As we move into the second month of 2021 and continue to grapple with the impacts of this awful pandemic, let’s look positively to the coming year and where we are moving forward in our community. This month a report was released to Congress looking at the state of the Nation’s Industrial Capability. Houston County, and our industries, are a major factor in supporting the industrial base, especially for the military, and our leaders are working to ensure that we are on the leading edge of support for our businesses.

The report, the Fiscal Year 2020 Industrial Capabilities Report to Congress, starts encouraging, stating that “in many ways, Americans have every reason to be confident about our national security future.” Not all is rosy, however. The report goes on to highlight where the nation needs to improve its capabilities. These include things like reshoring of the industrial base and supply chains, building up research and development (R&D) efforts, modernizing how the government acquires new technology and increasing partnerships with the private sector.

Of course, one of the primary constraints highlighted in this report is decreases in workforce and manufacturing innovation metrics across the country as we have deindustrialized as a nation. As our supply chains have moved overseas, and we have offshored our manufacturing, the talent and innovation development has followed. The major risk identified in the report across most sectors is the gap in U.S. based human capital. To quote, “diminishing U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and industrial jobs, both…have a deleterious effect on the industrial base’s ability to sustain itself and to innovate.”

Leadership in our State and Region has recognized this for several years and have been working hard to do our part. At the State level, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has launched a program to make Georgia the Technology Capital of the East Coast. This will tie together efforts in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, and Middle Georgia to develop technology centers.

Our area colleges and universities are top-notch and leaning forward to not only build the high-class workforce of the future but also develop the sense of innovation needed to meet tomorrow’s challenges. From Middle Georgia State University’s Center for Software Innovation to Fort Valley State University’s Innovation Centers both here and in Atlanta, Mercer’s Innovation Center to Central Georgia Technical College’s Technology Center, our community university systems are meeting the challenges highlighted by the report mentioned above.

Our community leadership has also stepped up to build the Middle Georgia Innovation Project designed to explore innovation in the Middle Georgia region and to develop an innovation eco-system. This project, led by Angie Gheesling, Executive Director, Development Authority of Houston County, will work to connect the pockets of innovation in our businesses, community, and military to drive an acceleration of innovation. These efforts are reflected in the new Blue Sky and Synergy software labs and innovation centers established in our region.

As we move from a pandemic to a post-pandemic posture, the changes we are seeing in society, from automation, social distancing, remote work, and others, will leave a lasting mark. Some of the changes will revert to prior patterns, but many…if not most…will remain. Houston County and the Region are leading the charge to ensure our businesses are prepared, we are leaning forward to embrace the new technologies and processes and we are producing the workforce needed to remain in the lead. This will work to position our community for the future. We are doing our part to ensure the U.S. remains the capital for innovation in the future.