Microsoft plans to expand in Atlanta, turn city into major hub



West Coast tech giant could add thousands of jobs in the coming years

Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company plans to make metro Atlanta a major hub as it embarks on a significant expansion.

The tech giant is adding two regional data centers and could bring thousands of jobs to 90 acres of land it bought in recent months at the stalled Quarry Yards development on the city’s Westside.

“You don’t buy 90 acres if you don’t have plans to grow substantially,” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview.

He declined to provide specific details or a timetable for Quarry Yards, one of the largest undeveloped tracts of greenspace near the city center, beyond saying it would set aside a quarter of the development for affordable housing before building any offices.

But Smith placed Microsoft’s potential growth here in the context of its two largest locations — metro Seattle, where about 62,000 Microsoft employees are based, and Silicon Valley and San Francisco, which have a combined 7,000 employees.

All of Microsoft’s business divisions will have workers assigned to Atlanta, Smith said. The company’s businesses range from cloud computing to consumer products like Word and Excel.

“It will be one of our important hubs,” he said.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Microsoft declined to say how many workers it currently employs in metro Atlanta, but it’s likely around 1,000. It operates a corporate sales office in Alpharetta and an innovation center downtown, which provides a “comprehensive set of technology, tools and services to startups, governments, students and faculty,” according to the company.

The company is already in the process of hiring and moving 1,500 workers into a new office near Atlantic Station. The $75 million project, announced last year, is focused on cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Smith said the company will have 2,500 workers in metro Atlanta once the Atlantic Station office opens.

Microsoft said it is also adding two data centers, one in Douglasville and another in East Point. That is in addition to the 250,000 square-foot data center it is building in south Fulton County. While such projects can cost a lot of money and bring many construction jobs, they typically don’t produce a lot of fulltime jobs.

Georgia’s emphasis on workforce training helped attract Microsoft, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a Thursday news conference.

“If you build anything, if you don’t have people to work in that facility it doesn’t make sense to do that,” Kemp said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she stressed that Microsoft should recruit from a wide range of the Atlanta community, to “make sure we’re getting people in the line for technical training, providing mentorships to people who may have family members” who have not attended college.

The broader expansion should burnish Atlanta’s reputation as a regional tech hub that provides a diverse workforce. Microsoft will recruit heavily from Georgia Tech and Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College, three historically black colleges and universities. It’s already developed a relationship with the Atlanta University Center colleges, partnering with Morehouse to provide tablets to all new students.

Microsoft will primarily recruit graduates with computer science, software development and data science degrees, Smith said.

The West Coast tech company also has partnered with the CDC Foundation to create a pandemic-response center here. And it may participate in a proposed health care innovation district in Midtown. Smith declined to comment on Microsoft’s plans for Atlanta in health care technology.

Quarry Yards is located in a rapidly developing area near the Beltline path, a new 280-acre Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry, and the Bankhead MARTA rail station.

Microsoft has been mum until now about its plans for the 90 acres of land it purchased in two tranches since last year.

ExploreMicrosoft silent on Quarry Yards development, but others have ideas

As reported last year, an investor group that included former Atlanta Braves slugger Mark Teixeira sold its 70-acre Quarry Yards site last September to a buyer affiliated with Microsoft for $127 million. The seller, Urban Creek Partners, had planned to develop housing, offices and retail, but had only done a small amount of site work.

Microsoft acquired another roughly 20 acres of land near the Bankhead MARTA station for $22.5 million last December.

Smith said the company will not release detailed plans until after it meets with community leaders. The plans could change, depending on community input.

The area was in decline until recent years, and longtime residents are concerned about being pushed out by the rapid development. Atlanta’s city council placed a moratorium on new building permits in the neighborhood last year unless they are for affordable housing.

Michael Ford, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global real estate and security, said the company wants to encourage private developers to add a grocery store, pharmacy and bank branch to the Grove Park neighborhood, amenities it currently lacks.

Debra Edelson, executive director of the Grove Park Foundation, a nonprofit group that partners with schools and community organizations on education, health and arts projects, said she was pleased Microsoft pledged to include the community in its Quarry Yards plans and that more should be done to help longtime residents.

“The market forces pushing westward into the community have driven up the cost of living significantly in just a few short years,” she said in a statement.

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