Yesterday I had the pleasure of welcoming the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) for its annual international conference, held for the first time on our campus. AURP brings together a community of research parks and innovation districts across the U.S., Canada, and 13 other countries. They were very interested in the story of Tech Square, and in experiencing it in person.
During my years in graduate school at Tech from 1991 to 1995, we rarely ventured into the Midtown neighborhood across the connector. There were no reasons to go there–no classes, no internships, no cool restaurants, no conferences–and good reasons not to go there.
In the mid-1990s, then Tech President Wayne Clough asked the Georgia Tech Foundation to buy $60 million in land on the south, west, and north sides of campus for expansion. He wanted Tech to be more of an integral part of the Atlanta community and have room for growth. The request to “jump the connector” was an “add on” at the Georgia Tech Foundation annual meeting in Sea Island. Georgia Tech Foundation Chair Charlie Brown told the group, “Oh, by the way, I’ve got an option on some old, worn-out buildings with some land growing up in weeds over across the interstate on Fifth Street near The Biltmore.” He said it was thinking outside of the box. After much discussion, the Foundation decided to purchase the land, with no specific plan for its use.
The Foundation and Georgia Tech leaders got together with consultants and developed a plan for the most efficient use of the property. Out of thousands of hours of work came Technology Square, conceived, designed, and built by Georgia Tech graduates. In 2006, the Georgia Department of Transportation completed renovations to the Fifth Street Bridge, tripling the width and creating a parklike setting for pedestrians and bikers (and eventually electric scooters!) connecting Tech Square and the main campus.
Today, you can feel the energy — startups are next to corporate innovation centers that are down the street from corporate headquarters. The Scheller College of Business and our startup incubator, ATDC, are vital resources. People are exploring possibilities over coffee and in breakrooms. They’re designing and building business models for innovations in the historic Biltmore and in the brand-new Coda building.
Since 2012, 35 corporate innovation centers and labs have opened in and around Tech Square, such as Delta Air Lines, AT&T, Siemens, Stanley Black & Decker, The Home Depot, and Chick-fil-A. Tech Square has become a destination for corporate America — they want to be close to the talent and research emerging from Georgia Tech.
We’ve had a long-standing relationship with NCR since it moved to Atlanta about a decade ago. NCR opened an innovation center in the Biltmore in 2011. It moved its headquarters to Midtown in January 2018 as part of the company’s growth strategy.
Anthem opened an innovation studio in Centergy in 2016, and it has grown since then. It has a new technology center under construction next to Coda that will be complete by February 2020. These two companies are reinventing their industries, their location has added thousands of jobs to Midtown, and their proximity continues to accelerate their collaboration with Tech students and faculty. Next to the Anthem building, also under construction, is Norfolk Southern’s new headquarters.
These labs, technology centers, and HQs are partnering with Georgia Tech students. In addition, they have engaged with other area universities in close proximity — Georgia State University, Emory University, Savannah College of Art & Design, and the Atlanta University Center. Through our graduates, as well as graduates of other Atlanta-area universities, we provide talent that helps drive the economies of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, and our nation. It’s an incredible story of vision, the power of partnership, and the impact of America’s research universities.