Long-time Georgia MBDA Business Center director to focus on building community engagement to support artificial intelligence in manufacturing effort
When the Georgia Institute of Technology received a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in September 2022, it was clear that changes would have to be made to support the huge grant.
One top-level change involves Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., who led the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Georgia Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center for 18 years. Now, Ennis will co-direct the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Technology Corridor (GA-AIM), as it implements nine projects around the state that are funded by the record-shattering grant. Aaron Stebner, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering will co-direct GA-AIM with Ennis, and Thomas R. Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute will serve as advisor to the project.
GA-AIM will support a statewide initiative to combine artificial intelligence and manufacturing innovations with transformational workforce and outreach. The grant will increase job and wage opportunities in distressed and rural communities and among historically underrepresented and underserved people. The focus on artificial intelligence in manufacturing is interesting to Ennis, who, as the leader of the Georgia MBDA Business Center, launched a national summit for minority-owned manufacturing enterprises in 2016.
“I thought that was an underserved and overlooked area in the minority business community,” she said about the start of the National MBE Manufacturers Summit. “It’s the only summit of its kind. Minority manufacturers and corporations come for matchmaking meetings, education, and to experience new technology.”
Her experience with minority communities, which was recently honored by the Greater South Fulton Chamber of Commerce with its Partnership Award, also dovetails well with her new position, which will focus on community engagement.
“I was focused on minority businesses for years,” Ennis said. “But we have other communities that also need to be served. I’m excited about being able to work with all of our programs within the Enterprise Innovation Institute and some that are not in our group, to figure out how we engage communities from K to gray.”
With so many different audiences and communities to engage, Ennis is charged with creating opportunities that lead to meaningful connections that will truly get folks involved and wanting to participate.
“Donna’s experience building community for the Georgia MBDA Business Center and her knowledge of manufacturing in Georgia made her the obvious choice to co-lead GA-AIM,” said David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “This project is an important step in the equitable development and deployment of innovation and talent in the state. I’m excited to see her moving the project forward for Georgians.”
Ennis’s first mission is to develop a community engagement model that will be used around the state from Atlanta to Augusta to Macon to Southwest Georgia to bring businesses, communities, and people on board. She anticipates a model that can then be replicated for other projects in the future. And that’s just the beginning.
“We’re very entrepreneurial at the Enterprise Innovation Institute,” Ennis said about her enthusiasm for this new project. “We like making something from nothing, and GA-AIM is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase our innovative thinking.”