Have a Coke and a SIM Card? The Future of Atlanta and the New Tech Industry

By Robin Morris

For a century, Atlanta business has meant Coca-Cola. Delta and UPS came a little later to ensure that you—or your packages—spent time in the city. These Fortune 500 companies maintain a strong presence in today’s Atlanta, but 21st century models have sprung up alongside them, adding youthful dynamism to a city already rich in history.

Start-up industry tracker Inc. Magazine recently listed Atlanta as the nation’s number three city for “fastest growing companies,” while its cost of living remains well below that of other cities on the list, from New York to Chicago. The Atlanta area’s strong college and university presence helps both to attract businesses and retain millennials.

Classic Atlanta architecture has gotten a 21st century polish for its new businesses. Head down Ponce De Leon Avenue to Ponce City Market, home to trendy stores, tech training sites, and celebrity-chef restaurants. This red brick building began life in 1925 as a Sears and Roebuck store and warehouse, on land that was once home to the Atlanta Crackers and the Atlanta Black Crackers baseball teams. In the 19th century, visitors flocked to the area for restorative natural waters. The baseball caps have long since given way to a bespoke millinery and the healing waters replaced with restorative yoga.

Much of Atlanta’s tech scene has roots in southern history and culture. With its start up offices in the Atlanta Tech Village in modern Buckhead, the Local Roots marketplace connects homegrown produce with nearby consumers. As farms have gone high tech, so too has the farm-to-table movement.

Along with Tech Village, Strongbox West has become an incubator to the city’s start up culture and high tech industry by offering “co-working” space: desks can be rented by the hour and movable walls allow companies to expand their physical space as they expand their business . The largest co-working space in the Southeast, Strongbox West blends start up culture with the area’s industrial roots. It has been home to Atlanta-based Scoutmob (an app for finding commercial deals), Uber’s southeastern base, and a widening range of local artists and freelancers.

Nearby, the Goat Farm functions as Atlanta’s arts incubator in an old textile factory. Artists rent living and working space, and visitors can sign up for classes, exhibits or performances hosted there. Remarkably, the Goat Farm has become one of the nation’s densest populations of artists in a state that consistently ranks near the bottom for arts funding. And if the arts movement doesn’t snag you, this might: the Goat Farm played Katniss Everdeen’s District 12 in the film Hunger Games, Catching Fire. Warning: please leave bows and arrows at home.

Atlanta-based High Tech Ministries stresses that it is not a church, but a way to bring faith and technology into conversation. Add this to the long history of religion and business finding partnership in Atlanta and you’ll be looking into the city’s past and present simultaneously. But that’s typical of a city that lets you cover over 100 years in one site, playing futurist and historian in the same day.

Robin Morris (@ProRoMo) is an assistant professor of history at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia.