Q+A with the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Larry Williams
The Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) is the de facto “Voice of the Business Community” in the 28-county metro Atlanta region. Economic development is one of its primary functions and “attracting and growing companies in the IT, software, telecom and other industry sectors” is one of its top economic development priorities. MAC underscored just how important this sector was by announcing the appointment of economic development industry veteran Larry K. Williams to the role of vice president for technology industry development in the spring.
Solid State briefly visited with Williams who had previously served on Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire’s executive cabinet to get his thoughts on Atlanta and his new role.
1. Why Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber?
The first six weeks has been very exciting. It’s great to be back in the southeast and to be here in Atlanta. My wife and I were originally from the southeast. As a brander and marketer by trade, Atlanta is a really recognized global brand. Not only is it a leader in the southeast and in the nation, people do recognize it as a business center across the world. So having a global brand like that under your belt is very positive and exciting for me.
2. What are Atlanta’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of attracting technology companies to the state?
The assets that Atlanta possesses to support a technology and innovation economy is outstanding. Everything from the broadband infrastructure in place that can support a technology economy along with the educational assets by way of Georgia Tech, SCAD, Emory, Georgia State, Kennesaw State and the community and technical colleges are absolutely outstanding. When you combine these with the private sector resources and the technology companies that are already here, it really creates a great environment for helping companies that are already here grow and great for attracting new companies.
3. What would it take to make Atlanta the Southeast’s technology hub?
In terms of really looking at the innovation economy and how we can go about growing the next generation of technology and growing it here in Atlanta, the combination of having workforce resources, research and development, supportive private and public sectors are all very exciting from an economic development point of view. Finally, the MAC’s outstanding reputation of being the best run and managed chamber of commerce in the nation and one of the best economic development groups in the country is a tremendous asset.
4. What has your first six weeks been like on the job?
The first six weeks have been about getting to know the landscape and meeting the players that represent that various aspects in the environment. It’s been about taking in a lot of information, putting the faces with the organizations and companies.
5. What are the target sectors?
Technology is a very broad field. And we’ve had the advantage of being to take inventory of the assets and strengths of Atlanta and the greater metro Atlanta region. We’ve drilled down on a few areas. One is digital media. The content is developed here, the digital arts and animation communities are growing and the availability of distribution expertise and channels are all key components contributing to the strength of the digital media arena. It also has an ecosystem of supporting companies that enable it to grow.
Financial technology and payment processing are also areas that Atlanta is strong in and areas that we can continue to build on. Internet security is yet another sector of strength. Software development and engineering are also sectors of strength. These all benefit from the talent coming out of our colleges such as Georgia Tech and Georgia State. Finally, wireless technology is an arena that Atlanta has been strong in for a long time.
6. What’s being planned for the next 12 months?
With the identified growth sectors, we can begin to strategically target companies from these sectors across the globe that would be interested in having a significant presence here. The goal is to have them move their world, national headquarters or significant line of business into the area resulting in new job creation. Their presence here in turn strengthens the ecosystem of the sector they operate in. To accomplish this, there would need to be marketing externally to attract these companies.
The other aspect is how we achieve organic growth within these growth sectors. How do we continue to harness Atlanta’s assets to help grow the next companies? How do we commercialize the research and development taking place at our colleges and facilitate the creation of new viable companies? These companies in turn create well-paying jobs positioning Atlanta as technology leader in the country and around the world.
7. How relevant is a robust start-up community to attracting multinational technology companies to relocate their national or global headquarters to Atlanta?
Every company is chasing workforce and innovation. Being known as a center of innovation and a source for talent is absolutely critical.
8. What are the top three “dream” companies that you would like to bring to Atlanta?
We would like to have any of the leaders of any of the target sectors move their corporate headquarters or significant line of business here. But what we’re really looking for beyond companies with high name recognition are good solid companies with a lot of growth potential and that are willing to grow here in Atlanta.
9. Is there a geographic focus in targeting efforts?
Our focus is global. For the types of technology companies we are interested in, Europe and Canada and certain states in this country are good sources. In Asia, there could be opportunities in Japan, China and South Korea.
July 2011 Newsletter