Communities Changing Lives

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership) at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute has been using its Community Research Grant program to help Georgia communities with innovative technology-based projects that improve the lives of residents and visitors since 2020. In Warner Robins, crime has been reduced thanks to a digital twin project. In Columbus, the Chattahoochee River is safer for swimmers and boaters because of another digital twin application. In Valdosta, first responders now make it across town much more quickly, saving lives and property.

The Community Research program is a competitive grant process that supports teams of university researchers and local governments by providing funding, expert advice, program management, access to the Partnership’s Summer Internship Program, and a network of peers, on year-long pilot projects. Alumni cities and counties have successfully implemented projects and garnered additional funding and technical assistance to continue serving residents and meet community goals. Projects have also achieved national and international recognition and served as models for communities addressing similar problems.

This year’s Community Research projects, which are at the halfway point, have the potential to positively impact lives in equally important ways for Georgians in Atlanta, Brunswick, Milledgeville, and Statesboro. Recently, project leaders presented information on progress, challenges, and lessons learned to date.

Atlanta: Active Transportation

Sensors on the back of bikes help researchers in Atlanta

Across the city of Atlanta scooter drivers, pedestrians, and wheelchair users take their lives into their own hands — or into the hands of distracted drivers — every day. Atlanta’s project seeks to make roads safer for all users by studying transportation issues in four neighborhoods: Grove Park and Cascade II, on the westside, and South Boulevard and East Atlanta, in the city’s southeastern quadrant.

The goals of the Atlanta project — a collaborative effort that includes the City of Atlanta Department of Transportation (DOT), MARTA, Propel ATL, Georgia State University’s Micromobility Lab, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s College of Engineering — are to develop policies and initiatives that incorporate smart transportation technology and contribute to a cleaner, safer, and a more connected Atlanta.

Fei Li, of Georgia State University’s Urban Institute, is the project lead and presented at the event. To achieve the project goals, Li laid out the objectives of the group’s research: to understand the barriers to active transportation — which she defined as “human powered. So that may include walking, biking, or rolling, like scooters.”

Using a multi-pronged approach to get at the information needed, the research team will do neighborhood surveys; assess the current physical infrastructure, including sidewalks, bike racks, and more; track activity; and monitor air pollution in the project neighborhoods.

To date, data has been collected from light detection and ranging (LiDAR) equipment mounted to cars to map the neighborhoods; 25 students have canvassed 24 blocks to recruit participants and administer surveys; and 3 Fitbits and 2 Airbeams have been deployed to track individual residents’ physical activities and exposure to air pollution.

Working with DOT, the project has identified low-hanging fruit that can help improve mobility and safety. Locations for micromobility (bikes, scooters) device parking corrals have been scouted, which will not only keep parked devices off sidewalks and streets, but will also make the streets safer for pedestrians.

“We’re calling these quick builds,” said Ashley Finch, the Atlanta DOT’s shared micromobility coordinator, “because it’s things that we’re able to do in house, with our in-house maintenance crews and materials that we keep in our warehouses.”

Going forward, the team will continue to build community support for the project and seek additional funding to expand the project and implement the findings that will create safer neighborhoods for all.

Brunswick: Safe Water Together

Citizen scientists learn to test water

Brunswick and Glynn County on the coast of Georgia are home to beautiful marsh lands, historic sites, and popular beaches. The region is also home to four U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites — areas of toxic, hazardous waste that can leach into the ground and the water – that are being cleaned by federal Superfund dollars with the goal of returning them to productive use.

The Safe Water Together project focuses on addressing these and other environmental health and justice issues in a region with socio-economic disparities.

“Toxic waste pollution is significantly impacting human health on our coastline,” said Asli Aslan, project lead, associate professor of environmental health sciences, and director of the Institute for Water and Health at Georgia Southern University. “One in every six Americans lives within a mile of a toxic waste site, and nearly 30% of those are minorities. Brunswick is specifically important in that sense because they have four of those [Superfund sites] and other hazardous waste sites as well.”

The polluted areas threaten rivers, ecosystems, water supplies, air quality, food supplies, and, ultimately, the health of residents.

A collaboration with Rebuilding Together Glynn County, the local school system, Georgia Southern University, and Georgia Tech, the project aims to develop solutions based on community experiences and scientific data. By utilizing advanced water quality detection technology, the initiative targets microbial and chemical contamination exacerbated by sea-level rise.

Working with 12 pastors in the Black and Brown communities of Brunswick, researchers have assembled a group of citizen scientists that will help measure the chemicals in water and determine community needs.

“One of the objectives for this grant is to build the foundations of a community-led citizen science group,” Aslan said. “Working with community leaders is extremely important for us because those are the liaisons that will be spreading the word, creating more awareness, and increasing perceptions and knowledge in the area about what these toxic chemicals may do for health for the communities. The other objective is to identify and disseminate [information about] existing water and health hazards by looking at the data. It’s not like a research presentation, but really taking this to the communities and working with them to see what that data means for them and how they can use it.”

To meet these objectives, the research team is setting up a water quality lab in Brunswick that will be owned by the citizens. The team will train the citizen science group to collect field samples, assess them, and develop protocols for ensuring the data is collected properly. The team will also work with citizens on creating outreach and education materials.

The project team has been approached by other universities and local governments for information about how to set up a community approach to improving water quality.

Ultimately, this endeavor seeks to improve water quality, address environmental disparities, and contribute to long-term solutions for a more sustainable and just community in Brunswick and Glynn County.

Milledgeville: Workforce Development Study in Solar Technology and Eco-entrepreneurship

A solar class meets

As technology changes, so do the skills needed to deploy those technologies. Nowhere is this more evident that in the shift around the world to green energy. Often the people left behind by these technology shifts are those who can’t afford or don’t have access to the training they need to work in a new sector.

To help combat the lack of trained solar technicians in Middle Georgia, the city of Milledgeville is working with researchers from Georgia College & State University’s (GCSU) Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Education, as well as Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. That consortium of researchers aims to launch a no-cost certificate program in solar power systems combined with business education for aspiring entrepreneurs in the green energy sector. The program is making a special effort at recruiting disadvantaged and underserved individuals. The program aims to address the lack of accessible certification options in the middle and south regions of Georgia.

Hasitha Mahabaduge, associate professor of physics at GCSU, presented the project for the team.

“We, like most of rural Georgia, have seen our share of economic hardship,” Mahabaduge said. “We at Georgia College came together and discussed that we could use some of our expertise to help the city of Milledgeville to reverse the trend of this economic hardship. It would be a win-win situation for all of us.”

In addition to teaching people how to install solar panels, they are taking the training a step further, teaching participants how to create and manage their own business in the solar energy industry.

The certification course in solar energy and eco-entrepreneurship is free to all participants. The team has scheduled four cohorts of 10 students each for the classes, with people coming from as far as three hours away for the training.

In addition to training people for a new industry, researchers are looking at the economic impact of the program on the community and measuring attitude changes related to green energy by the participants. At the end of the four cohorts, students will be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, the established certification organization in the field of renewable energy. Finally, all the students from all cohorts will come together to install a solar project for the city of Milledgeville.

“We are teaching the basic physics engineering aspects of working in the solar field,” Mahabaduge said. “On top of that, we are providing them with the tools to not only work for someone else, but to start their own business.”

The project has received media coverage in Middle Georgia, which has resulted in a waiting list of more than 150 potential students. By providing hands-on experience and relevant skills, the project strives to build a sustainable, eco-conscious workforce and economy.

Statesboro: Improving Indoor Air Quality

Measuring air quality

Live, green plants do more than brighten a drab office. They can also help to improve air quality, making spaces healthier and more comfortable for the people who work in them. But how much can plants help with odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in older, government-owned buildings? That’s the question a pilot project in Statesboro is working to answer.

“We are spending most of our time indoors, but unfortunately, the current national regulatory standards are not protecting indoor environments,” said Atin Adhikari, associate professor of environmental health sciences at Georgia Southern University.

In an office building there may be many indoor air pollution sources, including housekeeping practices, dirty ventilation systems, and water damage, which can create health problems for office workers.

“Unlike in our home environments, office workers may not have adequate resources for changing their indoor air quality,” Adhikari said. “In this project we are focusing on the application of indoor plants, which can be used for absorbing different types of gases. It’s not a new concept. NASA and some other laboratories already did laboratory experiments. But nobody applied the simple, green, and cost-effective approach in office environments.”

The project measured VOC levels in 16 public buildings in Bullock County, from office buildings to city hall to a fire station. For the study, six buildings were selected. Three are control buildings and three buildings had plants added. Students collect data at the buildings and care for the plants, which include bamboo, rubber plants, and areca palms, plants that have been shown to absorb toxins from the air.

An initial round of data was collected before the plants were added. After reviewing that data and measuring both data and perception of employees following the plant installation, the pilot project will wrap up.

“We will conduct statistical testing to determine the impact of the implant intervention on indoor air quality and parse it into the air quality,” Adhikari said.

The City of Statesboro is partnering with a multidisciplinary research team from Georgia Southern University and Fayetteville State University, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to look at  both objective sensor data and subjective perceptions of employees on air quality before and after intervention.

The study involves active engagement with stakeholders, including students, administrators, and city employees and aims to improve indoor air quality for city employees and the larger local population, offering scalability potential, and serving as a reference for similar areas on indoor air quality evaluation and intervention.

Partnership for Inclusive Innovation Smart Cities Projects Receive International Recognitions

Warner Robins, Woodstock, and Columbus, Georgia, recognized with smart community awards

Within hours in early March, projects from three Georgia communities that are part of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) Community Research Grant program were honored with international smart cities awards.

Winners of the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 Community Awards at the 2024 Taipei Smart City Summit and Expo

Warner Robins’ Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience and Woodstock’s Smart Master Plan and Smart Corridor Study were recognized at the 2024 Taipei Smart City Summit and Expo with the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 Community Award.

At the same time, Columbus was named a Smart 20 award winner by Smart Cities Connect for the Digital Twin River Safety Project. That award will be presented in May.

“These accolades are a testament to the Partnership’s pivotal role in developing, nurturing, steering, and funding these projects from conception to triumphant completion,” said Debra Lam, the Partnership’s director.

The Warner Robins project to develop and test a Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience integrated a dynamic license plate reader solution with police department investigation practices to help lower crime rates in the community. Working with researchers from Georgia Tech and Middle Georgia State University, the Warner Robins Police Department used historical crime data to determine the optimal location and direction to place license plate reader cameras. During the six-month pilot phase of the project, the data helped recover 27 stolen vehicles and solve three major crimes — a shooting and two homicides.

“It’s one of the best investments I think we can make as a city because it brings the peace of mind of safe streets, safe communities, safe shopping experience. The fact that we have our flock cameras in different areas in our city with the smart technology to expand the footprint of our police department helps us solve crime and also helps deter crime, which is even more beneficial.” Warner Robins Mayor LaRhonda Patrick said.

The Woodstock project dates back to 2020, when the city worked with the Partnership on a master plan and smart corridor study to help alleviate the traffic and lack of parking in the city, following a doubling of the population since 2010.

In that first part of the project, the city collected data from GridSmart installations, which document minute-by-minute traffic and turning movements. In the second phase, interns from the Partnership examined the data to find ways to integrate it with previously collected traffic volume flows to show historical patterns. The goal is to determine the best way to amalgamate the data for use in making smart decisions about new transportation projects.

“Woodstock is honored to be among this diverse list of communities, and we are proud to represent the state of Georgia with fellow honoree Warner Robins,” said Mayor Michael Caldwell. “The city of Woodstock is committed to improving its citizens’ quality of life through smart technology programs. From transportation systems to innovative infrastructure technology, the city has been boldly pursuing the initiatives of its Smart Master Plan since 2020.”

The Columbus project’s goal is to make the world’s longest manmade urban whitewater course safer for swimmers and boaters. Scheduled and unscheduled dam releases have caused flooding, limited time for evacuations, and drownings. A digital twin created for the river allowed Georgia Tech and Columbus State University researchers to collaborate and develop technology that can predict changing water levels, detect humans in the water, and alert authorities.

“I think to win the award is awesome, but the impetus was to promote river safety and provide real-time SMART solutions that save lives,” said Dr. James Forrest Toelle, information technology director for Columbus consolidated government, and the project manager for the digital twin project. “None of it would have been possible without the tremendous partnership with Georgia Tech, the Partnership, and our local fire department.”

“It was an incredibly valuable opportunity for us to develop public safety Digital Twins together with collaborators in Columbus and Warner Robins,” said John Taylor, Frederick Law Olmsted Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “and it is particularly rewarding to see the research being implemented to help save lives and reduce crimes in real communities. These smart community awards are important recognition of the forward thinking vision and dedication to public safety of these communities.”

These three international wins follow the selection of Valdosta as a finalist in the 2021 World Smart Cities Awards in the Mobility Category for its Traffic Monitoring and Communication System to Improved Safety, Connectivity, and Efficiency project that has reduced the time it takes for first responders to travel the city.

“These projects exemplify the transformative power of technology and community engagement in creating safer, more enjoyable, and more resilient communities,” Lam said. “This remarkable success rate is a clear indicator of our role in nurturing a vibrant ecosystem for innovations—placing Georgia firmly on the map for smart cities.”

Partnership For Inclusive Innovation Welcomes Incoming Workforce Fellows

Event at Atlanta BeltLine Inc. celebrates outgoing cohort of Fellows and welcomes new class

The offices of the Atlanta BeltLine, itself a model of innovation, was the perfect spot to celebrate the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) PIN Fellowship, with an opening ceremony event that kicked off the Fellowship’s second year in operation, recognized the work of the outgoing class, and welcomed the next cohort into the program.

Event participants at the Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

Kara Lively, director of economic development for Atlanta BeltLine Inc., welcomed people to the offices and the event and discussed why she views the PIN Fellowship program as important to the BeltLine.

“A big part of why we’re a part of this initiative is our last pillar is innovation, specifically around smart cities and digital equity,” Lively said. “We want to be a testing ground for innovation in our city and a place where we can help grow the next generation of our workforce.”

“We define inclusive innovation as increasing access and opportunities for everyone to innovate,” Debra Lam, the Partnership’s executive director, said. “That innovation is not just an end state, but a real way to make the change that we want to see in terms of improving the human condition.”

The PIN Fellowship program supports that mission by working to identify and empower the next generation of innovative leaders in Georgia and the Southeast. The Fellowship places early career professionals into two public-private sector, six-month rotations that support corporate/startup and public/nonprofit projects in the same industry (AI manufacturing, IT/cybersecurity, cleantech, and supply chain). The projects are dedicated to advancing innovation and technology, while furthering economic opportunity for the Fellows themselves.

The program started in 2023, with two cohorts of Fellows working for companies and organizations including Cox Enterprises, the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., Georgia Tech, Park Pride, Freudenberg NOK, Microsoft, Fulton County government, and others.

The PIN Fellowship opening ceremony provided an opportunity for the first Fellows, who graduated from the program in 2023, to share their experiences and give advice to incoming Fellows.

“I would say the best thing about the PIN Fellowship was that we were able to get so many different experiences within a one-year period,” Sruthi Kumar, a Fellowship alum, said. Kumar worked at Cox Enterprises and Georgia Tech.

Following her Fellowship, Cox hired Kumar as part of its LEAD program, a rotational, leadership development program that introduces young professionals to different departments within the company. It’s a position she says she would not have gotten without the PIN Fellowship.

“The PIN fellows that we’ve had [at Cox], have really supported our fundamental programs on recycling and reducing our carbon footprint,” said Clarence Jackson, senior director of sustainable supply chain and business operations at Cox. “We’ve worked hard to get them involved and to support our programs directly.”

Noah McQueen, another Fellowship alum, worked last year at Microsoft and at the Atlanta BeltLine. “The most beneficial thing I believe about the PIN Fellowship is we got a chance to grow and explore and develop as young leaders in a professional space,” McQueen said. “I love the diversity of the public and private experience. You get the full scope of all the things that you can do in your career and the possible avenues you can take.”

Isaac Harper, a member of the incoming Fellowship cohort, will work with Cox Enterprises and the Georgia Water Coalition on a project near Augusta, Georgia.

“I wanted to be part of the PIN Fellowship for the learning opportunities that it provides,” Harper said. “I think coming here as an immigrant from New Zealand, as someone who’s already graduated, I missed a lot of that pipeline that somebody local would have access to. Trying to build a network over here is a goal. And I think PIN is going to help me with that.”

The incoming cohort has three Fellows who will be working with the following employers:

    • James Gathings Jr. – Atlanta BeltLine and Honeywell
    • Isaac Harper – Cox Enterprises and Georgia Water Coalition
    • Israel Todd – Park Pride and Cox Enterprises

Learn more about the Fellowship and the workforce development pillar at pingeorgia.org.

 

David Bridges Selected for Prestigious Fulbright Specialist Roster

Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) Vice President David Bridges has been named to the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Specialist Roster for a tenure of three years.

EI2 VP David Bridges (Photo: Peralte Paul)

The Specialist program is part of the larger Fulbright exchange offerings that include Fulbright Scholars and is housed in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning. The program pairs U.S. academics and professionals with institutions abroad to share expertise, strengthen relations, hone skills, gain international experience, and learn about other cultures.

Bridges, who as EI2 vice president, runs the nation’s largest university-based economic development organization, becomes the 10th Georgia Tech staff member to earn that distinction. He is the second Georgia Tech researcher connected to EI2 to be named a Fulbright Specialist.

Since joining Georgia Tech in 1994, Bridges has worked in various practice areas serving manufacturing firms, national labs, international governments, and innovation ecosystems. He has been a Principal or Co-Principal Investigator on over $32 million in grants and has authored, co-authored, or significantly contributed to more than $142 million in winning proposals. Bridges has won more than 100 proposals from U.S. federal agencies, plus universities, governments, and nonprofits around the world. He is a Principal Research Faculty member and a frequent lecturer and keynote speaker in China, South Africa, and across Latin America on nascent, innovation ecosystem building.

“I’m excited to share the ecosystem building model we have developed at EI2 to help foster innovation around the world,” Bridges said. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the power of collaboration to fuel the economy and help improve the lives of people across the globe.”

As a Specialist, Bridges is eligible to be matched with projects at host institutions in more than 150 participating countries. During his tenure on the roster, he will pursue projects in Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe, areas where he has previously done work in support of entrepreneurship and ecosystem building.

Now accepting Summer Internship Applications

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s Summer Internship
program is accepting applications through Feb. 11, 2024

What do mental health initiatives in Macon, the arts in Augusta, infrastructure in Albany, city data, and parks have in common? They are among the project host sites for the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) 2024 Summer Internship program.

The Partnership is a statewide public-private collaboration to promote innovations that drive inclusion and growth to build economic mobility for a more resilient and equitable future.

The Summer Internship program, formerly known as the Smart Community Corps, is seeking a record number of interns this summer. The public innovation projects address important civic challenges facing Georgia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

“We’re continuing to grow,” Cody Cocchi, the Partnership’s student engagement manager, said of the upcoming sixth cohort of students. “Last year we had 35 internship opportunities. This year we have 42. That gives us opportunities for 84 interns, compared to 62 last year.”

The internship is an immersive 12-week program that pairs two students at each project site from universities and communities around the country to work on innovative public projects that foster economic mobility and sustainable living.

One other thing that will be different with the 2024 cohort is the opportunity for a student to build his or her own project, Cocchi said.

“Interns have to identify what the project is going to be, where their host site will be, and who the site supervisor will be,” he said. “They also have to find a peer to work with on the project. That’s a really interesting addition this year that has already drawn one application.”

Ornela Gjoni, a master’s student at Georgia Tech in city and regional planning, interned with Park Pride in 2023. Park Pride is an Atlanta nonprofit organization that works with communities to help develop neighborhood parks. Gjoni and her project partner worked on community engagement in Peoplestown, an historic neighborhood in Atlanta’s southeastern quadrant where Park Pride is helping to develop Four Corners Park.

Gjoni, who is from Albania, found the project helpful to her future career. “It was interesting to get a sense of what working with communities in another country will be like,” she said. “It was a taste of what I could expect after I graduate, if I’m able to find a job and do something similar.”

In addition to gaining job experience, the paid internships offer an opportunity to boost students’ professional level, expand professional networks, and take advantage of professional development programming.

Georgia City Solutions (GCS), a nonprofit unit under the umbrella of the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), was so impressed with the two interns they had in 2023, that the GCS signed on as an anchor partner, which means the organization is committed to hosting interns for 2024 and 2025.

For the GCS summer interns’ project, which started in 2023 and will continue, students measured, reported and shared GCS information related to work the organization is doing with cities around the state on equity and inclusion, municipal workforce development, and youth leadership and engagement.

“The most important tip,” said Brian Wallace, director of content strategy and engagement for the GMA/GCS, “is to have a project ready to go, then let the interns be creative.”

It was huge, he said, that they had two very good interns, who could spend 12 weeks completely focused on one project. “We hit a homerun with the two interns,” Wallace said.

For most of the projects, the Partnership funds the cost of one intern – a stipend of $8,000 is provided – and the site funds the other.

“Of course, it’s on a sliding scale all the way to zero,” Cocchi said, “Because of the inclusive nature of what we want to do, we don’t want to not support organizations that can’t afford to pay for interns.”

Interested in serving as a project site? There’s a process for that.

“We do an open call,” Cocchi said. “We want the projects to be community driven, community-identified issues, with community-driven solutions. Then we recruit students so that they know which organization they’re going to work with.”

The program is open to organizations from around the state and higher ed students from any institution, any degree level, and any major. Project sites for 2024 have already been selected. Intern applications will be accepted through February 11. Check out the Summer Internships website for more information.

Grenzebach: Putting Safety First

Customer Profile

Grenzebach is a privately owned, family-run company based in Germany, with 1,600 employees worldwide and 100 employees at its Newnan, Georgia, facility. Primarily a material handling manufacturer, Grenzebach produces large conveying systems for the glass industry and for James Hardie, makers of exterior siding products. The company also produces solar glass and manufactures electric automated guided vehicles for use in moving materials from place to place inside distribution facilities.

Situation

Prior to 2012, Grenzebach’s Newnan plant was experiencing too many recordable injuries, said Ken Pinkerton, head of facilities, quality, safety, and environmental at the Newnan location. From 2009 through 2013, the company averaged five recordable injuries per year, and one year the company had 10. Despite a long-time commitment to creating a safe and healthy workplace, leaders realized they needed to do something to bring those numbers down.

The place to start was with Georgia Tech’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program, a part of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, and the state’s on-site consultant for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The on-site consultation program provides small business owners with no-cost advisory services to address hazards and improve workplace safety and health without fear of citations or penalties. Pinkerton has a long relationship with Georgia Tech, including receiving his Industrial, Health, and Safety Certification through Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).

Solution

In 2012, Grenzebach began working with SHES to pursue OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) certification. SHARP recognizes small businesses that operate exemplary safety and health programs. To qualify for SHARP, Grenzebach — and all businesses — must:

  • Request comprehensive consultation visits in safety and health that include a hazard identification survey;
  • Involve employees in the consultation process;
  • Correct all hazards identified by the consultant;
  • Implement and maintain health and safety programs as specified by OSHA;
  • Maintain days away, restricted, or transferred (DART) rates and total recordable case (TRC) rates below the national industry average;
  • Agree to notify the state consultant prior to making changes to working conditions in a facility.

Achieving SHARP status confers a number of benefits on a business. SHARP certified companies provide protection to workers through the development and implementation of best safety and health practices; create a culture that values health and safety; build a reputation for safety within their industry; save money; and are granted an exemption from OSHA programmed inspections for up to two years and subsequent renewal for up to three years.

“The real benefits to SHARP,” said Paul Schlumper, director of the SHES program, “are the improvements that a company makes in its safety and health management system to help provide a better work environment for employees. Another really big benefit is the prestige. A company can advertise the fact that they’re serious about safety and health. I think that means something to their customers and their employees.”

Results

SHARP has been so successful for the company that Grenzebach has renewed its certification each year since 2012.

“What the SHARP certification allowed us to do is open our eyes to some of the different hazards that we took for granted every day,” Pinkerton said. And noticing those hazards has led to drastic decreases in recordable incidents for the facility.

“Since 2014, the number of recordable incidents has dropped 85%, and we are now significantly below the industry average,” Pinkerton said. “We’ve had a few milestones where we have gone a year without a recordable injury, 365 days. In fact, we recently met that goal again. But we had never gone a complete calendar year without one, until 2020.”

To achieve those stellar results, Grenzebach listened to the suggestions of the SHES team, including a safety committee that meets monthly, and implemented processes that include a focus on cleanliness. “If you don’t have a clean environment, you’re not going to have a safe environment,” Pinkerton said.

SHES helped Grenzebach empower workers to correct any hazards that they see. “If you see that broken pallet on the floor, instead of walking over it, our employees now pick it up and put it in the designated place. It removes that hazard from existence,” Pinkerton said.

Achieving SHARP certification does not mean that SHES is no longer involved. In fact, that is often just the beginning of a collaboration with a company.

“The relationship we’ve built with Georgia Tech and SHES over this process has been very beneficial,” Pinkerton said. “If I have any type of question that has to do with OSHA, or has to do with safety in general, they are able to help me. They will go above and beyond. If I have an employee concerned about the air quality or noise level in the plant, they’ll do an air quality check or a noise level check anytime I call and ask them to do it. And they provide those free of charge.”

That relationship delivers a level of security that dealing with OSHA may not bring.

“If I see changes coming in OSHA, I can contact the SHES group to get information,” Pinkerton said. “They’re my liaison to OSHA. I don’t have to contact OSHA to get an answer to a question. I can contact Georgia Tech and get that same answer, and not feel the anxiety that a person may feel contacting OSHA.”

The commitment to safety has worked its way through the entire organization, Pinkerton said.

“The people on the floor see that we legitimately care about their safety,” he said. “It’s not how fast can you make a product and get it out the door. The main thing is safety. How safely can you make that product? The atmosphere has completely changed when it comes to safety. That’s what you want. You’re trying to build a safety culture in your facility, and not have employees do something because I tell them to do it. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Testimonial

“The SHES group is as loyal to me as I am to them. When it comes to the safety of people in the workforce, they take their jobs very seriously. I tell people all the time about SHARP and that they should become SHARP certified. The main thing that I would say about Georgia Tech and their consultation program is that they care. They don’t come in just trying to find something wrong. They come in and try to find ways for us to improve.” – Ken Pinkerton, head of facilities, quality, safety, and environmental at Grenzebach in Newnan, Georgia

Smart Community Corps Launches Fifth Cohort

MACON, Ga. ­— From making improvements to Georgia’s farming and food systems to supporting artists’ programs to monitoring water quality in the state’s rivers, students in the fifth cohort of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) Summer Internship program, formerly Smart Community Corps, are working on public innovation projects that address some of the most important civic challenges facing our state — and are branching out to solve challenges in other states, as well.

Cody Cocchi, the Partnership’s student engagement manager, back left; and Debra Lam, Partnership director, front left, with some of the Summer Interns in Macon

The Summer Internship is a program under the Student Engagement pillar of the Partnership, which is a statewide public-private collaboration to promote innovations that drive inclusion and growth to build economic mobility for a more resilient and equitable future. The internship program, sponsored by Gulfstream and additional funding partners, is designed to foster the next generation of innovators by providing civic-minded college students, both undergraduate and graduate, from across the nation with hands-on experience working on real-life problems supporting innovation work to create livable and equitable communities.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller welcomed the students and others to Macon City Hall in early May for the kickoff of the fifth cohort.

Students in the previous four internship cohorts were all from Georgia colleges and universities and worked on projects in Georgia only. This year’s cohort of 62 summer interns includes students from as far away as Oregon and Illinois and projects in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Georgia. The 35 host sites for 2023, represent city and county governments, higher education, nonprofit agencies, civic and minority-serving organizations, incubators, and startups.

State Rep. Dale Washburn (District 144) congratulated the students for their commitment to these important civic causes. He urged them to “follow something that’s honest and honorable and is of service to other people when choosing what you want to do with your life.”

The internships are a great place to start that journey.

“The 2023 Summer Internship cohort is the largest, most competitive, most geographically diverse cohort the Partnership has had,” said Cody Cocchi, the Partnership’s student engagement manager. “This cohort will have the most significant impact across the state of any of our previous cohorts. This class represents a diverse group of higher ed students from 25 universities, 8 states, and 14 countries.”

Manikandan Lapasi Parthasarathy, an intern who completed his first year in the master’s program for computer science at Georgia Tech, is working with Henry County to build a tool that can help local leadership make data-informed decisions on where to place freight infrastructure to improve life for residents in the region. For example, he is looking at “What kind of improvements can they make in which areas of the county? How will it affect the county as a whole? Which areas would be the best places to explore such improvements,” he said.

This project appealed to Lapasi Parthasarathy because “on the professional front, I’m good at building tools that translate ideas into actual instruments that we can use. I thought this would be a really good way for me to explore that further,” he said. “On the personal front, I like being useful to people.”

That’s a hallmark of these public innovation or civic technologies projects, they are useful to a broad swath of people, from the interns to the project site representatives to the people who live in the communities where the projects are based.

Wesleyan College in Macon, the first college in the U.S. chartered to grant degrees to women, has a long history of including the underrepresented. Two Wesleyan students are participating in the Summer Internship program for the first time this year.

“They’ve been connected with different organizations that are providing opportunities for our students around social enterprise,” said Wesleyan President Meaghan Blight. “It’s the best of both worlds — an opportunity for them to make a living over the summer that helps pay for their education while also giving them an opportunity to have workforce experience on something that’s driving their passion on the social enterprise piece, connecting with communities, and sustainability. Those are things that employers are looking for.”

Jordyn Hardy, a Wesleyan biology major, will spend the summer in the Okeefenokee Swamp. It’s an internship that plays right into her career goals. “I want to become a wildlife biologist,” she said. “I want to conserve endangered and threatened species.”

Wesleyan undergrad Savannah Pollock is working on a double major in biology and religious studies. She hails from Folkston, Georgia, the home of the Okefenokee, and is excited to spend the summer in the swamp, as well. “I really wanted to get involved in my community, especially in the black community in my hometown,” she said. “One of the big components of our hometown is the swamp. Being a part of that and trying to engage the community to be involved in it was something I was really interested in this summer.”

Victoria Ponce, a Georgia State University political science student, is returning for a second year with the Summer Internship. Last summer she worked at Neighborhood Nexus, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that provides data, tools, and expertise to help create more equitable and livable communities for all. This summer she’s interning in Washington, D.C., with MetroLab Network, an ecosystem of researchers and local government leaders who work collaboratively to equip cities with science.

“After working with Neighborhood Nexus last year, I realized that I have a passion for data and working with policy,” Ponce said. “Political science has a huge spot for data. I decided to go to law school and also to get a masters in working with policy. I think having this experience, getting mentors, and actually getting your hands on this type of work, gives you a better idea of the day to day.”

These paid internships continue through the summer, with a wrap up program in August, when students will present the findings from their work.

Georgia MBDA Business Center Client Named State’s 2023 Small Business Person of the Year

Georgia Tech’s Georgia Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center client Ken Taunton was recently honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Georgia’s 2023 Small Business Person of the Year. Taunton is the president and CEO of executive search and professional staffing firm The Royster Group.

The 50 state winners were honored in Washington, D.C., during Small Business Week. From left: Karl Vaillancourt, Precision Construction Services, California; Juanny Romero, Mothership Coffee Roasters, Nevada; Vice President Kamala Harris; Ken Taunton, The Royster Group, Georgia; Erik Wright and Jared Malapit, Precision Construction Services (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Taunton got his start recruiting with a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company in sales and human resources as the southeast recruiting manager. After ten years, he went to work at an international executive search firm recruiting C-suite and high-paying positions in the healthcare sector, where “he never saw people of color or women” as part of the pipeline search pool, he said. When he started his own recruiting and professional staffing firm, he set out to change that. “My goal was executive recruiting, concentrating on diversity. Every engagement that we worked on, there would be a diverse slate of candidates,” he said.

The Royster Group is a certified minority-owned business founded in 2001. Since then, its focus on diversity has garnered business success. The company has expanded from a one-person shop to 80 employees. In 2008, Royster’s revenue was $2 million; today, it is more than $20 million.

The Royster Group’s growth caught the attention of the SBA, which singled Taunton out for the award from among nine nominations in Georgia.

“What made Ken stand out was the phenomenal growth his business had,” said Terri Dennison, district director of the SBA Georgia District Office, “not only growth in the number of employees but also growth in sales and profits. It’s an example of how SBA and other business development resources can make a difference in a small business’s long-term success.”

Taunton, too, credits SBA and other resources for his success. In 2008, he was part of SBA’s inaugural emerging leaders’ program for business executives, e200. That program helped him navigate the Great Recession and pivot to securing federal contracts. He’s also a graduate of the SBA 8(a), a program that helps small, disadvantaged businesses secure federal contracts.

He decided in 2006 to expand his business, which had focused on corporate recruiting, into recruiting for the federal government in an effort to diversify. That’s when the Georgia MBDA Business Center got involved. “The Center helped me with my business plan, business development, and my strategy on how to get into the government sector, and with proposals, because the government space is a whole different animal,” Taunton said. “The Georgia MBDA Business Center was instrumental in helping me get into that space.”

The Royster Group has maintained its relationship with the Georgia MBDA Business Center since 2002. The Center is part of his proposal team, he said, reviewing them before submissions to ensure all the “Is are dotted, and the Ts are crossed.”

“Ken is a great choice to represent Georgia as Small Business Person of the Year,” said Donna Ennis, operator representative of the Georgia MBDA Business Center. She has worked with Taunton for more than a decade to help scale his company. “We’ve done a lot of strategic growth work with him and his team. We’ve recommended training, programs, and resources. We’ve become a trusted advisor as he grows his business, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him.”

The Royster Group currently does a lot of work with the Defense Health Agency (DHA) and Department of Defense, staffing hospitals on military bases across the country. “That’s what got us through COVID,” Taunton said. “We had these long-term contracts that were mission essential, meaning that regardless of what happens in the world, they’re always going to need the healthcare providers and contractors we employ. The Georgia MBDA Business Center has been instrumental in ensuring that we continue to be ready and able to do business in the government sector.”

Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Donna Ennis Presents at the Federal Laboratories Consortium National Conference

Federal labs, including facilities such as the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, MIT Lincoln Lab in Massachusetts, and the Agricultural Resource Service, have technology transfer as part of their missions. This means that, like the work of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, leaders in federal labs don’t want to do research for the sake of research. They are working to improve people’s lives, and they need businesses and organizations to help transfer their research technology into the real world to further that mission.

Donna Ennis speaks at the Federal Laboratories National Conference in Cleveland, Ohio

Enter Donna Ennis, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s director of diversity engagement and program development, co-director of the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Corridor (Georgia AIM), and operator representative for the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center. It’s a lot of hats for one person to wear, and she wore them all as she spoke at the national Federal Laboratories Consortium (FLC) conference — a sort of national trade association meeting — in Cleveland, Ohio, in March.

She was asked to present on one of her areas of expertise — connecting people and businesses with the right resources.

“I discussed Georgia AIM and tech transfer,” she said. Georgia AIM, a new initiative — funded by a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) — supports a statewide effort to combine artificial intelligence and manufacturing innovations with transformational workforce and outreach programs.

“Federal labs are looking for ways to collaborate with minority-owned businesses. I talked about helping us identify the labs that focus on AI technology and advanced manufacturing, so that we could work more closely with those labs for Georgia AIM, and perhaps identify businesses that could do tech transfer. Labs are really interested in technology transfer. They’re doing all this research, and they want to be able to transfer that technology out of the federal labs. We’re in conversations about it, including with some of the people I met at the session.”

Ennis sees attendance at conferences like FLC as vital to her work.

“Because I’m in a new role, I’m focused on getting national exposure for Georgia AIM and making the strategic relationships that are necessary,” she said. “Federal labs could be a huge component with regard to identifying technology that could then be transferred into Georgia companies.”

The CAT That Roars

Chatham Area Transit (CAT) is collaborating with Georgia Tech and other partners to deliver on-demand last-mile/first-mile transit in Savannah

In the commercial logistics and distribution industry, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed companies to upgrade last-mile capabilities – the ability to get products from the grocery store or distribution center to people’s homes. What has often been left out of last-mile planning is getting people themselves connected. Fixed bus or train routes often leave people blocks or even miles away from transit, miles that have to be traveled on foot to get to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, work, schools, and more.

At a press conference in Savannah project partners stand in front of a Chatham Area Transit Authority micro-transit van. From left, Debra Lam, executive director, Partnership for Inclusive Innovation; Andrew Young, field representative, Office of Sen. Raphael Warnock; Roxanne Ledesma, supervisory grants manager, USDOT; Ben Levine, special advisor, USDOT; Savannah Mayor Van Johnson; CAT CEO Faye DiMassimo; CAT Board Chair Diedrick Cody; Robert Hampshire, deputy assistant for research and technology and chief science officer, USDOT; Nicholas Savas, regional outreach coordinator, Office of Sen. Jon Ossoff; and Georgia House Rep. and former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson.

Now, thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s (BIL) Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant program, Savannah will launch a pilot project to develop first mile/last mile on-demand transit. The app will seamlessly connect people to Chatham Area Transit Authority (CAT) fixed bus routes to get people where they need to go more efficiently and economically.

The $1.2 million grant was announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation in March. A total of 59 projects in 33 states were funded to the tune of $94 million to develop projects that improve transportation efficiency and safety using advanced smart community technologies and systems.

“The future of transit looks different,” said CAT CEO Faye DiMassimo. “Savannah is a great market for this project. It’s not so big that we can’t right the ship, but it’s not so small as to be not applicable or scaleable in other markets. And it’s a market with lots of different employment areas, tourism, a historic district, and warehousing/distribution.”

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), which is supported by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, is putting together an advisory board comprised of local leaders and national transit experts, who will help ensure the work follows best practices from around the country while also addressing the specific needs of Savannah’s transit riders.

“Having corporate, civic, and nonprofit leaders involved to see how this project will impact their employees, students, and clients, will help ensure its success,” said Debra Lam, executive director of the Partnership. “National subject matter experts will be brought on for their expertise and also to share the project outside Savannah.”

The app, which will connect riders on demand from A to B and even to C or D, will operate similarly to Uber or Lyft. Riders will input their location and destination. The app will seamlessly connect users from curbside pickup by micro-transit to fixed bus or boat routes and will include paratransit if needed. It will synchronize bus and on-demand feeds to have buses and riders at the right place at the right time. Riders will be able to see when their curbside pickup will arrive and will pay a single fare for the entire trip.

Pascal Van Hentenryck, Georgia Tech’s associate chair for innovation and entrepreneurship and the A. Russell Chandler III chair and professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and his team developed the software, which was also used on MARTA Reach, a pilot project to add on-demand micro-transit to connect to bus and train routes in Atlanta.

“We have been working on this new type of transit system for more than 10 years,” said Van Hentenryck. “These are transit systems that are combining fixed routes and on-demand shuttles to provide door-to-door affordable services. We have developed all the technology for planning and operating such on-demand multimodal systems: What should be the fixed bus route? What should be the frequency between them? How many shuttles do you need? How do you dispatch them such that you serve people as quickly as possible?”

During Phase I, funds will be used to design the system, develop partnerships, and create ways to bring the community together so that riders will have a voice in how on-demand transit is built out. The pilot will connect three areas across the county. One pilot community includes the Tiny House Project, a neighborhood of permanent, affordable tiny houses that is home to 22 formerly unhoused veterans. The neighborhood, which will soon grow by 50 more houses, will continue to focus on veterans, and will also be open to other homeless people.

The Phase I project will run for 15 months. Following that, award winners can apply for a Phase II grant to implement improvements to Phase I and expand projects. For Savannah, the Phase II goal is to have on-demand micro-transit available across the region, seamlessly delivering visitors, students, and residents to jobs, historic sites, school, and wherever they need to go.

“We’re excited to implement this research,” Lam said. “It’s been done in other cities and every time it’s gotten better. Phase I will develop a blueprint that is electric, multimodal, and addresses last mile/first mile. It’s data driven to increase efficiency. It will empower communities through public transit. It will enable people to get to the doctor, to work, to school, wherever they need to go.”

More about the project can be found in this video, “Chatham Area Transit Announces SMART Grant to Improve Transportation Efficiency,” put together by the city of Savannah.