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Southern Exposure Equals High-Tech Innovation

This in-depth look at 14 southern states shows how technology is sparking new developments in a variety of industries - some traditional, others decidedly 21st century - and how state and local governments are supporting the initiatives.

Southern Tech Sites 2009
On September 22, 2009, a summit took place involving the Alabama Development Office in partnership with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Development; the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama; and the Alabama Research Alliance to develop the state's first Science and Technology Roadmap to explore research and development potential. Topics for the summit included healthcare, energy, aerospace and defense, modeling and simulation applied to the automobile industry, information technology, and nanotechnology.

Currently, the sectors of aviation/aerospace, biofuels, alternative energy components, and information technology (IT) are the most active in the state. In the 2009 legislative session, Governor Bob Riley introduced and passed legislation to incentivize 21st century jobs that include technology and R&D companies, as well as alternative energy-related projects. 

Development news covers diverse sectors. In the IT category, CGI Group Inc., an IT and business process services provider, plans to create 300 jobs in Troy, with the establishment of its newest U.S. Center of Excellence, a software development and testing facility for commercial and government clients that is scheduled to open in January 2010. In the biosciences, Brookwood Pharmaceuticals, which remains a separate business unit after acquisition by SurModics in 2007, aims to add about 300 jobs in Birmingham over the next three to five years and also add manufacturing of final products to its existing research and development endeavors.

In the clean energy sector, Hybrid Kinetic Motors (HK Motors) is planning a new green-vehicle manufacturing plant in Baldwin County, Alabama. At the press conference announcing the plan, HK Motors Chair Yung (Benjamin) Yeung cited the state's economic strength and its quality work force as the deciding factors for locating its primary manufacturing operations in Alabama. Initial production of all model lines is expected to begin in 2013, with Phase 1 capacity of 300,000 vehicles, and the creation of more than 5,000 direct jobs. The firm's hybrid engine employs compressed natural gas (CNG), electricity, and gasoline, which the firm asserts will offer an efficient and affordable alternative to gasoline.

Among the leading technology industries in the Natural State are power electronics, information technology (IT), and health-related products and services. The IT cluster, concentrated mostly in central and northwestern Arkansas, harbors industry leaders Acxiom, Windstream, and Verizon Wireless. Recently, HP located a customer service and technical support center in Conway that is expected to employ more than 1,200 people.

Arkansas is growing in the "green" technology sector - especially the wind industry. The state's wind generating capacity is advantageous for production, distribution, and maintenance of wind turbine parts and systems. New in this sector includes LM Glasfiber's new wind turbine blade factory that opened in Little Rock in 2008. In 2009, Nordex USA, Inc., a manufacturer of utility-scale wind turbines, broke ground on a $100 million manufacturing facility in Jonesboro, announcing intentions to hire 700 people by 2014.

The Arkansas Research and Technology Park, which currently houses 25 companies in Fayetteville, is experiencing continued growth. In July 2009, the Enterprise Center celebrated its new 65,000-square-foot facility that is slated for completion in 2010. The LEED-certified building will contain wet labs or clean rooms and allow ARTP to serve technology companies at various stages of development.

Mentoring and financial incentives pique the interest of new investors. Innovate Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and non-profit organization Winrock International, helps new technology-based entrepreneurs transform new inventions and high-tech service concepts into viable commercial enterprises. For financial assistance, the Equity Investment Tax Credit Incentive Program is targeted toward new, technology-based businesses that pay wages in excess of the state or county average wage. Once approved, a business can offer an income tax credit to investors purchasing an equity investment in the business. Unused credits may be carried forward for nine years. Another program, the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority's Seed Capital Investment Program (SCIP), supports the initial capitalization or expansion of technology-based companies located in Arkansas with working capital up to $500,000 of the company's total financing needs.

To continue to supply the work force for the growing technology sector, educational institutions such as the University of Arkansas have developed new degree programs in niches including systems engineering and information sciences, biomedical engineering, cell and molecular biology, and molecular biotechnology.

Many of Florida's diverse technology companies are categorized under the information technology (IT) header - more than 24,000 IT companies employ nearly 254,000 people. Simulation and training clusters specialize in fields such as defense, transportation, medical tech, and entertainment. The photonics/optics industry excels in technologies for the military communications. Digital media firms develop interactive video, education tools, video gaming, and other digital media products. The software industry is growing in areas such as gaming, entertainment, law enforcement and defense-homeland security. Florida is big in the small-scale world of MEMS, microprocessors and the manufacture of other precision devices. The state's work force and telecom infrastructure have encouraged developments in wireless technologies and equipment.

Several recent projects focus on clean energy. Buckeye Technologies expects to boost electrical energy generation from renewable biomass and improve air quality by reducing greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide emissions, and volatile organic compound emissions. The installation of a condensing steam turbine at its cellulose manufacturing plant near Perry is anticipated to temporarily create approximately 148 direct jobs during the installation process, and help retain 555 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs. Also in the clean energy category, InEnTec Chemical LLC selected Clay County, Florida, for its new headquarters, citing the state's strong research universities, sustainability-minded suppliers and utilities, and growing clean technology talent pool as reasons for the location choice.

A 2009 progress report on Florida's Strategic Plan for Economic Development 2007 to 2012 notes that Florida is actively pursuing innovation-driven economic development. To spur venture capital, the state authorized up to $2 billion of state pension funds for investment in high-tech industries and programs to help early-stage companies. Research and development are encouraged by the establishment of new centers of excellence within universities, plus recruitment of institutes such as the Max Planck Institute specializing in bio-imaging and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. Incentives such as the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund (QTI) and the High Impact Performance Incentive Grant (HIPI) encourage high-wage jobs in targeted high-value industries.

Georgia debuted on the list of the 2009 Top 10 Cyberstates by Technology Employment, published by TechAmerica - the industry association formed by the merger of AeA and the Information Technology Association of America - placing fifth in communications services employment, sixth in software publishers employment, and sixth in computer training employment. Software and information technology (IT) services and telecommunications account for about 65 percent of the state's high-tech jobs. Core competencies have been established in health IT, financial technology software, and software development for video games and digital media. "We have a significant presence of companies in both health IT, with McKesson and Eclipsys, and financial technology software, with Fiserv, Lexis-Nexis, and Equifax," says Carol Henderson, director of health sciences and advanced technologies for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Alternative energy research is focused around transportation fuels, solar energy, and biomass projects. Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is the home of the Department of Energy's (DOE) University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaics (PV) Research and Education (UCEP), one of two such centers in the United States. UCEP strives to improve the understanding of the science and technology of advanced PV devices, to fabricate record high efficiency solar cells, and to provide guidelines to the industry and DOE for achieving cost-effective and high-efficiency PV devices.

NCR, manufacturer of automated teller machines and retail self-checkouts, and electronic commerce and payment processing firm First Data have recently relocated their corporate headquarters to Georgia. NCR's plans include relocation of 1,250 corporate jobs from Ohio to Duluth in Gwinnett County and an additional ATM advanced manufacturing plant in Columbus that is expected to employ 870 people. First Data anticipates the creation of 1,000 jobs in Atlanta over the next three years. Both companies cited the Peach State's educated work force and work force initiatives, business-friendly environment, and ease of access to key markets as key their decision-making process.

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