By PATRICK FOX
ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Local officials remain torn on just how much money the city should be pouring into Tech Alpharetta each year.
For much of the past year, members of the City Council have questioned how much return the city receives for providing the enterprise to foster young tech companies.
At an Aug. 5 City Council meeting, officials voted to reduce funding to the organization to $100,000 over the next year. The agreement covers a one-year term.
Since it began operations almost 10 years ago, the nonprofit has received tens of thousands each year from the city. Over the past several years, the city has contributed $125,000 annually to assist with its operation.
Councilman Ben Burnett raised the point at the meeting that the city had originally proposed offering the $100,000 contract for a three-year term. He pushed the council to reinstate that term, but that measure failed.
City Administrator Bob Regus said the idea of a long-term agreement would provide Tech Alpharetta a better planning tool for future development.
“There was some discussion to do a multi-year agreement, and it would certainly help Tech Alpharetta with its sponsorships… but we just never brought that forward,” Regus said.
City Attorney Sam Thomas said the city has a number of multi-year contracts, but funding is allocated each year by the City Council. Each multi-year contract, he said, has opt-out provisions that would allow the city to dissolve the agreement.
Mayor Jim Gilvin said Tech Alpharetta CEO Karen Cashion is constantly looking for opportunities for the nonprofit to generate revenues. Last year, the organization held an ag-tech conference at the Alpharetta Conference Center at Avalon as a means of raising money, but that event fell short of expectations.
“At this point, I don’t know that there’s anything that’s obviously going to generate tremendous revenues above what’s already being grown organically by the organization through sponsorships and fees,” Gilvin said.
Councilman Jason Binder said he has optimism Cashion will grow Tech Alpharetta to a more self-sustaining level, but for now he feels more comfortable keeping the city’s obligation to one-year terms.
“I love where it’s going, and I think we’ve had some great conversations, so I don’t want it to seem that I’m taking away from that,” Binder said. But right now, he added, he doesn’t see any tangible proposals for future fundraising the organization is planning.
At the City Council’s annual retreat held last February, council members proposed the organization place greater emphasis on certain revenues, such as dues paid by members of the board of directors, which now are set at $500 per person. Officials said the dues could be set on a sliding scale, with some of the larger companies represented on the board paying higher dues.
Cashion assured council members that participation and commitment among board members has spiked dramatically over the past couple of years, and she expects it to continue.
Tech Alpharetta’s Innovation Center serves as an incubator for tech start-ups by providing office space and resources at reduced rates. Though the service seldom makes a profit, officials with the organization say it does deliver tangible benefits to the city.
Those benefits include more than 50 start-ups the center has assisted, about two-thirds of them now headquartered in Alpharetta.