Public-private initiative drives economic opportunity across Georgia
A year ago, a coalition composed of the State of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the civic and corporate sector, launched an ambitious plan to advance innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success across the state, positioning it as the tech capital of the East Coast.
September was a one-year milestone for the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, a public-private organization charged with implementing that plan through the three pillars of community research, student engagement, and economic opportunity.
“Our charge was to support existing hubs of innovation, nurture promising leaders and entrepreneurs, especially from communities not often included in this discussion, and invest in the most promising and scalable technology-driven, community-based solutions,” said Debra Lam, the Partnership’s executive director. “What’s really exciting is seeing how our efforts in this first year are yielding tangible results that position Georgia to achieve inclusion one innovation at a time.”
The Partnership is supported with funding from the State of Georgia, a blue chip roster of some of the country’s largest corporations, strategic partners, and Georgia Tech, which also is providing administrative oversight. The Partnership already has 15 project sites across nine economic development regions and deployed more than 140 technologies. Public engagement and knowledge transfer remain core components of the Partnership’s offerings, with nearly 700 attendees in events and active digital communications, including monthly newsletters.
The areas of focus and the Partnership’s impact over the past year are reflected in three flagship programs.
Innovate for All: To scale economic opportunity, Innovate for All funds and supports proven programs, services, and technologies created by Georgia’s innovators. In the past year, it funded the Georgia Mesh Network and the Working Farm Fund.
- The Georgia Mesh Network: Augusta’s theClubhou.se is piloting the statewide network with Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah to offer skills training and certification to historically disadvantaged and underserved entrepreneurs. It is backed with the commitment of 21 capital partners to support entrepreneurs who graduate from the program.
- The Working Farms Fund: Through the Conservation Fund, this effort is committed to the preservation of local farms that are increasingly falling victim to the pressures of rising costs, low margins, and corporate consolidation, which stresses the food supply chain. The fund, which is at the forefront of advocating for a healthier and more resilient food supply chain, secured $1 million in additional funding, acquired two farms: a certified organic produce farm in Mansfield, and a 21.2-acre farm composed of 15 immigrant and refugee smallholder farms in Conyers.
Smart Community Corps: This summer program, supported by Microsoft, pairs students — from any Georgia college or university, any year and major — together to work on Partnership projects. Though experiential learning and public service, students can effectively advance technology and practice innovation by living and working with the communities. The 2021 cohort of students from Georgia Tech, Morehouse College, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Valdosta State, logged 5,280 hours on their projects, which ranged from addressing blight in Savannah to traffic monitoring in Valdosta, to smart pedestrian planning in Clayton County.
Georgia Smart Community Challenge (GA Smart): Now in its fourth year, with 16 community projects, the program allows localities across the state to apply for research assistance that empowers them to envision, explore, and plan for a smart future. The 2021 cohort includes the cities of Woodbury and Concord, and Pike and Spalding counties. This cohort will work with Georgia Tech researchers to expand and enhance connectivity and explore additional applications that will improve their services, efficiencies, and cost savings.
The Partnership is expected to support $2.88 million of programming this coming year across the state. It maintains its lean operations model through key partners at Jabian Consulting, Brand Culture, Jackson Spalding, and Kilpatrick Townsend. “While the Partnership has advanced much in its first year, we look forward to ongoing progress and growth utilizing innovation and technology to service Georgia today and tomorrow,” Lam said.