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City as Living Lab

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autonomous vehicles in Peachtree Corners
Technology Parkway is being reconfigured to create an intelligent mobility test track that will run alongside regular traffic. Entrances and brightly painted lanes are planned for this “living laboratory” being created by the city in partnership with Sprint. Rendering courtesy of City of Peachtree Corners

Intelligent vehicle test track brings the future, and the world, to Peachtree Corners

The little orange flags on stakes along Technology Parkway are modest harbingers of the huge change coming to the Peachtree Corners road.

The city is reconfiguring the road to create a 1.5-mile intelligent mobility test track that will be used to develop and test self-driving vehicles, intelligent mobility and IoT (internet of things) technologies. The test site is the only one of its kind in Georgia, and it may be the only one like it in the country.

Driverless vehicle testing is typically conducted in isolated research environments such as empty parking lots. But the test lanes on Technology Parkway will run alongside regular traffic, separated only by flexible bollards, or sticks, and interacting with vehicles and pedestrians at intersections.

“5G is a world of the future and we’re still trying to figure it out. So, testbeds and living labs like this … are absolutely vital to the growth.”
Cynthia Curry, director of IoT Ecosystem for the Metro Chamber

First announced a year ago, the research site is part of an economic development mission to help reinvigorate the technology park it winds through, Technology Park Atlanta.

Mayor Mike Mason
Photos by JASON GETZ/Getz Images

Mayor Mike Mason expects it do that and much more. “The short-term benefit is that it will provide an energy, a synergy, if you will, for high-tech businesses to establish their businesses in Technology Park to create and develop AV (advanced vehicle) technologies,” Mason said.

“Long-term, we see the Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners to have a ripple effect that expands well beyond our city limits to neighboring cities, counties, regionally and even statewide,” he said. “There is no other living laboratory like this in the state that is available for companies to research, develop and test their intelligent mobility concepts.”

Sprinting to Peachtree Corners

In January, communications giant Sprint signed on as a partner to the test track, bringing its super-fast, high-capacity mobile 5G to the city’s initiative and giving the site a trademarked name, “Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners.” 5G, the latest generation of cellular mobile communications, will provide the bandwidth needed to test vehicle-to-vehicle communication, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication and over-the-horizon warnings, Sprint said in a press release.

Curiosity Lab was first unveiled on Jan. 8 as one of three 5G, IoT partnerships announced by Sprint at the international Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The press release from the event quotes Ivo Rook, Sprint’s senior vice president of IoT, who said, “This is much more than self-driving cars.

“Sprint is bringing together Curiosity IoT, micropositioning and HD mapping, all enabled by our upcoming mobile 5G network, to develop and test the most advanced technologies in the industry,” Rook said, in the release. “We are honored to work with Peachtree Corners to drive AI, robotics and autonomous.”

Peachtree Corners officials showed video they shot at CES during a Jan. 15 press conference at City Hall, a facility that sits directly adjacent to the test track’s path at 310 Technology Parkway.

In an interview on the video, Rook says he is unaware of anything like Curiosity Lab. “What I love about Peachtree Corners is the fact that they’re bringing together a laboratory environment, an environment where companies can actually invest and try things out, but they’re marrying that with the real life,” Rook said. “So, this is the only initiative that I know where basically the test track meets the public road.”

Inquiries are coming in to Curiosity Lab from across the country. There’s interest in testing everything from drones, to solar panels on roads that charge electric vehicles as they drive, to robots that deliver packages and even individual flying machines. (Think “The Jetsons.”)

City Manager Brian Johnson

“People don’t realize — we didn’t until we got involved in this, too — there is a lot larger of an industry in the future to move goods by autonomous vehicles than people,” Peachtree Corners City Manager Brian L. Johnson said. “… All of this V2X, ’vehicle-to-everything,’ requires 5G because 4G does not have enough bandwidth to do this.” Vehicle-to-everything communication is the transfer of information between a vehicle and any entity that may affect the vehicle such as infrastructure, networks, pedestrians and other vehicles.

How it all started

Incorporated in 2012, the city of Peachtree Corners is a planned community that began in the late 1960s, with Technology Park Atlanta, a low-rise campus for high-tech industries, at the core of its 17 square miles. “Companies, specifically tech companies, are the bedrock on which this city was formed from,” Johnson said.

Legendary tech pioneer and Georgia Tech grad Paul Duke proposed Peachtree Corners as a way to attract engineering firms to Georgia and keep Georgia Tech engineering graduates from leaving the state to find work. And today, “The city’s focus on technology is citywide,” Johnson said.

Like many other cities, Peachtree Corners deploys smart city technology such as sensors that can alert when a parking space is available and sensors in public trash cans that can report when they need to be emptied.
Technology Park Atlanta is now home to 49 technology companies, 18 biotech businesses and 84 international companies.

“We have about 45,000 people and about 45,000 jobs,” Johnson said. “It’s very rare for a city to be in a one-to-one ratio scenario. You’re usually considered to be a jobs hub … or vice, versa, where you’re considered to be a bedroom community.”

Peachtree Corners’ robust business community is one of the reasons the city is able to have a full-service government that charges no city taxes, Johnson said. “Very few cities have no property tax,” he said, “and most of the ones that are like us are not near our size. … The healthier the [business] environment is, the healthier our non-business environment is.”

While the city’s origins are part of what led it to where it is today, the other driving force is the way Peachtree Corners approaches economic development, Johnson said. “There’s typically three conventional legs to economic development — recruitment, retention and expansion,” Johnson said. “This city has embraced a fourth leg, and that is creation.”

Becoming an innovation hub

In June 2017, the city approved plans to transform Technology Park Atlanta, commonly known as Tech Park, into a center for innovation.

“When we became a city in 2012, we didn’t inherit a high-tech hot spot. We inherited an aging, suburban office park,” Mayor Mason said, at the city’s Curiosity Lab press conference. “We knew that, and we were determined to change it, which led us to create the Innovation Hub Master Plan.”

The plan calls for research institutions, entrepreneurial training, professional networks, enhanced walkability, mixed uses and public spaces. The city aims to promote collaboration with like-minded business owners and employees in gathering places such as coffee shops and parks within Tech Park’s 500 acres.

Parts of a multiuse trail have been completed in the area. And the 295-unit Echo Lakeside apartment complex was intentionally built within Tech Park to enable millennials — who tend to want to live near their jobs — to walk or bicycle from home to their Tech Park offices.

Full time Prototype Prime consultant
Betsy Plattenburg and City Councilmember Alex Wright

Prototype Prime

Curiosity Lab is the second step in the city’s master plan to re-establish Tech Park Atlanta as an innovation hub. The first step was the city’s 2015 creation of the 25,000-square-foot technology incubator, Prototype Prime, directly adjacent to Curiosity Lab, at 147 Technology Parkway.

The nonprofit supports early stage technology startups with rental space and services such as legal and marketing assistance. Mason said it “epitomizes an innovation hub.”

“Prototype Prime was an empty building and a concept that is now a job creator, an event space, and an educational site,” he said.

A regional affiliate of the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech, it’s one of three incubators and business accelerators now operating in the city, all of which are located within Tech Park. The others are privately owned.

After Prototype Prime’s launch, the city decided it would be advantageous for the incubator to target a specific technology, Johnson said.

From there, things happened quickly. City Council members settled on intelligent mobility. Betsy Plattenburg, who worked at ATDC and is a senior consultant to Prototype Prime, suggested adding a research component.

The city announced the intelligent mobility test track last April, committing to a $2 million investment. And today, Prototype Prime is recruiting startups across the country who can be connected with corporate partners in the self-driving vehicle ecosystem.

After the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce heard about the city’s intelligent mobility plans, Peachtree Corners representatives were invited to join the chamber’s delegation to the Smart City Expo held Nov. 11-15 in Barcelona, Spain.

Cynthia Curry, director of IoT Ecosystem for the Metro Chamber, spoke at the city’s Curiosity Lab press conference, saying it will provide vital opportunities for testing to move the IoT system forward and generate jobs.

“5G is a world of the future and we’re still trying to figure it out. So, testbeds and living labs like this … are absolutely vital to the growth,” Curry said. “We’re just thrilled to have this in our region. It helps us ensure and kind of reinforce our position as the number one state to do business. … I can’t wait to see what comes out of this, and I can’t wait to see all the companies that get to benefit from it.”

Plattenburg said Curiosity Lab has received significant interest from universities, Fortune 500 companies and startups from around the country who want to test emerging IoT technologies for smart cities, connected vehicles and other mobility concepts. “They are excited to discover that they can use the track and innovation space at Prototype Prime for as little as a few days or as long as a year — whatever it takes to move their technology from concept to market,” she said.

Coding schools, for adults and kids

One of the startups’ biggest needs is software engineers, according to Plattenburg. “Almost every tech startup needs to hire people who can code, and good talent is hard to find,” she said.

Web development employment is projected to grow by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Peachtree Corners is already planting the seeds to help fill some of those positions.

“In creating the innovation hub plan, the city realized that helping citizens train or retrain to fill open positions would be valuable for everyone and made a focused effort to provide local coding education,” Plattenburg said.

The Professional Education division of Georgia Tech was signed on to conduct a “Coding Boot Camp” for adults at Prototype Prime. Its first round of classes, which started in January, sold out. About 40 students take classes two nights a week and on Saturdays for 24 weeks.

They will team up to work in a simulated professional work environment, building complex projects and applications to bolster their portfolios. They’ll also have access to career services such as resume and social media support, technical interview prep and portfolio reviews. The program, with a price tag of $10,000, is designed for people who are currently working or want to change careers.

Prototype Prime will also host a STEM-related summer camp for kids that starts on June 10. Roswell-based Kids 4 Coding will offer coding classes and other technology-related activities for kids ages 7-16 at the incubator.

Other kids will be reached through the incubator’s just-announced partnership with Paul Duke STEM High School, a new school that opened in Norcross last fall. Mentoring and other opportunities will be provided “so students can see what’s next for the future generation of technology,” Plattenburg said.

Left to right, Council-member Weare Gratwick, Mayor Mike Mason, City councilmembers
Phil Sadd and Alex Wright meet at City Hall during a January press conference where Sprint and the City announced their partnership on an intelligent vehicle test track which will feature Sprint’s 5G technology.
Photos by JASON GETZ/Getz Images

Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners

The city expects Curiosity Lab to take about four months to build. The track will run along Technology Parkway, from Peachtree Parkway to Spalding Drive.

Plans are underway for entrances to the site. “Later in the year, look for brightly painted lanes, digital signage and other visual cues that you are entering an innovation environment that will help to discover and define technologies of tomorrow,” Plattenburg said.

The test track is unique in that the city owns 100 percent of the roadway and right of way, she said. “What the city is creating out here on Technology Parkway is the opportunity for companies large and small to test things of the future and see how they will interact with people and with other vehicles, with traffic lights, with street lights, with everything that you would find in a city,” Plattenburg said.

Curiosity Lab will offer subject matter experts on site and will provide access to the 5G network to Prototype Prime startups. Existing companies in Tech Park will also be able to take advantage of 5G, getting it significantly ahead of the rest of the metro Atlanta, she said.

“We’re looking forward to Sprint helping our startups figure out how to utilize 5G,” Plattenburg said at the Curiosity Lab press conference, which was attended by Sprint IoT sales representative Steven Payne. Payne said Sprint is excited to partner with the city on Curiosity Lab.

“We’re looking forward to, over the next couple of years, not only the technologies that are born out of this park,” Payne said, “but just the innovations and the recognition and economic development it will bring to Peachtree Corners.” ■

Donna Williams Lewis is a freelance journalist who covered metro Atlanta for decades as a writer and editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Local Resident Opens AtWork Location in Peachtree Corners

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AtWork, one of nation’s leading staffing franchises, has opened its third Metro Atlanta location in Peachtree Corners, Georgia at 6185 Buford Highway, Suite E-100.

AtWork Peachtree Corners is locally-owned by Kamal Bhatia, an immigrant from India with decades of experience in hospitality and as the Senior Vice President of Operations of Atlanta-based Action Bartending School.

AtWork, one of nation’s leading staffing franchises, has opened its third Metro Atlanta location in Peachtree Corners.
Kamal Bhatia

“There is an incredible need for AtWork’s services in Peachtree Corners,” said Bhatia. “Since migrating here in 1996, I’ve witnessed Atlanta evolve and sprout new communities north of the city, including my own. Peachtree Corners has become a hub for thriving businesses, and my goal with this location is to be a key resource between companies and job seekers to support the continued growth of our local economy.”

Bhatia’s son and daughter will assist him in the business.

“This is an opportunity to create a legacy company to ensure our community is supported for generations to come,” he said.

For more than three decades, AtWork’s mission has been to connect people with jobs and jobs with people. With more than 100 locations nationwide, AtWork puts nearly 40,000 individuals to work each year in administrative, light-industrial, accounting and finance, hospitality, IT and management-level positions at some of the nation’s largest and most recognizable companies.

“We’re proud to open our doors in Peachtree Corners and provide a common place for both job seekers and growing businesses to turn for staffing solutions,” said Jason Leverant, President and COO of AtWork.

“AtWork will serve as a key resource to help employees thrive, businesses prosper and communities flourish. Kamal is the perfect partner to champion our mission and be a servant leader in her local community,” he added.

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Business and Birdies: PCBA to Host PGA Tour Championship Exec.

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Alex Urban, Executive Director of the TOUR Championship in Atlanta

Don’t miss your chance to connect and learn at the Peachtree Corners Business Association‘s (PCBA) After Hours Speaker Series. Mark your calendars for Thursday, July 25 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and head to the Hilton Atlanta Northeast (5993 Peachtree Industrial Blvd, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092).

This event features guest speaker Alex Urban, Executive Director of the TOUR Championship in Atlanta. Urban brings more than just golf expertise to the table. He is a graduate of Clemson and UGA with a background in communications and marketing, and he’s passionate about using his skills for social good.

His talk, “Stewarding to Serve: How Leaders Can Leverage Resources for Community Impact,” promises valuable insights for current or aspiring business leaders.

Plus, the PCBA will be presenting a donation to Paint Gwinnett Pink, a local breast cancer charity making a real difference.

Ticket prices range from $25 for early bird members to $40 for guests.

Register today to secure your spot!

And click here for more PCBA news.

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Gwinnett Principals Tour Businesses with Partnership Gwinnett for Workforce Development

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A breakfast panel comprising (L to R) Dr. Calvin J. Watts, Lauren Croft, Chad Wagner, and Nick Masino (with moderator Andrew Hickey) discuss the importance of education and industry connection. // Photos courtesy of Partnership Gwinnett

Partnership Gwinnett, in collaboration with Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS), recently hosted its annual Principal Field Trip event. The program aimed to connect professionals in education and industry to support continued workforce development based on existing and future needs.

The day began with breakfast and a panel discussion featuring Nick Masino, President & CEO of Partnership Gwinnett; Dr. Calvin J. Watts, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools; Chad Wagner, President of Peachtree Packaging; and Lauren Croft, HR Director at Peachtree Packaging.

Principals and Industry leaders gather for a group photo at QTS during Partnership Gwinnett’s 2024 Principal Field Trip

“Our principals and educators play a critical role in shaping the future workforce of Gwinnett County. This event provides an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and industry, ensuring our students are prepared and ready for high-skill and in-demand careers,” stated Dr. Watts.

In addition to having lunch at Gwinnett Technical College, principals visited several industry partners, including Price Industries, QTS, Peachtree Packaging, Mitsubishi Trane HVAC, Aluvision, CleanSpark, Nextran, WIKA and Eagle Rock Studios. These visits allowed educational leaders to engage with local businesses and understand industry needs.

“Supporting this event underscores our commitment to investing in the future of our workforce. By partnering with GCPS and Partnership Gwinnett, we can ensure that students are equipped with the skills necessary to thrive in today’s job market,” said Wagner.

PFT attendees tour operations at Peachtree Packaging.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest public school district in the state, serves approximately 182,000 students across 142 schools. The district’s diverse student population, representing 191 countries and speaking 98 different languages, benefits from career pathways and college and career readiness programs that support career exploration, industry certifications and internships.

“With thousands of students graduating each year, GCPS significantly contributes to the 2.6 million labor draw within a one-hour drive of Gwinnett County,” said Partnership Gwinnett Director of Economic Development Andrew Hickey. “As these graduates enter the workforce, they bring essential skills for high-skill and in-demand careers, ensuring a strong future for the local economy.”

Learn more about the work Partnership Gwinnett does here.

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