As UGA continues to seek ways to boost economic growth and help create jobs in Georgia, the university faces what many call the “65-mile challenge.”
Sixty-five miles is the distance between UGA’s hub in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia’s economic hub.
That challenge can create another kind of distance between UGA and the state’s economic development agencies and industry leaders. The university is overcoming the challenge through its recently established UGA Office of Economic Development in Atlanta, directed by Sean McMillan.
The Atlanta office, located in the Centergy Building on the Georgia Tech campus in midtown Atlanta, positions McMillan to be responsive to industry needs and stay abreast of trends. It allows him to stay in touch with changing economic development needs throughout Georgia.
The Centergy Building is shared by, among others, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and private utility providers.
“Having a physical presence in Atlanta is an important part of our economic development strategy,” McMillan said. “Close proximity to the Department of Economic Development and its partner organizations offers UGA the opportunity to respond quickly when the state’s recruiters need information or subject matter expertise.”
UGA’s Office of Economic Development is jointly managed through the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach.
To help fulfill the goal of more jobs in Georgia, McMillan looks for ways in which UGA’s diverse intellectual capital-the research and know-how of UGA faculty-can lure new industry to the state and support the state’s existing industries and communities.
“UGA is focused on making its assets and services more available than ever before to industry, to economic developers across the state and to its citizens,” said McMillan.
“By creating a base of operations in Atlanta and making full use of the combined resources of UGA’s public service and outreach and research units, we can both fuel public service initiatives and apply research-driven innovation,” he added. “The impact on the state will be tremendous.”
McMillan sees his role as that of a “connector and collaborator” between UGA, state and local economic developers and industry leaders.
In his current role, McMillan connects with local and state economic development authorities, chambers of commerce and other leaders to identify needs UGA can fill in wooing new industry and in helping existing Georgia industries improve and thrive.
“Companies are looking for the next best thing or the cutting edge, whether that’s in technology or access to faculty expertise,” McMillan said.
McMillan started in July. Already the Economic Development Office has connected with such industries as food processing, financial services, life sciences, manufacturing, logistics and environmental sciences.
In addition, McMillan said the growing economic development activity will offer opportunities for UGA students to benefit from the university’s connections with industry and better prepare themselves for the workforce.
“It’s about understanding the ever-changing needs of business and being able to have a connection to what the global marketplace is looking for,” he said.
Ultimately, McMillan believes UGA’s active participation in economic development helps make Georgia communities “stronger, better, more prosperous places in which to live and work.”