Georgia technology firms must improve access to global markets and foreign expertise to stay competitive, said Tino Mantella, president of the Technology Association of Georgia.
“Gone are the days that a company can exist – unless you’re going to be a small mom-and-pop organization – [and] only focus on Atlanta or Georgia,” he told GlobalAtlanta in an interview at the association’s Midtown office.
Mr. Mantella headed up the metro Chicago YMCA system for 10 years and led the Atlanta-based Arthritis Foundation before taking up the post at TAG in 2004. At the time, TAG’s membership base had dropped to around 1,400. Businesses were reeling from the bursting of the technology bubble of the early 2000s, and the organization’s momentum had stalled, he said.
Mr. Mantella assembled a 60-member board, refocused the organization and (with some help from the economy) built the membership base to the current level: nearly 9,000 individuals representing 1,600 companies.
The list is varied, from software producers to service providers and some of Georgia’s largest corporations, many of which aren’t technology firms as commonly defined.
TAG calls them “tech-enabled” companies. They don’t make technology, but their business depends on its implementation. (Imagine Delta Air Lines Inc. without an online ticket reservation system, InterContinental Hotels Group without check-in software or AGCO Corp. without equipment in its tractor factories.)
“Really it’s hard to find a company that does not have technology somewhere in their infrastructure today,” Mr. Mantella said. As for tech firms, there are 13,000 in Georgia employing 189,000 people.
These companies are realizing the value in doing business abroad, Mr. Mantella said. They initially focused on offshoring operations to places like India and China, but TAG’s members are now looking to emerging markets like Costa Rica, the Philippines and Vietnam for research and development partnerships, customer support centers and manufacturing, Mr. Mantella said.
Atlanta is competing globally and ranks about 20th nationally as a tech center, Mr. Mantella said. It has many advantages to sell – a strong airport, low cost of living and a good university system – but needs to improve its venture capital ecosystem, K-12 education and institutional focus on the technology industry, he said.
The city should focus on clusters where it has competitive advantage to pave the way for overseas activity and attract inward investment, he added.
“If we can create a hub or infrastructure around a particular industry, then it’s easier for companies here to look internationally,” and vice versa, he said.
Atlanta is a legitimate hub in financial technologies, Mr. Mantella said. The city has a strong base of payment processing firms like Global Payments Inc. and last year added the headquarters of NCR Corp. and FirstData Corp., both Fortune 500 companies.
If TAG is to be a catalyst for even more economic development in the state’s technology industry, the organization must build Atlanta’s profile and provide the right connections for its members, Mr. Mantella said.
To that effect, TAG has launched an international business society, one of the organization’s 25 interest groups. The goal is to introduce members with local consulates and bi-national chambers of commerce and better inform them about how to do business abroad.
The society held a discussion Thursday with diplomats and prominent international trade figures at the United Parcel Service Inc. headquarters in Sandy Springs. More than 100 people attended.
Annabelle Malins, British consul general for the Southeast, explained her duties as consul general and described her country as a strong Georgia partner. Some 245 U.K. companies have invested $2.6 billion in the state, creating about 25,000 jobs, she said.
She pointed to a pro-business environment in the U.K., where she said a foreign company can set up operations in less than two weeks. For the tech-focused audience, she cited a strong venture capital community and MediaCityUK, a Manchester, England district being developed as a hub for technology and media firms.
Australian Consul General and Trade Commissioner Duncan Cole spoke on his country’s history as an innovator. Refrigeration, black-box devices in airplanes, and differential gears used in 70 percent of automobiles were developed in Australia, he said.
“We’re very good at inventing technology, but we’re not very good at marketing and promotion,” he said. Mr. Cole hopes to match Australian companies, which are mostly small, with American partners who can help commercialize their products.
Other speakers included Ray Donato, who outlined his role as honorary consul general for the Philippines in the South and Alberto Valenzuela, president of the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce of the South, who spoke on Georgia’s growing trade ties with Chile.
Kathe Falls, director of international trade for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, rounded out the lineup by laying out how state programs could help TAG members export.
The program was moderated by Mark Pierson, president, Pierson Global Group.