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With $35M More, Georgia Will Double Size of Its Cybersecurity and Innovation Lab

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has announced $35 million in funding for a second building at the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta.

The Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta will roughly double in size next year, as the state deepens its commitment to state and federal public safety partners with a second facility focused on incubating tech startups and cybersecurity training and workforce development.

The first building at the center’s $58 million Georgia digital campus is still under construction, and was “topped out” with the placement of its highest structural beam earlier this month. The 167,000-square-foot structure is within 40,000 square feet of being fully occupied, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s (GBI) new cybercrime unit will be among its tenants.

On Monday, Nov. 27, Gov. Nathan Deal announced an additional $35 million in funding to immediately build a second five-story, 165,000-square-foot building at the north end of the 17-acre campus’ distinctive U-shaped driveway.

Its second building will reserve one floor for incubating technology startups. Its four remaining floors will house build-to-suit space for private-sector technology companies. The building will also feature a cyber-range.

In a statement, Deal confirmed that advancing cyberprotection for the state’s residents, businesses and institutions “remains a paramount concern,” while he and state CIO Calvin Rhodes emphasized the need to fill roughly 500,000 vacant cybersecurity positions nationally — one-third of the 1.5 million empty positions worldwide.

“This visionary approach to cybersecurity underscores our commitment to encouraging innovation and developing a deep talent pool ready to establish Georgia as the safest state in the nation for today’s leaders in technology,” Deal said in the statement.

Georgia is not alone. According to the Center for Digital Government's* 2016 Digital States Survey, cybersecurity is the No. 1 priority for state IT officials.

Rhodes said the facility’s second building — the only additional construction currently planned at the campus — will support the U.S. Army’s new cyberheadquarters, which broke ground in November 2016 at nearby Ft. Gordon, with the capability to “accommodate controlled space to do classified briefings.”

The center, which backs up to the Savannah River, already has a distinguished list of partners and tenants including the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence at Ft. Gordon, the Georgia National Guard, the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.

Another partner is the city of Augusta, which issued $12 million in bonds and is building a five-level parking structure for the center.

The new building will also facilitate staff development for agencies like the GBI, whose director, Rhodes said, believes internships account for roughly 70 percent of his staff. Spearheading a quick build with existing architectural and construction partners who are “working very well with the state” will help Georgia “meet a need that we know is there,” the CIO said.

“The U.S. Army has only stood up two divisions since World War II. One of those was Special Forces and then the other one is the Cyber Command. It’s very significant that they’re doing this, and Georgia is very excited that [the] first operating division of it is going into Georgia,” said Rhodes, who is also executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority, the agency responsible for building the center.

The campus’ first building will open on July 10. The state plans to break ground on the second building on Jan. 3 and open it in December 2018. Both will feature walking connections to the levee and nearby trails.

Some areas of the second building will have separation in order to contain active investigations and confidential interactions. But it will also include a rooftop terrace and common spaces designed to stimulate collaborations between students with educational partners like Augusta University and the Technical College System of Georgia, as well as private-sector tenants.

Another goal, the CIO said, will be forging a connection between technical education and university partners so that students with certification in specialized learning can more easily transition into higher education and earn a bachelor’s degree.

The new building’s cyber-range, Rhodes said, will be available virtually. It will also join education and private industry, offering both an opportunity to test technology, to assess gaps in staff and student skills, and to train in a safe environment.

“It’s an opportunity to mirror, or at least have a network that’s very similar, to the network that they’re used to working on,” Rhodes said.

*The Center for Digital Government is part e.Repulic, 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.