The Reselling Of Atlanta

ATLANTA (04/18/2000) - When naming high-tech meccas, Atlanta probably doesn't top your list. A new local campaign hopes to change that, but is it really needed?

The metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce is running a marketing campaign to draw information technology and high-tech professionals to the region. So far, the campaign has been relatively quiet, with displays in airports and advertisements in 15 college newspapers.

The chamber says it's taking its time as it learns how to run such a promotion.

But with the promise of warmer weather in the air, the heat will soon crank up on the campaign. When all is said and done, the business group expects to have spent an unspecified seven-figure sum.

For years, Atlanta has been home to many high-tech companies and businesses that use IT, but as the chamber of commerce has found, technology is in the eyes of the beholder.

The current climate

One might question the area's need to emerge from the shadows, considering it already serves as headquarters for BellSouth Corp., Turner Broadcasting System Inc., The Coca-Cola Co., United Parcel Service of America Inc., The Home Depot Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, 165,000 high-tech employees make up just over 8% of the area's total workforce.

Aside from the massive economic strength in industries such as consumer products, logistics and telecommunications, there are approximately 9,000 high-tech firms in greater Atlanta. They include high-profile, publicly held high-tech ventures such as Priceline.com Inc., Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and Healtheon/WebMD Corp. The 1997 revenues for the top 50 high-tech firms totaled close to $8.5 billion.

Perception

Atlanta's problem is one of perception. Many people, including those who should know better, view it as a sleepy city nestled in the Old South.

"From a perception standpoint, when you think of the high-tech industry, you probably don't think of Atlanta first," says Darrell Glasco, vice president of economic development at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Hence, the city's advertising campaign.

Although companies and workers are needed, the emphasis is now on the latter.

"We can't bring in more companies until we have more workers," explains Glasco.

"Otherwise, we start balkanizing the companies that are here."

Quality of life

High-tech executives tout the quality of life around Atlanta. The average price of a home - even close to the city - is $200,000, which is lower than the average prices in Boston, Silicon Valley and New York.

The three commonly stated problems with the area are crime, humidity and traffic. Many residents admit that there are dangerous areas in Atlanta but say crime is no worse there than in other cities.

Humidity and traffic aren't as easy to discount. Summers can be uncomfortable.

Traffic can be bad in any city, but imagine needing 25 minutes to drive five miles, as one high-tech executive does - and that's 20 miles north of the city.

Hiring picture

Many companies have been able to hire the right person at the right time. "It has been surprisingly easy," says Doug Pendergast, general manager of the 275-person office at Internet services firm iXL Inc. "The one thing that will limit our growth is our ability to attract and retain great people. There will come a time when we run out of local talent."

But not everyone has been so lucky. "There aren't enough people with the skills to fill the professions," says Joe Koscik, president of Management Decisions Inc., an area high-tech recruitment firm.

Management Decisions has been able to recruit people from the East Coast but has had far less success enticing professionals from the Midwest and West Coast. Salaries in Atlanta are fairly comparable to those found in most of the country.

In the money

Companies and politics have at least one thing in common: They follow the money. For the most part, venture capital has focused on Silicon Valley and the Route 128 area near Boston.

"Georgia and Atlanta have had some perspective problems," says Chuck Johnson, a partner at Noro-Moseley Partners, an Atlanta venture capital group. But that is changing. "Some of the more selective ones are coming down, looking for local partners [to make and manage investments]," he says.

Derivion, a 2-year-old firm that creates electronic-billing software that enables banks to conduct business over the Internet, recently received $45 million in a third round of funding.

Other companies that have seen equivalent levels of funding include LastMinuteTravel.com Inc., which ran the last ad that aired during this year's Super Bowl, and Enrev Corp., a vendor of high-speed battery chargers.

Investment money means a regular flow of new companies and positions.

Sherman is a freelance writer in Marshfield, Massachusetts.

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