Industrial conglomerate Honeywell was a big part of the wave of Fortune 500 companies that picked the city of Atlanta last year for new technology centers.
Since its announcement last October, Honeywell has set up a temporary office and kicked off the hiring process for not only the software development center, but also for the headquarters of its home and building technologies division. Combined, the company said, the two offices will employ more than 800 people by 2020.
But the leader of the company’s Atlanta tech hub said the new facilities will begin to be felt in the growing Midtown tech community much sooner.
Stephen Gold, Honeywell’s vice president and general manager for connected devices, said more than 200 workers should be in place by the end of this year. Honeywell will soon start moving into permanent space in the new offices, at 715 Peachtree Street near the Fox Theatre, he said.
Overall, about 100 workers will be attached to the home division headquarters, and 730 are expected to work at the tech center.
The region’s technology talent tipped the scales in Atlanta’s favor for the expansion, Gold said, adding that since October the company forged relationships with Georgia Tech, Emory and other major universities in the state.
Gold said the company plans “hackathons” and projects to help unlock new discoveries in what’s known as IoT or the Internet of Things.
“We’re starting to engage at the classroom level, starting to work with professors in classrooms,” Gold said.
Midtown has emerged as a hub for new research centers as corporations seek to tap into the student and faculty talent at Tech and other research universities. The universities, meanwhile, hope to expand their research capabilities and provide students paths to quality jobs.
Roger Tutterow, an economist at Kennesaw State University, said Georgia is building an impressive cluster of established and startup firms around Midtown close to Georgia Tech and other key research universities.
“The tech industry flourishes where there’s that cross pollination between business and the universities,” he said.
Honeywell makes thermostats, fire control systems, smart building components and wireless communications technology. The company’s aerospace division makes advanced avionics and jet engines.
The New Jersey-based firm needs skilled software designers — the kinds who can code apps or design user interfaces that are simple and won’t make the customer smash the device because it’s too complicated to use.
The new software center will build apps and other programs that serve not only products sold by the home division, but those for every segment of a company that recorded $39.3 billion in sales in 2016.
Gold said the company is seeking both new grads and experienced technologists.
“We’ll work on projects to help planes fly, keep plants running, workplace safety and then home technologies for comfort, convenience and safety,” Gold said.
About 150 million homes and more than 10 million commercial and government buildings contain Honeywell products.
For Honeywell, the Atlanta software center will be “a first of its kind,” Gold said, and others are planned in India and China.
“We’ll take the learnings from Atlanta and replicate what we do here in the rest of the world,” Gold said.
Another part of that mission will be cultivating startup companies, both as suppliers to Honeywell and as potential customers of the company. In May, Honeywell announced a newly formed $100 million venture capital fund that is seeking to invest in high-growth companies across the world, and Atlanta could be one of the cities where the fund might look to invest, Gold said.
The state, meanwhile, is piggybacking off announcements from Honeywell, Anthem, General Electric in Buckhead and NCR (which is also developing its new headquarters near Technology Square) about new software development or research centers in its pitch to recruit other high-tech companies.
Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, said Honeywell has become part of the city and state’s calling card to other recruits.
“They are an opportunity for us to cross-market across multiple industries,” Wilson said. “What they are an example of is a company that is coming to access academic talent.”
When state leaders and Atlanta officials pitched Honeywell to locate a software center and corporate division in the city, one of the stops on the roadshow, not surprisingly, was Georgia Tech.
But the meetings at Tech weren’t just with top administrators to discuss curricula, Wilson said. Honeywell officials also met students to get a glimpse of the potential pool of talent Atlanta’s workforce has to offer.
“That meeting with Georgia Tech students was one of the selling points for them to see that academic talent and see the access and the [talent] level of kids they’ll be able to attract,” Wilson said.
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