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Inward Investment Guides
The Southern Spirit of Innovation
The South's participation in the "innovation economy" includes initiatives to build R&D and boost prosperity in the region's high-tech industries.
Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (Southern Tech Sites 2007)
(page 3 of 4)
 
Information Technology
The promise of the "information age" economy is driving R&D and growth strategies across the South. One of the first steps is to make sure all areas and residents of the South have strong IT access. The Information Technology for Economic Development Program is a partnership involving the Southern Technology Council and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), which represents eight states in the Delta region. The hope is to leverage information technology to improve entrepreneurship, health, and education.

The first fruit is a comprehensive plan presented in May called "iDelta: Information Technology in the Delta," which is intended to build information technology access and utilization in the region. "This plan provides a map for expanding information technology in the region," says Pete Johnson of Mississippi, federal co-chair of the Delta Regional Authority. "Information technology is as critical to the advancement of the region as highways," he says.

One specific recommendation is creation of an iDelta Center that will serve as an organizing entity for regional IT initiatives. "Only a new organization with regional responsibility for increasing IT access and usage can connect the residents of the region with the opportunities of the global economy," according to Scott Doron, director of the Southern Technology Council and one of the authors of the DRA plan.

Leaders in the South are exploring numerous ways to boost information-technology development. One example is Innovista, a 500-acre urban innovation district in Columbia, S.C. Among other things, it's helping the community combine its strengths in the insurance industry with its desire to boost IT, by welcoming such companies as Duck Creek Technologies, an insurance software and services company that plans to locate in Innovista. The South Carolina location will include a new research, product development, and service facility and create at least 200 high-paying jobs.

Like other sectors, places where IT already thrives can expect ongoing growth. Atlanta is one such place. "IT talent is thriving in Atlanta, and we intend to hire and train a significant number of employees over the next year," says Chris Thompson, team lead of the new Atlanta office of RTTS, a professional services organization specializing in software quality assurance.

And San Antonio is fast becoming a hub for data centers: Microsoft has plans for a 475,000-square-foot center there; Lowe's last year announced its intention to build a data center in San Antonio; the National Security Agency's Texas Cryptology Center has plans for a large data center there; and the CHRISTUS Health hospital chain does as well.

Advanced Manufacturing Technology
Manufacturing remains vibrant in the Southern states, and their star has really been rising when it comes to automotive manufacturing, thanks in large part to foreign investments. Seven Southern states have made automotive manufacturing a special economic development target, and four have targeted manufacturing in general with special incentives and programs. However, it's not an easy time for American manufacturers, with overseas competition continually gaining strength. That's why U.S. firms need to stay ahead of the game in their strengths of advanced manufacturing technology and productivity.

With this in mind, the Southern Technology Council launched the Southern Manufacturing Technology Initiative, hoping to enhance the efficiency and productivity of information technology in manufacturing firms. Small and medium-sized manufacturers employ 60 percent of manufacturing employees and represent 40 percent of manufacturing output, and their long-term success depends upon their ability to react quickly to the continuously changing business climate.

A recent survey of Southern manufacturing companies found that virtually all view information technology as very important or somewhat important to their success. Business leaders involved in the push to boost manufacturing technology have been focusing their efforts on five types of IT critical to manufacturing: enterprise resource planning, the Internet, computer-aided design and manufacturing, radio-frequency identification, and manufacturing execution systems.




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