Now, Peachtree Corners wants its tech groove back.
Real estate owners there are trying to shoot a little Botox into the area’s low-slung, 1970s-era offices, creating outdoor gathering spots and exposing ductwork which I’m told is supposed to create a loft-like atmosphere.
And the little Gwinnett city is spending nearly $1 million on a new incubator offering tech entrepreneurs mentoring, access to equipment and cheap office space for their startups. (One option: $150 a month for a non-dedicated desk, access to mentors and other extras.)
The city's project, called Prototype Prime, sits below leased city hall space with space for dozens of tiny companies. Officials highlight free parking, a short drive to the Perimeter, a partnership with Georgia Tech's own startup incubator and plans to add miles of multi-use trails, a sort of OTP answer to Atlanta's Beltline.
“We hope to draw from the whole region,” Mayor Mike Mason told me.
Peachtree Corner’s project is just one way metro Atlanta’s suburbs are on a fresh push to lure techies, millennials and non-millennials alike.
Because these days the Earth doesn’t spin on its axis without tech. And every community craves a hot startup that has at least a long-shot chance of creating lots of jobs.
Behind the firehouse
So the Alpharetta Technology Commission now has a building behind a local firehouse to create event space as well as offices that local tech startups can lease.
And in the next month or so, Sandy Springs leaders plan to open what they're calling an "innovation and technology center" with meeting space and plans for tech gatherings.
It’s really “a marketing booth,” said Lever Stewart, who chairs the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, which is on the project with the city’s development authority and Cousins Properties.
The area around Perimeter Mall already has tech companies. But “do people think of it as a technology and innovation hub? Not as much as we’d like,” Stewart told me.
Sandy Springs is making its pitch to millennials gingerly.
“You don’t have to leave your Midtown/Downtown cool place to live,” Stewart said. Instead, he wants millennials to see Sandy Springs as a viable commute for work.
Because the popular consensus is that many millennials don’t want a home in the burbs. At least not yet.
That’s an issue because lots of big companies are in suburbs like North Fulton, where for years they’ve had a stable but aging workforce. Several CEOs have told me they worry about how to attract millennials without moving at least some operations intown.
That’s got to leave suburban boosters defensive.
Stewart downplayed his area’s suburban rep.
Sandy Springs has MARTA rail, tall office towers and bars within walking distance, he said.
“It’s a lot more like Midtown or Downtown,” he said, “than a Peachtree Corners or an Alpharetta.”
Irony lives here
Nowhere is the challenge of keeping tech more ironic than in Peachtree Corners.
The area blossomed after Georgia Tech alumni sought a bucolic setting to attract engineering and other high-tech companies so graduates wouldn’t have to leave the state for good jobs.
Technology Park Atlanta, founded by Paul Duke in the late 1960s, sports winding roads and office buildings with big windows looking out on trees, all designed to encourage creativity. It became metro Atlanta’s hottest tech magnet from the 1970s through at least the 1990s, complete with nearby subdivisions offering a short commute.
Of course, it didn’t last. People moved around. Commutes got longer. Buildings got older and less up to date. North Fulton went for MARTA rail lines; Gwinnett didn’t.
Peachtree Corners now has easily the highest percentage of vacant office space of any metro Atlanta sub-market, according to real estate firm CBRE. It also has some of the lowest asking rents per square foot.
Bryan Heller, a senior vice president for CBRE which represents some building owners in Tech Park, said property upgrades are attracting more companies, particularly those that are budget conscious and already have a workforce in the suburbs.
Of course, some stuff you can’t predict. The first tech tenants in Peachtree Corners’ new incubator had been working in a spare bedroom of one of the startup’s founders … in Midtown Atlanta.
Liz Buchen, the 30-year-old CEO of Trellis, which creates wireless moisture sensors for farmers, said the incubator offered what the two-person operation needed: affordable rent, plenty of space and no lengthy lease. No matter that she told me she's really a city girl.
“We are bullheaded entrepreneurs,” she said.
They do what they have to do.
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