Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens sat down with TechCrunch to help open our first TechCrunch Live event dedicated to the city and spoke with us about the rapidly growing tech landscape.
Atlanta is home to many buzzy industries, including fintech and SaaS, and is also the abode for many investors looking to back the startups in the city. Some well-known unicorns from the city include Calendly, FullStory, and Kabbage. Atlanta startups raised around $1.65 billion, according to PitchBook, the second-highest amount of funding allocated to the city in recent years. With that, it makes sense why even the Atlanta Hawks and record label Quality Control have set up funds and investment portfolios.
Dickens was born and raised in Atlanta and had an extensive background in tech before becoming mayor. He said it has been “phenomenal to watch this city grow from a southern jewel with charm to now an international city, one of the epicenters of the tech ecosystem,” before giving a slight nod to all the companies that are moving in: Microsoft, Porsche, to name a few.
He said people are attracted to Atlanta because of the culture, business productivity, easy travel, and low cost of living compared to other tech hubs like Austin and especially San Francisco. The city is also a natural pipeline for talent, and is home to Georgia Tech and historically Black colleges and universities, like Morehouse and Spelman.
“Companies are coming here because they can access all this great talent,” he continued. “Technology growth happens right here because of that talent.”
One source of tension for talent looking to relocate to Atlanta could be that the city is politically blue in the historically red state of Georgia. This means that when a massive policy change is implemented, such as one that impacts women’s health, the blue bubble might not be enough to protect founders from such changes. With that, though, Dickens said change is perhaps on the front: Georgia voted for Biden and put two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, into the Senate. This has turned the city purple in its political leanings, he said, which bodes well for the state and, therefore, the city.
“It keeps us at the center point of all political discussion,” he continued. “Republicans, Democrats, otherwise, folks want to do business in Atlanta; folks want to do business in Georgia.”
Dicken said one of his main interests is ensuring equity and opportunities for more people to enter the tech sector, especially those looking to overcome generational poverty. For example, he said the city had been focused on promoting tech certification rather than just four-year degrees. He also wants to make sure that companies moving to the city are making use of the talent and resources there.
There is also the possibility, though, that as Atlanta grows, it can become a victim of its own success, where the cost of living skyrockets and prices out blue-collar workers. Dickens said the city wants balanced growth that does not impact the legacy residents of the city. One way he’s been doing this is by stating explicitly to the corporations who wish to build in the city what his expectations are. “I can’t sign off on any incentives for your company to come here if you don’t have a local hiring plan,” he said.
To wrap up the interview, I asked for questions from Twitter. One woman asked about the availability of free co-working spaces, to which the mayor responded it was worth looking into. The last audience question was about the famous Atlanta water kids who stand on the side of roadways selling water to people in cars.
“Have there been any thoughts on efforts to convert those kids on the street into early tech programs?” the audience member asked.
“We actually do,” Dickens said. He said the city is working on placing them in entrepreneur programs so the children can hone their skills as natural business leaders. “We can’t just have them on a public right away selling water because they could get hurt,” the mayor said, adding that they are working to put them in the talent pipeline. “We’d like to do that times 10.”
Watch the entire panel here as part of our Atlanta City Spotlight.