Retired Army Intelligence Specialist: Augusta Will Be Cybersecurity 'Epicenter'

Soldiers of the 518th Tactical Installation and Networking Company, 67th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary), 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical), board a plan at Augusta Regional Airport, Augusta, Georgia, as they prepare to depart for a 9-month deployment in support of U.S. Central Command in Southwest Asia May 9, 2016. (Lindsay D. Roman/U.S. Army)
Soldiers of the 518th Tactical Installation and Networking Company, 67th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary), 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical), board a plan at Augusta Regional Airport, Augusta, Georgia, as they prepare to depart for a 9-month deployment in support of U.S. Central Command in Southwest Asia May 9, 2016. (Lindsay D. Roman/U.S. Army)

The Augusta metro area is sitting on a powder keg of cybersecurity investment, and the fuse is getting shorter by the day.

Ed Spenceley, a government contracting specialist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said the nation's growing defense budget and Augusta's burgeoning cyber industry puts the region on a collision course with companies looking for government contracts.

The retired U.S. Army intelligence specialist, speaking at the Invest Augusta conference Thursday, said he sees Augusta as an "epicenter" for cyber-based industries well beyond the arrival of Army Cyber Command to Fort Gordon next year.

"The secondary business impact is going to be huge," said Spenceley, whose banking unit does business with 82 of America's 100 largest government contractors. His talk was titled "Invest Augusta: A Business Case."

Spenceley said $3 billion of the $5 billion investment portfolio he oversees is in small- to mid-sized companies, which provides Augusta an opportunity to create and attract firms that could grow into major employers. The average cybersecurity salary is $85,000, he said.

Spenceley works with government contractors throughout the Southeast, and he said Augusta is top of mind with most of them.

"For every one conversation, the third or fourth question I get is 'What's going on in Augusta,' " he told a crowd of local business and community leaders gathered for the second annual tech-focused conference. Of all the Southeastern markets he visits, he said Augusta was No. 1 on his list last year, with five visits.

Even contractors not based in Augusta employ substantial numbers of locals. He referenced one Tampa-based client who secured a multi-million dollar federal contract.

"The economic impact, in reality, is in Augusta, Georgia, because 420 of his staff are working here every day," Spenceley said. "The Augusta opportunities are clear. We will see everything from startup and well-established, large corporate companies. This will bring in dollars from angel investors (and) traditional funding sources."

Spenceley cited federal Office of Management and Budget figures showing cyber-related federal spending increased 7% in the 2019 fiscal year and is expected to be 5% in 2020. The actual number could be higher, he said, because much of cyber spending is classified.

The Department of Defense, with $9.6 billion in cyber appropriations, gets the lion's share of the investment. Which, is good for Augusta, a major player in protecting not only America's military but utilities and other critical infrastructure.

"From a mental knowledge standpoint, Augusta is a smart city," Spenceley said, comparing it to Huntsville, Ala., a city with another large military-tech complex.

He said commercial buildings in that Alabama city's downtown are teeming with offices from government contractors.

"I think we're going to start to see that in downtown Augusta," he said. 

This article is written by Damon Cline from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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