Georgia on My Mind

It is with more than a little bemusement that I can report that Augusta, Georgia, is one of the hottest, cutting edge high tech centers in the country today, growing by leaps and bounds and poised to become a major center for cyber security.

Most people think of Augusta as the home of the Masters Golf Tournament, the annual April event that heralds the return of spring (at least for us golfers). But Augusta is a lot more than the setting for a major golf tournament. It is also the home of Fort Gordon, a hub for military intelligence and the new site for the U.S. Army Cyber Command. I have fond memories of Fort Gordon, having served as its commander twice.

Fort Gordon was a major economic engine for Augusta when I was there many years ago, and given the Signal Corps' critical role in communications it is only natural that it should become a key element in the nation's campaign for cyber security. Today Fort Gordon brings more than $2 billion a year into the region, and that number is on the rise. But it isn't just the Army Cyber Command anymore. In 2012, the National Security Agency opened a 600,000 square foot facility called the Georgia Cryptologic Center also at Fort Gordon that today employs more than 4,000 people.

Fort Gordon is expected to add some 4,000 employees, about a third of them civilians, by 2019. About $250 million in construction projects are underway or approved for the next five years to support mission growth and requirements. The U.S. Cyber Command is one of many missions at Fort Gordon which are cyber security or military intelligence related. Cyber Command itself is about 600 people and is the last element of the current projected expansion.

Not surprisingly all these cyber security missions are attracting defense contractors, aspiring contractors and cyber security businesses hoping to hire top notch workers from the other companies. For example, Unisys Corporation will soon move into its permanent 118,000 square foot location where it will provide technical services to both government and private sector companies. Unisys will function as the Army Enterprise Service Desk providing IT support. In effect, Unisys will be the Army's help desk.

All of this high tech stuff has a way of feeding on itself and generating more opportunities. A venture called theClubhouse set up shop last year in an 180,000 square foot building providing computer and electronic labs and co-working and event space. It conducts some 100 events a year including mentorship sessions for entrepreneurs, students and active duty or retired military personnel, and monthly hackathons and events such as TEDx Augusta.

I don't know if Augusta will ever rival Silicon Valley as a high tech center but it is becoming cyber security central. People are flocking to the area to take advantage of the new jobs, great weather, inexpensive houses and, of course, superior golf. Come to think of it, I would like to go back for another tour at Fort Gordon.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.