Source: NorthFulton.com

Alpharetta makes pitch as technology capital
With 900 area tech companies it’s time to get organized

by Hatcher Hurd

May 30, 2014

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – When Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle took office, one of his first goals was to make Alpharetta the Technology Capital of the Southeast. It may already be the case.

With the establishment of the Greater Alpharetta Technology Network (GATN), the seeds have been sown to not only brand Alpharetta as a technology capital, but to build on the synergy of these companies to strengthen their own self-awareness and attract more tech businesses to the greater Alpharetta area.

Karen Cashion is founder and president of GATN, a fully chartered 501(c) trade association.

Cashion also happens to be a corporate and technology law partner at the Alpharetta law firm of Hipes & Belle Isle (the mayor’s law firm), so she has a kindred spirit in getting GATN off to a flying start. She is also former assistant general counsel for EarthLink, Inc.

She says there are 600 tech companies within Alpharetta’s corporate limits and another 300 more in outlying areas of North Fulton and South Forsyth, yet hardly anyone knows that.

“It’s staggering that until now they had no local association to serve them and to foster a community of collaboration and connection,” Cashion said. “GATN’s mission is to promote and engage our local tech community through thought leadership, educational and networking events.”

Cashion launched GATN with a kickoff dinner May 8 featuring Atlanta Tech Village founder and serial tech entrepreneur David Cummings spoke about creating a community of innovation. More than 150 were in attendance.

Belle Isle sees GATN as another tool in bringing the technology community together. He has already formed a Technology Commission to advise the city in growing the tech community within its borders. Gwinnett Tech is building a North Fulton campus in Alpharetta to furnish a trained workforce and the city is in negotiations with Avalon to bring a 4-star hotel/convention center that will host trade shows and showcase area tech companies.

“The tech companies we have here already are all over the map in size and scope,” Belle Isle said. “Thirty-five percent of the Technology Association of Georgia’s membership is right here. But to lead in entrepreneurial start-ups, the technology community has to have a place to come together and connect – to feel like they are a part of something. But we have to recognize that Alpharetta is the economic engine of North Fulton.”

“All of Atlanta has 300 technology companies. Austin, Texas, has 600 technology companies, and it is the state capital with a major airport and a university” Belle Isle said. “What we have is a fiber-optic community with a power grid supported by Georgia Power.”

Tech companies attract other tech companies and the talent to support them, Belle Isle said.

“With a supporting cast such as GATN, Gwinnett Tech and perhaps a convention center, we will be getting the word out to the rest of the country,” he said.

Recent technology addition FiServ is bringing 2,500 jobs to Windward Parkway and a 30,000-square-foot expansion and structured parking. And in the last 18 months 4,300 high-paying tech jobs have come to North Fulton, the mayor said.

“We can expect more acquisitions like that which add to the tax base and the local economy,” he said.

Once Alpharetta reaches critical mass, the GATN mission will be even more important, Cashion said.

“We will still need to foster a sense of community,” she said. “We want to create opportunities for people to come together, interact together. And that means looking at the greater Alpharetta area. Technology doesn’t have borders.”

That means GATN needs partnerships with organizations such as Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and North Fulton Progress Partners.