The Technology City of the South
Alpharetta, Georgia, has experienced significant growth over the past twenty years and has received a number of accolades from both the state and national level. One of the best cities to locate to in the U.S., Alpharetta has also been named the ‘Top Place to Start a Business in Georgia’ by NerdWallet. Only two months later, it was awarded the title of ‘Top Small City to Start a Business in the U.S.’
Alpharetta’s story of growth and economic development is a fantastic one. Just two decades ago, Alpharetta had only 3000 residents and had a primarily agricultural economy although it is situated just north of the bustling urban sprawl of Atlanta. Its proximity allows it to take advantage of all the services and amenities offered in the metro region.
Having since grown to a population of 63,000, Alpharetta has found a way to sustain its small town charm while taking selective advantage of the economic opportunities that present themselves. It has fostered a pro-business climate that has helped it to become one of the fastest-growing cities and strongest local economies in both the state of Georgia and the country.
Alpharetta began its journey of development in the early-1990s, when, in an attempt to eliminate some of the traffic congestion that was common along the I-75 and the I-85 in and out of Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Transportation made the decision to upgrade the Georgia 400. The department added another four-lane thoroughfare into Atlanta that would run right through Alpharetta, giving the city four exits along the way!
Initially, building in Alpharetta consisted of high-end residential developments, which attracted the attention of executives and corporate CEOs in the region. In fact, one of the first neighborhoods to be developed in Alpharetta was the Windward, where the prestigious and private Golf Club of Georgia is located.
These residential developments encouraged economic growth as they brought an increasing awareness of the economic potential and quality of life in Alpharetta. Many businesses, especially tech companies, relocated to the area to take advantage of its abundant benefits.
To support the influx of growth, it was necessary for investments to be made in the local infrastructure. Seeing Alpharetta’s growth as an opportunity, Georgia Power installed a massive, redundant power grid, which, in turn, caught the attention of fibre optic cable companies. Making full use of the power grid’s conduit network, fibre optic cable companies also started to have a strong presence in the area.
The transportation and ease of access, the high-end residential options and the superior quality of life that had been created in Alpharetta, paired with the now extensive infrastructure, made the city a magnet for tech companies.
The city is working hard to make its identity as technology destination known as Peter Tokar, Alpharetta’s economic development director, explained. “Typically, the companies that look towards Alpharetta are larger companies – headquarter locations or technology driven. However, we have had a lot of recent start-up activity based on initiatives we have started to grow the tech ecosystem in the city.”
A great deal of work has gone into supporting the growth of the local tech industry, including the establishment of the Alpharetta Technology Commission (ATC) in 2012. The first of its kind in Georgia, ATC is comprised of the leading tech companies in Alpharetta, working collaboratively to identify key investment opportunities and make sound policy decisions in the industry’s best interest.
Established by the city of Alpharetta to support local businesses, the ATC has opened an Innovation Center, which is already incubating three companies. In addition, the ATC is providing a business accelerator, the opportunity for tech meetups and business start-up support, which is in great demand in Alpharetta.
Home to over 600 technology based companies – over a quarter of the metro Atlanta area’s top twenty-five tech employers, Alpharetta’s daytime working population exceeds its residents. There are roughly fifteen businesses per every hundred people in the community. With average revenues of over $7 million per business, there is a high rate of economic success in Alpharetta.
The city is home to many corporate headquarters. Prior to the recession, the rate at which it was building Class A office space quietly helped it to become the largest suburban office market in the metro Atlanta area. It enjoys the lowest office vacancy rate in the U.S. even though it boasts over twenty-one million square feet of total office space.
“Up until the recession,” Tokar said, “We were building, on average, of right between one and a half to two million square feet of office space per year – new, coming out of the ground.”
Alpharetta’s leadership has been carefully selective of target businesses, making efforts to complement its existing industries and playing to its local resources and advantages. With a master plan for development, Alpharetta is tailor making spaces for both businesses and residents alike.
The Alpharetta City Center Project has built up the downtown core of Alpharetta, including a newly constructed city hall, a new streetscape design and mixed-use developments. Alpharetta’s portion of the 21 mile Big Creek Greenway offers six miles of trails for walkers, joggers and cyclists and provides a connection to neighboring communities from its downtown.
Avalon, a sustainable mixed-use lifestyle center, officially opened in October of last year, enhancing the livability, workability and enjoyment of the city center. The $600 million investment by North American Properties (NAP) is located on eighty-six acres of land and is Georgia’s fist “Fiberhood” offering gigabit internet speeds to every business and residence in the development.
Avalon is a true live-work-play environment with over 500,000 square feet of retail space –including restaurants and shops, class A office space, a twelve-screen premium movie theater, as well as single-family residences and luxury rental homes, community areas and a number of entertainment options.
Phase two of the Avalon Center has just been approved, and, over the next twenty-four months, it will double in size with the addition of 250 new apartments, 300,000 additional square feet of class A office space, new retail and restaurants and the new Alpharetta Hotel and Convention Center – conveniently located in the city’s downtown.
All of these places, including the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, which is home to many outdoor concerts, make for a great backdrop to enjoy the many exciting things that happen in Alpharetta. Every Thursday, from April to October, the Food Truck Alley kicks off the weekend early and takes over Alpharetta’s downtown with food options and music.
Over the last several years, Alpharetta has experienced a culinary renaissance with a number of restaurants opening, in addition to its very own brewery: Jekyll Brewing Company. To support this growing local culinary flavor, Alpharetta holds a number of festivals including Brew Moon Fest, celebrating craft brews with food, fun, music and a 5k run!
Taste of Alpharetta is a local celebration of food that has been going on for twenty-five years, bringing together over fifty local restaurants and drawing 50,000 attendees to the city’s downtown each May. Visitors to the festival enjoy food, culinary demonstrations, activities, entertainment, live music and contests. Taste of Alpharetta has been named a ‘Top 20 Event for 2015’ by the Southeast Tourism Society.
The Wire and Wood Songwriters’ Festival has also been recognized as one of the Top 20 Events by the Southeast Tourism Society, returning for its third year in October. This festival showcases local and national singer/songwriters, adding richness to the local arts and culture scene.
Named the ‘Best Saturday Morning Excursion’, 2007, by Atlanta Magazine, the Alpharetta Farmers’ Market starts in April and runs each Saturday in the city’s downtown. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, flowers, herbs and homemade goods such as baking and craft items can be purchased, bringing the community together in the city’s core.
The city has a focus on sustaining an exceptional quality of life for its residents and providing a vibrant community in which residents can be a part, with access to an economically secure future. In order to tailor spaces for its residents and appeal to all life stages and different walks of life, Alpharetta is becoming, as Tokar describes, a hybrid community. It is, “adaptable to all different ages of workforce, all different phases of life, but still maintain our identity as a quality community.”
Over the next twenty-four months, Tokar anticipates continued growth and development through the community’s efforts to support existing businesses. The city is fostering the development of a local tech culture and working to provide potential companies, individuals and families, with a great place to locate. It is even planning its first Hack-A-Thon this year for the tech community!
“We can have all the tech companies we want, but if we don’t foster a culture of technology within the city, we’re always going to be behind other destinations, and we aren’t going to be as well known.” Alpharetta’s efforts are making itself recognized across the United States and across the world, as a leading tech destination of choice.
The city of Alpharetta’s leadership continues to identify ways to, “support initiatives that will help us develop our tech culture within the city. So having a place where start-ups can come, having innovation centers, looking at smart cities initiatives to – from a public point of view – get into the technology world to show that Alpharetta really is a city that is dedicated to embracing technology.”
Alpharetta is wired for continued economic growth, development and success, already having established itself as the Technology City of The South.