Augusta University opens center focuses on cyber defense

State leaders hope Tuesday's opening of a $100 million cybersecurity center will not only make Georgia safer, but produce more teachers and workers for one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy.

The Georgia Cyber Center, at Augusta University’s Riverfront Campus, is the largest investment in a cyber facility by a state government, officials involved in the project say.

More than 40,000 Georgia residents now work in the field, including about 13,000 in the Augusta area. By 2021, there will be an estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings worldwide, said Calvin Rhodes, executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority, citing industry research.

One-third of Augusta-area employers say they outsource cybersecurity needs, according to a university study.

“We’re skating to where the (hockey) puck is going,” explained Michael Shaffer, Augusta University’s executive vice president of strategic partnerships and economic development.

The intense economic development interest in cybersecurity reflects the rising financial opportunities in the industry. Median annual salaries for information technology-related jobs in Augusta are more than $70,000, according to the university’s survey.

Many students appear to notice. The number of students taking cyber-related courses in the University System of Georgia has increased by 53 percent since 2014, from 17,208 in 2014 to 26,469 in 2017, according to system data. Eight USG institutions have National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, designated by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security as offering rigorous degree programs relevant to cyber defense.

The Cyber Center includes two buildings totaling 332,000 square feet. The first of those structures, the Hull McKnight Building, opened Tuesday. Construction of the second building began in January and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

The center will include a secure briefing area and an incubator and accelerator to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, university officials said. It will also house the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s cyber lab. Federal agencies including the U.S. Defense Department will use the center, along with the Technical College System of Georgia, the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education to train teachers.

“There’s a need for greater talent and learning technology for the threat that is constantly changing,” said Rhodes, also the state government’s chief information officer. “Nobody is going to solve this issue working in a silo.”

The center will be a vehicle for the state to train and retrain its workers. Some of that training will take place Wednesday.

“We’ve got to make sure it is an ongoing cycle of learning,” Rhodes said.