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Georgia’s Cyber Center Officially Opens Its Doors

The first of two buildings at the Georgia Cyber Center, believed to be the largest single investment in a state-owned cybersecurity facility, officially opened July 10.

Less than two years in the making, the Hull McKnight building at the Georgia Cyber Center officially opened July 10, affirming an important commitment to the state’s workforce, IT and overall cybersecurity posture. 

Galvanized from design to landscaped reality in just 17 months, the Center should quickly enable cybersecurity and workforce gains, Calvin Rhodes, state CIO and executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority, said.

The state’s commitment, he and Michael Shaffer, executive vice president of strategic partnerships and economic development for primary partner Augusta University (AU), pointed out, has been massive — and has risen to more than $100 million in state funding. It is believed to be the largest single investment in a state-owned cybersecurity facility in the nation. A primary motivator is the tenacious global shortage of cybersecurity employees at a variety of levels.

“The governor made it easy for us. He told us our No. 1 mission was workforce development, and then all of these other things support that key objective. The shortage across the globe is continuing to increase, so all the states, we’ve all got to do things differently and do things better to create better numbers to meet the need that’s out there,” Rhodes said.

It’s estimated, the CIO said, that by 2021, the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs will have risen to around 3.5 million globally, around 500,000 in the U.S., and more than 10,000 in Georgia. Those staggering figures in mind, the center aims to deliver on Governor Nathan Deal’s vision of “stackable” training certificates that enable students to move between programs at AU and Augusta Technical College “seamlessly,” completing training tailored to their needs, and applicable toward degrees from the technical college or university system.

“It’s a collaboration between industry, between government and academia. If you think about it, with two buildings, we’re creating a campus feel here that allows people to work together,” Shaffer said.

The university, which has responsibilities including hiring staff, has been able to leverage the involvement of federal partners including the nearby U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence at Ft. Gordon, he noted. Other partners include the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.

Buildings 1 and 2, which are of nearly identical size, will offer a combined 332,000 square feet of floor space and amenities like rooftop terracing to capitalize on Savannah River views. Building 1, the Hull McKnight building, is slightly larger and will house the center’s education and training components, including its Virtual World cybertraining space; its Cyber Range; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation presence; and federal partners from the Department of Defense and National Guard.

Building 2, which is expected to open in December on the 17-acre campus, will house the center’s technology incubator/accelerator space and an entire floor of build-to-suit areas for private-sector tech. The arrangement, Rhodes and Shaffer said, should be beneficial to state and industry alike — with tech having the state-of-the-art space it needs to grow and aiding the state by association. 

“I think someone who is coming to either work here or go to school here is going to have a very special environment, that would remind you of some of the high-tech companies, some of the things they’ve done in their space to really try to engage their staff who want to call this home,” Rhodes said. All private-sector and government entities, the CIO added, will lease their space — and payments will be earmarked for keeping technology current.

The campus is already hosting crowds, as Rhodes estimated attendance at the grand opening will be between 1,200 and 1,500 people. Then, on July 11, in its first event, the Hull McKnight building will host Technology Summit 2018, with presenters including Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers; and Teri Takai, executive director at the Center for Digital Government.* Gov. Nathan Deal is also a special guest at the summit, which will be focused on strengthening Georgia’s cyberdefenses.

The center will, however, reach beyond an event- or class-focused training or education cycle, to fully address the needs of modern IT and cybersecurity professionals. The idea, the CIO said, is that staffers could conceivably follow a progression from honing skills and knowledge at the center to teaching there themselves — to continuing their education on new security challenges. Guided by local government and private partners, the end result could also address public-sector knowledge gaps, Shaffer said.

“The community has been given a state mission. This isn’t just for Augusta, this is to benefit Georgia,” Shaffer said. The center, the CIO said, will likely be a legacy for Deal and Georgians alike.

“It’s been very rewarding just because we can see the difference it is going to make for literally generations to come. What’s being done today will just pay off in dividends for years to come,” Rhodes added.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.