That was the message from Tino Mantella, president and CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia, who gave his State of the Industry report at the Buckhead Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting Thursday at City Club of Buckhead.
“Since [coming to the organization in] 2004, mentioning technology in the last five years, it’s been … a roller coaster, if you will,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of companies come in [the state]. Quietly, there are a lot of companies that left [metro Atlanta]. Venture [capital] investors in California, Texas and other states encouraged them to leave.
“But now there’s a lot of investments in technology today in Georgia.”
The technology association is a downtown Atlanta-based nonprofit devoted to promoting the technology industry and education in the state and bringing companies and jobs here. It has chapters in Macon, Savannah, Columbus and Augusta, with one planned in Athens.
In his report, Mantella said there are many reasons for optimism regarding technology.
“Technology jobs pay about twice as much as regular jobs in Georgia, an average of $81,000,” he said, adding the technology industry has grown by 16,000 employees in the last 10 years in the state.
Mantella, also president of the Technology Councils of North America, previously worked at the National Arthritis Foundation and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. He resides in Johns Creek.
According to his bio on the technology association’s website, membership in the organization has increased by more than 500 percent since Mantella started there.
There are 260,000 technology jobs in the state, he said. In the last 10 years, $2 billion more has been invested in Georgia in those positions, he added.
The technology industry has an economic impact of $113.1 billion in Georgia, or 7 percent of its gross domestic product, Mantella said. He mentioned companies such as Sandy Springs-based AirWatch, Duluth-based Navicure and southeast Cobb County-based Silverpop as those bringing tech jobs to metro Atlanta. Thanks to AirWatch’s recent announcements of bringing hundreds of jobs to the state, Georgia now ranks in the top five in the nation in technology employers, Mantella said.
“We have a lot of diversity in technology companies in Georgia,” he added.
There are 600 technology companies alone in Alpharetta, which is about as much as Austin, Texas, Mantella said. Another 8,000 jobs statewide are planned based on technology company investments, he said.
During a question-and-answer session after his speech, business association member Mark Shaver asked if the state’s technology industry collaborates with its burgeoning film business.
“One of our societies is TAG Entertainment. It’s anything from gaming to films. The state created a tax break for films [and TV shows to be filmed in Georgia]. We’re now No. 2 or 3 in the nation in [movies and TV shows] being filmed here.”
The state’s technology industry is broken up into eight divisions. In the health IT field, Georgia has more than 250 companies and ranks No. 1 nationally, Mantella said.
Of the financial technology division, he said, “Seventy percent of payment processing flows through the state of Georgia,” mentioning metro Atlanta-based companies NCR, First Data, Fiserv, Equifax and Global Payments in that field.
Mantella said the state industry’s three biggest challenges are workforce, venture capital and awareness, but progress is being made in each.
The technology association is constantly encouraging more students to get into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs. The organization’s STEM Day is Friday, and its goal 10 weeks ago was to register 15,000 students statewide, but it got 260,000 to sign up, Mantella said. However, the fact that only 56 percent of Georgia ninth-graders graduate from high school concerns him, he said.
“There is a 91 percent loss rate for ninth-graders getting into technology jobs,” Mantella said.
As for venture capital, Georgia has a long way to go. The state gets 1 percent of the nation’s venture capital funding for technology jobs, and California leads the way with 51 percent, Mantella said.
He hopes the Invest Georgia Fund, a program in which the state would provide $100 million to bring more companies and jobs to the state, is approved by the Legislature next year. The bill to approve the program, Senate Bill 224, was passed by the Senate March 5 but withdrawn from the House before a vote at the session’s end March 28.