1,500 cyber warriors to Augusta a big win for Georgia

The U.S. Army announced Thursday its cyberwarfare headquarters will move to Fort Gordon with 1,500 jobs — half likely to be well-paying civilian techies — giving Georgia an economic coup and boosting Augusta’s already robust information technology industry.

For Augusta, it’s Christmas, New Year’s and the Super Bowl all wrapped into one. Augusta political and business officials were over the moon Thursday imagining hundreds of additional military and civilian jobs, a flurry of home and office construction and a cemented reputation on the front line of the nation’s cybersecurity battles.

“It’s obviously huge for Augusta; to say we’re thrilled is an understatement,” said Walter Sprouse Jr., executive director of the city’s economic development authority. “I’ve been here 11 years and I can’t think of anything that rivals it. And it has the potential to be even bigger in the future.”

Economist Roger Tutterow with Mercer University said, “Augusta already has a nice concentration of tech, science and military personnel, but the addition of 1,500 jobs in a (city) the size of Augusta will have a pretty apparent impact quickly. … It also makes Fort Gordon less vulnerable to future” military base closures.

The Army’s cybermove compares nicely with other major announcements for Georgia, among them: Caterpillar with 1,400 jobs near Athens; Baxter International with 1,500 biotech jobs near Social Circle; a General Motors IT center in Roswell with 1,000 employees; and Engineered Floors bringing 2,400 carpet jobs to North Georgia.

East Georgia’s win, though, should possibly be tempered by the necessity for a huge military-civilian complex to combat cyberthreats. In a simpler, safer world, there would be no need for a cybersecurity headquarters, with a three-star general to boot, with command of 21,000 soldiers and civilians worldwide.

“The day-to-day defense of our information and data resources is a no-fail mission, and we will prepare the Army’s cyberwarriors of today and tomorrow for success in this critical effort,” Maj. Gen. LaWarren V. Patterson, commanding officer of Fort Gordon, said in a statement. “We stand ready to give this important cybermission our utmost and succeed for the Army and our nation.”

The Army Cyber Command, established in 2010, defends the military’s computer networks from Internet and computer-based criminals and spies. Knitting together the command’s geographically disparate parts into a unified headquarters highlights the “real, sophisticated, growing and evolving” threat of cyberdangers, according to Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, the command’s chief officer.

Fort Gordon is already home to a major National Security Agency (NSA) facility with an estimated 4,000 employees. The U.S. Army Signal Center, the heart of the Army’s communications network, is also based at Gordon. The military also announced Thursday that the post’s Signal Center of Excellence will be transformed into a Cyber Center of Excellence where future cyberwarriors will be trained.

“With current operations, Fort Gordon already has the infrastructure to house Army Cyber Command and is a logical choice to expand its cybermission,” said U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga. whose district encompasses Augusta.

The cybercommand currently operates from seven buildings at forts Meade and Belvoir outside Washington, D.C. Top brass wanted to consolidate operations. Four years ago, they started searching for a new home. Saving money was a priority.

Joining forces with the NSA in Augusta could cut construction costs by 25 percent, the Pentagon said. Also, roughly 150 jobs won’t need to be duplicated. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said the choice of Fort Gordon “provides the most cost-effective solution in a time of fiscal austerity.”

The fort fuels $1.4 billion of economic impact across the Augusta region. The nearby Savannah River Site (SRS) and its bevy of U.S. Department of Energy engineers is a big economic engine, as is the annual Master’s golf tournament at Augusta National. Sprouse, the economic development official, when asked for a comparably huge jobs announcement, was temporarily mute. He mentioned Starbucks, which announced last year the construction of a coffee-making plant. Total jobs: 180.

But the Augusta area, with an 8.1 percent unemployment rate, has been building an information technology reputation — with the NSA, the SRS and the medical college at Georgia Regents University.