ALPHARETTA, Ga. — It didn’t take long for Tech Alpharetta to turn the tide on its funding contract with the city.
Barely a month after the City Council voted to restrict its agreement with the nonprofit to a one-year term, officials voted Aug. 19 to extend its annual $100,000 stipend to a three-year term.
It was a major victory for Tech Alpharetta.
“It’s very important for our stakeholders to know that the city is behind us, supporting us, not just financially, but supporting us as an agency,” Tech Alpharetta CEO Karen Cashion said following the vote. “That enables us to bring on more sponsors and more partners for the organization.”
Tech Alpharetta’s mission is to grow technology and innovation in the city by fostering existing and startup companies through strategic advice and rental of office space.
For the past three years, the city has appropriated $125,000 annually to Tech Alpharetta through the Alpharetta Development Authority. In addition to that financial support, last year, the city contributed $25,000 in sponsorship for the organization’s Ag Tech Conference of the South. The city stepped in again to cover shortfalls when the Ag Tech Conference proceeds fell short of expectations.
But this year, members of the City Council took a stand to hold the organization accountable for finding its own financial path for the future. The $100,000 allowance for this year represents a 20 percent cut in city funding.
Council members have pointed out that the city’s obligation to the nonprofit was never intended to be ongoing but merely seed money until the organization found its footing. City leaders had stood firmly on the notion that a funding contract beyond a one-year term would not be feasible until the organization provided a clear strategy for becoming self-sustaining without public money. They asked for a list of goals the organization would expect to achieve with a long-term contract before committing the city to anything beyond an annual agreement.
Its Tech Incubator program has generated more than $45 million in investor funding to young companies since 2015.
At the Aug. 19 meeting, Cashion told council members that the additional two years on the contract would generate approximately $760,000 in public relations and economic development for the city and will create approximately 175 new jobs in Alpharetta. It will also enable new and renewal agreements with the nonprofit’s sponsors and its sub-tenant companies, she said.
The extended contract, Cashion said, would also allow Tech Alpharetta to launch new programs, such as a partnership with Fulton County Schools’ Innovation Academy, to help prepare students for a future career in the tech industry. Another proposal calls for linking young tech startups with existing businesses for possible collaboration and investment.
Cashion’s presentation was enough to satisfy city leaders that the organization had set a list of criteria to gauge its success over the term of the contract.
Tech Alpharetta board member Tino Mantella also spoke in favor of the extended contract.
Mantella, president and CEO of Turknett Leadership Group, said he served 12 years as president and CEO of the trade association Technology Association of Georgia. During that time, he said Alpharetta’s reputation as a friend to technology was known statewide.
“You are, in many ways, the envy of many cities across the nation, with over 700 tech companies and many that are on the board,” Mantella said.
He said it’s important the city continue to make the longer-term commitment so that company executives, who also put their time, talent and treasure into the organization, know they have a partner.
But the council also heard from one resident who questioned the wisdom of funding the nonprofit.
John Courtney said taxpayers have supported Tech Alpharetta to the tune of $623,000 over the past five years.
“Every time I read about it, I wonder if it’s just a black hole that keeps sucking away at the city,” he said.
Courtney said it may be a better investment for the city to put its money into Technology Association of Georgia because its membership, its corporate sponsorship and its reach is much greater.
“It seems that the scale is there and could get you a better return for your money,” he said. “I don’t make those decisions, but to me, it’s a curiosity as a citizen.”