystem" of collaboration among university, military and industry partners.

At least one major cyber intelligence firm looking to move into the center believes Augusta's "recipe" of training, education and shared facilities, and the city's relatively low cost compared with other cyber hubs, are attractive for more investment. That mix is what made the center instantly appealing to BAE Systems, a global defense, aerospace and security company based in Arlington, Va., with more than 83,000 employees, said Peder Jungck, the vice president and general manager of its Intelligence Solutions business.

When he first saw what was going on and the services and facilities available there, he remarked, "Oh my gosh, here you have it," he said. "The recipe was just incredible."

Having been a CEO in Silicon Valley, the kind of shared resources and shared responsibilities that made that work are in play here and are the right way to build it, Jungck said. The same is true for those who are developing cloud-based businesses and artificial intelligence, he said.

"They are all models of shared investment and shared responsibility," Jungck said. "What got me was how that team down there that came up with this, they got it. They instantly got a champion out of me."

The company employs nearly 400 intelligence personnel at Fort Gordon but is looking to potentially move more assets to the area, he said.

"As I look at my investment portfolio for research, I really believe that I can do more research and more things down there. Just the economics of that region is much better than the kind of the challenge that I live in" in northern Virginia, Jungck said. In the Washington, D.C. area, as well as other cyber hubs such as Austin, Texas, and Silicon Valley, the cost of living is so high it is "just unlivable for a family," he said.

The D.C. corridor and the competition for talent and housing is only likely to get worse as Amazon prepares to put half of its second headquarters, and potentially 25,000 employees, into northern Virginia, Jungck said. Augusta is much more affordable, he said.

"The cost of living, the cost of talent, I believe I can fundamentally get more done if I move some of my research facilities there," Jungck said.

Other companies like BAE are also likely to follow U.S. Army Cyber Command as it relocates its headquarters in Virginia to a new building at Fort Gordon. Some personnel have already arrived, but the bulk of that move is now expected in the summer of 2020, said Charlie Stadtlander, Army Cyber Command's chief of public affairs. That will involve approximately 1,000 personnel, of which there are about 300 civilian positions. But not all of those positions will be filled and the Army will be "definitely looking to the local talent pool" as well as conducting a nationwide search to fill them, he said.

Keel and other officials are trying to look ahead to the next phase after the opening of the second Cyber Center building, which was dedicated Thursday. Where once universities looked at decades-long master plans, that is far too slow now, he said.

"Even five years is not thinking fast enough," Keel said. "In terms of what is needed, where we're going, who we're going after, who is going to fund it, that's a one- to three-year timeframe."

The next building or next phase is likely to be driven by what the greatest need will be, and right now Keel is thinking that will be research and answers the question of "what is the type of research we should be doing here that takes advantage of this incredible two facilities we have here." It could also play off the university's and Augusta's considerable strength in health care and pair that with its advancing expertise in cyber and its connections with private industry, he said.

That research could "give us an opportunity to be a world leader in electronic medical records and electronic medical devices," which are increasingly wireless and connected and potentially vulnerable, Keel said. It will also depend on the kind of faculty the university is rapidly trying to hire into its School of Computer and Cyber Sciences as well as what degree programs are added in the future, with a new cybersecurity engineering degree already beginning in the fall.

The next phase should also build on the "ecosystem" the Cyber Center has created where the university is working with private industry and the military on training and problem-solving. Some of that collaboration is natural and necessary in cybersecurity because those problems are "not that much different from what the government is concerned about to what the military is concerned about to what private industry is concerned about," said Eric Toler, the executive director of the Cyber Center.

The mix of education and training with real-world practical skills is an important offering of the Hull McKnight Building, considered phase one of the project, and is also key to whatever comes after, Keel said.

"We've got to really make sure we get firm footing on our education-training piece before we can really become attractive in the long-term for business and industry to come here," he said. In particular, it is needed to respond to the specific training needs of industry and the military, Keel said.

"The nimbleness we have to make curriculum fit what industry and the military is needing is what really makes us unique," he said. "And we can do that here because we have industry and military and government and academia all in one building, all on one campus."

©2019 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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