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How did Brightree Successfully Work with Clients and Manage Employees During COVID-19

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Brightree's Liz Brown

How did Brightree respond successfully to the pandemic, how did they meet urgent customer needs and what initiatives did they put in place to support employees during this time? Brightree’s Liz Brown joins hosts Karl Barham and Rico Figliolini to discuss this and more. Recorded socially safe in the City of Peachtree Corners, Georgia

Resources:
Website: https://www.brightree.com

Timestamp:
[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:27] – About Liz and Brightree
[00:03:38] – Initial Response to COVID
[00:05:54] – Employees Working from Home
[00:08:22] – Productivity of Employees
[00:10:24] – Adjustments on the Customer Side
[00:14:49] – Working Through the Summer
[00:18:02] – A New Hiring Process
[00:20:35] – Helping Customers
[00:23:15] – Leaders in Brightree
[00:25:27] – Going Back to the Building
[00:28:02] – Long Term Changes
[00:30:11] – Closing

Prodcast Transcript

Karl: [00:00:30] Welcome to the Capitalist Sage Podcast. We’re here to bring you advice and tips from seasoned pros and experts to help you improve your business. I’m Karl Barham with Transworld Business Advisors, and my co-host is Rico Figliolini with Mighty Rockets Digital Marketing, and the publisher of the Peachtree Corner Magazine. Hey Rico, how are you doing today?

Rico: [00:00:50] Good Karl, how are you?

Karl: [00:00:51] Doing well, doing well. Why don’t you introduce our sponsor for today?

Rico: [00:00:57] Sure. Our lead sponsor is Hargray Fiber. They are a company in the Southeast that provides fiber optic technology and solutions that legacy companies and small businesses can use to be able to do the work that they do out there. They’re involved in the community and they are definitely out there. And they’re not the cable guy. So if you’re looking for fast internet connection, look for a company that can support you, not only in your office and your business, but also your employers that are working off site. Hargray Fiber is the company to go to. So visit HargrayFiber.com/Business, and there’ll be able to work with you. Thanks to them for being our lead sponsor. And I’m going to be playing engineer today. We’re going to let Karl and our special guest today work the half hour of Capitalist Sage.

Karl: [00:01:49] Sounds good. Thank you, Rico. Thank you to Hargray Fiber for continuing supporting both the Capitalist Sage and the community throughout Peachtree Corners. Today it is my honor to have a guest on that can help talk a little bit about her experience and her company’s experience over the past few months as we’ve dealt with this pandemic. Liz Brown is the vice president of customer satisfaction at Brightree, a local software company located right here in Peachtree Corners in Atlanta Tech Park. Liz, how are you doing today?

Liz: [00:02:25] I’m doing great Karl. How are you? Thanks.

Karl: [00:02:27] I’m doing fabulous, thank you so much. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about what Brightree does?

Liz: [00:02:35] Sure. At Brightree we’re focused on technology innovation, and we ensure that we provide a stimulating, supportive place for our team members to work while helping our customers run better businesses as they deliver high quality patient care. So we’re actually an industry leading cloud-based healthcare IT company. We provide solutions and services for thousands of out of hospital care providers. And we just recently located our headquarters to Technology Park in Peachtree Corners, December of last year. And with that move, we reinforced our commitment to innovation and collaboration amongst our team. In light of this year’s events, we’re proud of how we’ve executed on that commitment and ways that we’ve helped us keep Brightree a fulfilling, supportive, and stimulating place to work while providing opportunities for local collaborations. So at Brightree, my title is vice president of customer satisfaction. I manage our implementation and customer support teams. But I also lead our facilities teams and we developed a pandemic response plan for Brightree earlier this year.

Karl: [00:03:38] So I’m curious to ask, when the pandemic started, what was your response and your feelings about it and how did you approach it? You and Brightree approach responding to some of the challenges the pandemic brought?

Liz: [00:03:53] So first and foremost, our priority was, and has always been the health, safety, and wellbeing of our employees. We needed to figure out how we could ensure their safety while continuing to keep our customers operational during the time when care and services for our customers was arguably the most important thing ever. So to address it, we really quickly transitioned to work from home, in almost four days actually, and implemented new work streams and strategies that would help our employees excel in the working from home, but also keep the continue of customer support up and running. So some of the things we did, so for example, our executive team started daily huddles on the very first day. And we added in the site leaders from our remote offices to ensure there was an open line of communication as we rolled out our pandemic response plan across Brightree. We use these meetings to raise barriers or concerns that came from the employees. We had employees, for example, who didn’t have internet at home, and we needed to address that. But we also used it to address any concerns that might’ve come from our customers so that we could tackle them swiftly and promptly. And it was from these daily huddles that we have the executive team. We also established an employee engagement team. So we pulled together a group of 20 employees across the company, one representing each department. And they worked with me and our people team leader really closely to provide sort of real-time insight and the pulse what was going on in the day to day amongst the team. And we met with these folks twice monthly and made sure that our pandemic plan that we had in place was working for them, but also that they were engaging with the rest of the organization. So we could get that real-time feedback and direct path right back to the executive team, where there might be areas that we had to address for health, safety, and wellbeing. And we encourage those employee engagement team members to collaborate and create collaboration events with their team. As we all transitioned to working from home.

Karl: [00:05:54] Can I ask a question about, as employees transition to working from home, the informal interactions that people had in the office, what were ways that you were able to help at least close the gap from that, just, you know, working together, the huddles around the coffee. Are there things that you’re able to do to help with that?

Liz: [00:06:17] Yeah, so we did, we established sort of some fun events. So first off we established office hours. So utilizing zoom, which we all had to adapt to, we opened up office hours on Friday afternoon from one to five, and it was an open zoom where people could really just drop in. Like you would’ve dropped in before you might’ve walked by somebody at the coffee machine. You might’ve walked by somebody in the hub getting, you know, a glass of water. Now you just dropped in and everybody knew it was open. So that they could just engage with each other. Over time those became more, a little bit more formal and more fun. So there were happy hours. There were wine tastings and people came up with ways to engage with

each other from home over zoom, of course. But it did sort of try to mimic that whole drop by, how are you kind of thing.

Karl: [00:07:05] Another follow up question on the employee side is, as people had to deal with childcare at home and different work environment, the remote schooling and all of that, were there things that you found people innovated and came up with to navigate the new norms that was happening throughout, you know, March, April, May when this first started?

Liz: [00:07:28] Yeah. And, I’ll tell you, so you know, the wellbeing of the employees was one of the most, was forefront in all our decisions in how we operated and, you know, being that we’re a customer facing organization, what we did is gave the employees the opportunity to manage their workday. So to your point, people with middle-school children had to figure out how to help them get on Zoom to make sure they could get their homework done. But then there were people who were having to adapt to childcare and eldercare and how could they get that done and also get their work done during the day. So we gave them the opportunity to set their work hours so they could adapt both managing their wellbeing from a work perspective, but then also keep those commitments they had to their family. And I think that worked well because when they had those, you know, flexible work hours and were able to adjust their schedule, they could feel like they could balance and get everything done during the day.

Karl: [00:08:22] One of the great things I thought that I saw happening and your, Brightree is a great example of this, companies, corporations had dabbled in this for years. Employee suggestion boxes, they’ve done an install. What the COVID pandemic did, it kind of forced us to make a decisive action, to help people be more able to work and operate from home environments, flexible work schedule. There was always the critique of it in the past that you couldn’t get the same productivity out of your employees, if you let them have more freedom and flexibility, but we were forced into it unfortunately this year. How have you seen the productivity impact on employees during this pandemic? Especially after that first initial wave where we were all in shock of course, but how did it normalize?

Liz: [00:09:14] So I will tell you this, it’s one of the things we’re most proud of the entire Brightree team is our productivity has really been consistent from the day we moved home until today. So yes, we do manage our organization by KPIs and metrics, and we haven’t seen those falter and I think it was providing the employees the flexibility in their schedule. And being able to give them that opportunity to have that wellbeing and being able to take care of themselves and their family, that they were able to maintain the productivity. And we also haven’t seen any dips from a customer satisfaction perspective. You know, we’ve been very consistent. We do use the net promoter score, NPS scoring with our customers, and it’s been extremely consistent since March. So I think by putting the employee safety, health, and wellbeing, first and foremost, you know, I run a customer support organization and I always say, happy employees makes happy customers. And we tried to follow that mantra as we moved to working from home so that everyone felt, you know, not only safe, but they could work and do what they needed to do in the time that they could do it and be productive for the company.

Karl: [00:10:24] So you’re in an interesting industry in space where, a lot of your clients and customers are in the healthcare and healthcare based businesses. And this pandemic, we all know absolutely hit right smack dab into that part of our economy. What were some of the things you have to do to adjust on your customer side, your customer facing interfaces, to adapt to this pandemic year?

Liz: [00:10:50] So, the same way we sort of went right at it from an employee perspective, we out of the gate do the same thing with our product management team on the customer side. So we very quickly engaged with our customers. One-on-one conversations with the salespeople had. We also held, peer to peer community groups. We also engage with our customers through coffee talks and we very quickly, you know, we established by a mantra that we use, which was ask, listen, act. And we used it both for our customers and employees. So in the very beginning, from a customer perspective, we were asking a lot of questions. You know, examples might include how are they getting PPE? Because our customers needed to have PPE, you know, and were they able to get PPE? And we actually had forums in which customers in certain cities were sharing with each other, you know, best practices around how they were actually acquiring PPE, which we all know was in a shortage in the beginning and giving each other resources.

But what we did from a Brightree perspective, sort of after asking is then we sort of hit it from a product perspective. We are a product technology company and we very quickly rolled out product updates so that we could support them as customers. That was everything from COVID 19 diagnosis codes, giving them the ability to confirm a delivery with a photo instead of a signature to enable social distancing. We developed a COVID 19 impact analytics dashboard, which we made available to our customers at no charge. So they could get a better understanding of their operational and financial standing amid the pandemic. And we also created, as I said, forums. So they could engage with each other. Sometimes, you know, our customers learn a lot from each other, especially ones that were regionally situated. And from that, we were able to support them both through our community, but also through other customers.

Karl: [00:12:46] I think you highlighted a couple of things there that was really insightful for first small business owners or large business owners in when dealing with an emergency or a shock to the system in the way that we had to this year, but that interactions and leveraging your touch points with your customers. Can you tell me a little bit more about those forums? When you couldn’t get people together physically, how did you use technology and the tools that we have today to create a safe and friendly environment for customers to communicate with you?

Liz: [00:13:21] So within the Brightree product itself, we have an online community. A community forum on which customers can engage with each other. And we had a lot of information that we could share with the customers. And then the customers were able to share with each other. So first and foremost, we very quickly got out in the community forum the necessary information they needed to be able to respond to the pandemic and continue patient care. But then we also added some engagement activities. So we had coffee talk webinars where customers came together themselves, a customer would come and they would talk about a key issue or strategy that they were working on. We also have an executive advisory board,

which is made up of 15 to 20 key customers that we engage with usually twice a year. And we started engaging with them once a month, you know, Zoom being our platform. But we brought them together to understand, you know, what their evolving needs were so then we could feed the rest of the customer base. And we found that through engaging either through the coffee talks, through the EAB, or sales going back on one-on-one conversations, we’re able to engage with the customers, understand their evolving needs, and then very quickly be able to act against those and meet them, whether it’s through a product or a service or just some level of support. Sometimes we had to find resources for them that they needed to be able to service their patients. And we were able to make that happen for them through the community.

Karl: [00:14:49] I love the blended methods and I think one of the key takeaways from that is, no matter the size of your business, varying the ways that you facilitate two way communication, not just one way, but through the advisory board, you’re getting feedback on tough topics.

You’re doing it in informal settings, and then you’re leveraging your sales team and your account management teams. They have one-on-one conversation in multiple ways. I think very often small business owners, they’ve fallen in love with social media in a way of blasting out one directional information. But this year showed where creating a community forum where people can facilitate two-way communication can happen in the digital way, as well as the old fashioned pick up a phone or today a Zoom and get online and have face to face or real conversations with people. That’s very, very wise approach to do that. And you can probably see some success with that. I’m curious, I wonder, from a business standpoint as you started going through the summer, a lot of businesses were stuck in neutral if you’d call it during the pandemic. How was it for you in continuing to execute the plan you walked into the year with?

Whether it’s on hiring, whether it’s on market share. Were you able to continue to grow and

execute throughout the pandemic?

Liz: [00:16:23] So on both fronts, we were extremely fortunate. So from a hiring perspective, we actually were able to hire throughout the pandemic. Absolutely. And we even had our intern program this summer, which I know is quite unique. So we were able to bring in remote interns. So they got the opportunity to do work in a remote environment. We brought those in, in our marketing and sales team. And, you know, we all had to figure out how to be agile and find new ways to support the new hires in our environment, in this in-home dynamic. And we did that. As part of our onboarding process, we put in place a mentor program. So when you think of a mentor, sometimes people think of it as your boss. And we actually took a different approach.

We asked the hiring manager to pick someone who would be that person they could go to, to ask questions that you don’t normally want your boss to know you don’t know the answer to. But somebody in this remote time that can sort of steer them through the halls. Even though they were virtual halls, right. That they could, you know, very quickly reach out to on teams because they’re in a meeting and they don’t know who this person is that they’re, you know, somebody who’s asking questions, so they don’t know what is. But somebody who’s just there for them all the time as if they were there in the office. So we had to try to figure out how to simulate that environment from an onboarding perspective. So yes, we were very grateful and very thankful that we continued to hire. And actually from a business perspective, we were extremely busy.

Our customers were very busy and we were very busy along with them and from a business and

financial perspective, we’ve done quite well. Yes, we were able to grow through the pandemic and very appreciative of that.

Karl: [00:18:02] That’s fabulous. To hear what, to hear another company that’s, you know, faced with a crisis, still figured out how to pivot on, how do adapt quickly and that’s one of the things that great companies often are able to do. I am curious about, as you were talking about hiring through that, I remember a time when the hiring process involved, someone coming in having an interview with 12 people on a team for a full day and then they go home. And so there was an element and a premium put on for hiring managers and teams to see the person, they were looking for certain things. How has 2020 change people’s thinking on what’s important in the hiring process, interviewing. And were you able to do anything to change that process that you think you might want to keep even beyond this season of the pandemic?

Liz: [00:19:05] To be honest, we actually have, we initiated a process with our parent company Resmed, gosh, probably six months ago. We actually utilize a product called Hire View. So as part of the original, as part of the first level of hiring, the hiring manager provides questions to the recruiter. And the actual applicant has to, through Hire View, which is a zoom like product, present the answers to those questions, right? So you sort of get that in-person feel, the hiring manager gets before the interview process even started. And once they pass through the hire review, Then we’ve been using a team interview process in person for all of our interviews. So we’ve started to use that as a best practice across the company. Where we bring in, let’s say for example, in my area professional services, we’re hiring a new manager and that new manager, once they’re on board is going to work with a lot of different departments in the company. So I select a person from each one of those departments and they work on a team interview and each person has a role and responsibility on that interview and they participate as a team. So we learned, and we figured out when we moved to working from home, we could do the same exact process with Zoom. And it worked just as well. So the interview candidate was still engaging with all the same people that they would have if it was in person. And we found actually it worked quite well. So it was, that was a good, best practice. And we’ll continue to use it if, you know, at some point in time, hopefully here very soon we’ll use it in person. And if not, we’ll continue to use it virtually.

Karl: [00:20:35] I’m curious if you follow that same thinking with your customers. I’m sure when you’ve, find acquiring customer there’s some process of onboarding them, especially if you’re implementing technology. How have you adapted, based on the social distancing constraints where you might’ve walked in and jumped on someone’s computer, are there things that you were able to figure out to help with that part?

Liz: [00:20:59] Yes. And that was one of the first things that actually my department in professional services had to adapt to very quickly. So one of the first things we do when we onboard a new customer is we go onsite and we do an operational workflow analysis and design. So we had to really quickly pivot and determine, you know, figure out how are we going to now do that remotely. Because what we’re doing is we’re going in and talking with all the key business leaders about how they, in a future state, want to utilize our technology. And it’s very

much a sort of in-person engagement. And in the March, April, May timeframe, you know, really through the summer, that was not something that we were equipped to do, nor was our customer. So we needed to create a virtual environment in which to do that. And those went very well. But I will tell you, as we went through the rest of the implementation, there was a point in time where the customer said, this has all been great, but now we all need to get together. So we had to figure out how to do that. And I will tell you, starting about a month, month and a half ago, we started to do it. We have a very specific protocol and policy and we need to work very closely with the customer. So that, for example, you know, from a social distancing perspective, when our consultant goes in that they’re able to meet the requirements that we put in place, because again, the health, safety, and wellbeing of our employee was most important. First and foremost, the employee had to volunteer. There was no asking anyone to go. They had to totally volunteer. And because, you know, our consultants are road warriors. They’ve been home for quite a while. So we had a few volunteers very quickly, but they were very appreciative of, we put in place our own pandemic guidelines for in-person meetings. And we had to ask the customer to abide by that same protocol. Now, being that a lot of our, you know, our customers do patient care, so they’re also in healthcare. They very much appreciated it. So I would tell you, in the last two months, we’ve probably done six of those. And they were very important because they were that end of the process for the customer coming up on our technology and they needed that in-person contact. But it’s, you know, ensuring the health, the wellbeing and the safety of the employee was as important as for the customer.

Karl: [00:23:15] I think one of the things that’s becoming really apparent in my conversation with you today is to implement all these things. When I know sitting in January of 2020, most of the world would not have realized what had happened. It takes really strong leadership to do that. What’s some things about Brightree that makes its leaders able to respond the way that it did this year?

Liz: [00:23:44] You know what I would say, we’re extremely agile and we’re extremely adaptive. We’ve got an excellent executive team. We all work very well together. We’re all very strong leaders in our own domain. And you know, we care about our employees and we care about our customers, right. So we came to it, you know, I know I keep saying it, health, wellbeing, and safety. But it wasn’t only for us, but it was also to ensure our customers can continue doing what they needed to do, which was provide patient care. So, you know, the Brightree executive team, we handle a challenge very well. We’re extremely adaptive and we did turn on a dime. We literally turned on days. And we sent everybody home and we had our policies and procedures in place. Because you’re right. In January, imagine we had just been our office for 30 days. We were all so excited. We’re in Peachtree Corners, we’re in a brand new building. We have this extremely beautiful building, great collaboration area. We’re all so excited. I mean, everybody was really pumped. It brought new energy to the company. And then with, you know, unbeknownst to us in three months, the whole world’s going to change. But I will say we brought that energy home, not to say there wasn’t in the month of March, you know, a total assimilation. You know, everybody at home now, like, you know, your routines totally changed. Your workdays totally changed. But we put forth the effort because we knew our customers were doing direct patient care. And everybody was looking at the news and everybody didn’t know

exactly what was going on. So we needed to continue to do what we needed to do and be strong, you know, stay strong as one of our mantras. And we did that for not only our employees, but also, you know, for our parent company Resmed and our customers.

Karl: [00:25:27] So with the beautiful building that’s been right here in Atlanta Tech Park, have you begun to think through the strategy with the vaccine, multiple vaccines on its way? How you start thinking about bringing people back into the building? And what are some of the things you might keep from this year going forward? And what are some of the things that you definitely want to get the team back together in the building?

Liz: [00:25:50] We actually already started coming back. So, I guess it was about a month ago we, you know, there’s a portion of our employee base that really would prefer to work in the office. So we have a very, you know, we have a very large office, but we set, we did a very soft open and set the opening at 25 people at a time. And one of the first things that we needed to do was figure out, you know, again, how can we do this safely? And we know that there was some mainstays that had to be there, social distancing, you know, health checks, you know, how are we going to make sure that somebody who’s coming into the office should be in the office? How are we gonna know who’s in the office and when they’re in the office? And if in fact we ever had an issue from a COVID perspective, how could we do contact tracing? So we partnered and actually bought a new technology from a company based in Alpharetta. I love that it was local called Mathtitian and they gave us the ability to implement the solution that gave really all the facets that we needed. So for example, today, if an employee needs to go in, they schedule themselves and they schedule when they’re in the office, they’re sent through the technology, either SMS or an email, a prescreen health at a station that they need to do before they can come in. And once they’re approved, then we know where they are. So we can schedule them, they can do their pre-screen. But then we also that enabled contact tracing for us. And then by working with Mathtitian, we could develop our floor plans so we knew we had physical distancing. Whether it’s, you know, these two people sit in and the workstation is at least six feet apart. Or if there’s a group that wants to go in a conference room in which seats would they sit, so we make sure there’s physical distancing there also. So we’ve started that process. Like I said, it started a month ago and it’s been going well. You know, we’ll see as time goes on and as the months go on, one of the important factors, you know, we look at is health and safety. So we’re checking the metrics and we know what the metrics are for the Atlanta area, for the Gwinnett County and Peachtree Corners area. But we, you know, keeping that employee safety is the primary goal. We’ll continue to evolve the plan as time goes on.

Karl: [00:28:02] Well, I tell you, all the things that Brightree’s done now going to help their employees adapt of customers, figure out how to be more successful through this year. I’m glad to say that, you know, we’ve got a company locally that’s leading the way in helping figure this out. It’s such a tough year. I’ve got a last question if I could ask, you know, when everything that went through this year, both professionally and personally, that most people have gone through, is there something that you implemented or did this year that might’ve been caused by the pandemic that you think can live beyond this? When this is all said and done, and the pandemic

has gone away and we’re all vaccinated. Are there things in the business that you’ve changed that you think have a long term future within your organization?

Liz: [00:28:51] I think we’re going to look at the opportunity that we gave the employees to work from home and have that flexible work schedule and have that, you know, focus on wellbeing and balance. That will absolutely continue. I mean we’ve heard it loud and clear from a, well, we do pulse surveys with our employees every six months. And that came through loud and clear. We’ve done two already, cause we did one right after the pandemic. But, you know, reinforcing wellbeing and balance. Not that it wasn’t in the forefront of our culture before, but I believe that that will continue to be on the forefront. And then the level of communication. So I talked about in the beginning, you know, the daily huddles. We also had town halls and we had those every week for quite a few weeks. And we’ve moved now to, you know, once a month, every other week or once a month, depending on the time period. And that level of communication, maintaining that. Because that gives the, you know, the engagement level with the employees without a doubt. But I think some of the, you know, the other aspects of our culture, you know, agility and change and you know, the care that we give for both our customers and the service excellence, those will all continue. But I think we’ll look at that flexibility for the employees so that they can, you know, live their best life. And also, be the best they can be for Brightree.

Karl: [00:30:11] There was one thing that became apparent. Although this year we had to physically distance for safety, I think Brightree and your team and the rest of the organization did a great job of actually keeping people together. So I don’t know if this term social distance really meant the same. I think communicating people keep people connected. We’ve done a better job probably as a society. You definitely would put it in your business, even though people may be physically distanced you were able to shrink it a little bit and keep people at least socially connected throughout this. Which is fabulous. Well, I’d love to thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to chat with us on the Capitalist Sage. I’d like to thank Liz Brown, the vice president of customer satisfaction at Brightree right here in Peachtree Corners  for your insights and sharing your experience. There’s a lot of companies that struggled through this, they implemented some of the things you’ve had. Some didn’t. But what you’ve highlighted and shared with folks that there’s a different way to think about adapting. And I know a lot of people took a turtle mentality and just kind of, you know, hunkered down. But there’s ways to find innovative ways to continue to live your mission in your organization. And thanks for sharing that with us today. I’m Karl Barham with Transworld Business Advisors of Atlanta Peachtree. Rico and I have the pleasure to talk to local business leaders and owners, here in Peachtree Corners and surrounding areas, to talk about things that can help any business owner, whether it’s a small business, a large corporation or anywhere in between. It’s really been a pleasure to share insight from folks that are having success in doing that.

Transworld is our business and we help consult. I work with small business owners when it comes time to make those important decisions in life, around exiting their business, whether it’s selling or growing through acquisition. So we are an M and A firm and business sales firm that helps people with doing that. And so you can always reach out to myself or anyone on my team to schedule a consultation. You can always find us at www.TWorld.com/AtlantaPeachtree. Rico, why don’t you tell me a little bit about what you’ve got going on over the next couple of weeks?

Rico: [00:32:31] Sure. I’ll keep it short here, but we’re working on Peachtree Corners Magazine. The next issue, Faces of Peachtree Corners is the feature story. Along with some of the things that we have in there. We just finished the photo shoot here at Atlanta Tech Park last night for that feature. So we’re doing, yeah, magazine’s coming along. We’re on deadline. We’ll be done in about two weeks and that’ll be out the first week in December to everyone. In the meantime, you can go online at LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com to find out more information. In fact, one of the stories we have on there was the internship program at Brightree and how that worked. And that was a phenomenal story I thought. It did really well. Good to see companies out there like Brightree doing that type of work too. A lot of these kids didn’t have internship opportunities after COVID started. So, not very good for some of them because they looked forward to doing it and that becomes sometimes a job entry point for these students. So good thing they were able to do that. As far as what I do, social media marketing content work, curation, video production, photography, you can find my work at MightyRockets.com or look me up on LinkedIn, Rico Figliolini or Mighty Rockets. Either way you can find me. So, and let’s not just forget our lead sponsor Hargray Fiber again, who is a major lead sponsor for not only Capitalist Sage, but the other programs that we run, the other podcasts that we do in the city. So all good. And I appreciate Liz for being with us also, for being part of the show this episode, it was really good. I learned a lot as well, so. And I apologize. Most people didn’t know when we started this, there were technical difficulties getting this off the ground, but we finally got it through and I appreciate Liz’s patience with that. Thank you Liz.

Karl: [00:34:20] Thank you Liz and everyone at the Brightree team. Have a great day.

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The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners last week agreed to a funding agreement with the Gwinnett Place CID for a Livable Centers Initiative study of the Gwinnett Place Mall site and surrounding areas. The Community Improvement District has contracted with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., to conduct the study.

The LCI study will establish a plan to guide the redevelopment of the Gwinnett Place Mall area. It will consist of public outreach, strategic development and preparation of final deliverables.

The LCI grant helps cities and communities with plans to connect residents to activities by walking and bike trails. The hope is to ease traffic on roadways.

The study is estimated to cost $275,000.00. The Atlanta Regional Commission awarded the Gwinnett Place CID an LCI grant for $220,000, with the estimated local match of $55,000 being split between the CID and the County. Each party’s share of the local match will be reduced equally should the total study cost less than estimated. 

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Gwinnett Partnership, It’s Influence, What Trends they See, and Resources to Empower Businesses [Podcast]

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Partnership Gwinnett is the economic development initiative behind some of the most exciting business ventures that have started or relocated to Peachtree Corners. Brian Dorelus, project manager with Partnership Gwinnett, is our guest on today’s episode of the Capitalist Sage. Join Karl Karham, Rico Figliolini, and Brian, as they discuss what exactly Partnership Gwinnett is and does for business in our community.

Resources:

Website: https://www.partnershipgwinnett.com
Brain’s Email: BDorelus@ParntershipGwinnett.com

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Opening
[00:02:14] – About Brian and Partnership Gwinnett
[00:03:29] – How Partnership Gwinnett helps Businesses
[00:04:34] – Why Businesses Choose Gwinnett
[00:05:47] – Industries that are Thriving
[00:06:59] – Activity in Peachtree Corners
[00:08:12] – Bringing Startups to Peachtree Corners
[00:15:02] – Resources that Partnership Gwinnett Provides
[00:22:12] – Closing

“Partnership Gwinnett is the economic development agency for Gwinnett County. So it’s our job and our privilege to wake up every single day to recruit, retain, and expand industries in our five target sectors… And so what we do every day is just provide resources and be a one-stop shop for companies big and small, so they could continue to grow in our community.”

Brian Dorelus

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Karl: Welcome to the Capitalist Sage Podcast. We’re here to bring you advice and tips from seasoned pros and experts to help you improve your business. I’m Karl Barham with Transworld Business Advisors, and my co-host is Rico Figliolini with Mighty Rockets, Digital Marketing, and the publisher of the Peachtree Corner Magazine. Hey Rico, how are you doing today?

Brian Dorelus

[00:00:48] Rico: Hey Karl, great. Looking forward to this interview right now with Brian.

[00:00:53] Karl: Absolutely. We’re going to talk about what Partnership Gwinnett can do for businesses locally here in Gwinnett county, and Georgia overall. But let’s talk a little bit about our sponsors today.

[00:01:04] Rico: Sure. So Peachtree Corners Magazine is supporting this podcast along with the family podcasts that we do. And we just put our last issue to the printer. It’s coming out in about two days. So keep an eye out for it. Go to LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com and you’ll see the digital version of that print edition that will be coming out this week.

[00:01:24] Karl: Fabulous. Great job with the Peachtree Corner Magazine. Lots of great articles in there, keeping up with what’s going on locally. So I really appreciate all that information that’s shared through that. Today we are going to talk about what Partnership Gwinnett, one of the organizations within Gwinnett county can do to help business owners, large and small. Help drive economic development within the community. Today I’m honored to have Brian Dorelus, who is a project manager with Partnership Gwinnett to talk a little bit about some of the mission of the organization, some of the successes and some of the things, resources that are available to business owners to help them with their businesses. Hey, Brian, how are you doing today?

[00:02:09] Brian: Doing good. Just trying to stay dry in today’s rainy weather, but doing good.

[00:02:14] Karl: Absolutely. No, I appreciate you joining us today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself to our audience and tell a little bit about yourself and what you do with Partnership Gwinnett.

[00:02:25] Brian: Of course. Thank you. So once again, my name is Brian Dorelus. I’m the project manager for technology and life science with a focus and concentration in entrepreneurs and small business here at Partnership Gwinnett. And Partnership Gwinnett for those of you who might not know is the economic development agency for Gwinnett County. So it’s our job and our privilege to wake up every single day to recruit, retain, and expand industries in our five target sectors. And then as I mentioned, I lead the initiatives for technology and life science, but my counterpart leads the manufacturing and supply chain sector. And our leadership leads the kind of bigger corporate headquarters relocation projects. And so what we do every day is just provide resources and be a one-stop shop for companies big and small, so they could continue to grow in our community. And then prior to this, I was actually a Peace Corps Volunteer at the Republic of Moldova doing very similar work. Doing economic activities with a local mayor focusing on infrastructure and capacity building with the local village that I was stationed at.

[00:03:29] Karl: Oh, that’s fabulous. I’m going to jump in with the first question and thanks for the introduction for Partnership Gwinnett. Can you describe a little bit about how you work with business owners? And I would also guess some of the other city economic development departments, to help support thriving businesses in our communities.

[00:03:48] Brian: Yeah, definitely. So one thing we do is we try to give a concierge level service to businesses and companies in our communities, within our 16 cities. So typically on average day I work with the local economic development managers or city managers in each one of our beloved cities. And just hear about some of the issues that some of our businesses, large and small, are facing and trying to connect them with resources that typically they might not be aware of. And one of the good things about Partnership Gwinnett, is that all of our services are free and complimentary. So if you’re looking for research data, or looking to get connected, or even needing help with business plans or getting exposure. If we can’t do it, it’s our job to hunt down a person who can do it for you.

[00:04:34] Karl: I’m curious, when you think about Metro Atlanta and Gwinnett County, what’s the selling point for businesses to come and thrive here in this community? What have you found to be some of the things that really attract large and small businesses to Gwinnett?

[00:04:50] Brian: I think typically we have some, big pieces of infrastructure and systems in place that make businesses thrive. One obviously being the airport. Being the busiest airport and being two hours flight from all major airports, it really helps the interconnectivity between us locally and internationally, between places of business. But on a more maybe personal and cultural aspect, one thing that Georgia has and in Atlanta that really stands apart is that we are just pro-business and a friendly environment. Ironically, I had a lunch with a couple of international prospects. They literally said the first thing they said that to other international companies is that Georgia is nice. Which you would think is a weird selling point. But I would say as a community, we really have thrived because we’ve worked together really well with other partners within our community, within our cities, and across the Metro Atlanta region.

[00:05:47] Karl: So, when you think about Atlanta and how it’s grown since the Olympics over the last 20 odd, 20 plus years, where do you see industries that are really starting to thrive in the Metro Atlanta region?

[00:06:01] Brian: Just a little more about my background, I went to Georgia State University downtown. I was able and fortunate to see that growth happening almost before my eyes. And so some of the industries that just appeared and blossomed, we can’t talk about Atlanta without talking about FinTech. The financial technical center, it’s called the FinTech capital of the world, just because there’s so many FinTech companies located here. So when you think about entertainment, FinTech, conjoining with the tech ecosystem here, it just became a natural boom. Because I guess before, if you look at Georgia and in Metro Atlanta, we was a huge manufacturing sector. And we still are. When you think of Georgia, you cannot not highlight some of the manufacturing pieces. But within the past 20 years, you’ve just seen a huge boom and kind of major corporations coming to find that talent for that tech pieces and engaging the new generation. With just the amount of startups that are appearing and them just engaging into the market.

[00:06:59] Karl: So I know locally here in Peachtree Corners, Atlanta Tech Park, and in this area there’s been a thriving tech community that’s been developing here. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the past and current activity you’re seeing in this part of town?

[00:07:17] Brian: Yeah, definitely. One thing Peachtree Corners has done really well, is really brand themselves as a city of the future. And a city to engage the technology, not existing today, but existing or will be in a market 10, 15 years from now. So when you think about Peachtree Corners in particular, and some success stories, they’ve branded themselves as I mentioned that city of the future by engaging with that 5g technology or the internet of things. Which is the interconnection between everyday appliance into the interweb. And just because they have made themselves the centerpiece and the tip of the spear in that, now companies are searching and looking to be a part of just kind of the platform and the energy here. And that’s not even talking about that autonomous vehicle track that’s been deployed in Peachtree Corners and what they’re doing with electric vehicles and self-driving cars.

[00:08:12] Karl: Yeah. I know that we’ve heard an announcement about a company that’s really expanding in the surgical, medical space here. Can you share with us just a little bit about that and how does something like that come about? And what role does Partnership Gwinnett play in helping make things like that happen?

[00:08:29] Brian: Yeah, definitely. We were brought in very early into their project as the company Intuitive Surgical was looking to expand and grow. And for those who might not be familiar, Intuitive Surgical is the creator of the DaVinci robot. The small robot that does surgery on individuals. And I’m not gonna lie, I will be the first to admit that I was hesitant to think about having someone perform surgery on me that isn’t a human body. But once you’ve seen the application and seen the success rate and seen what they’ve developed. You just wouldn’t go back to human hands. And so Partnership Gwinnett, in collaboration with the local city administration in Peachtree Corners, and then with our state partners all worked together, hand by hand. And kind of stepping forward, of bringing the company here. And just kind of doing what we do every day, is telling the story of Atlanta and Gwinnett County. Explaining that the workforce here, one thing that’s great about Metro Atlanta, is that we actually graduate more engineers than any other region. So telling them about the great work that’s done at Georgia Tech and Georgia State and Kennesaw, and SCAD. And then combined that with the quality of life then a few corners in the, some, the other innovation hub across the street, across Wynette county, it was a no brainer. And, we really just work well with our community partners, with the local administration. And we brought all the resources kind of bundled together and made a compelling case that, eventually, they decided that this is where they want to be their new home. So it was our team in congruence with everybody else. And we worked hard for this past summer to land a plane. And we’re proud to say that they’ve opened and it’s one of the largest projects in Gwinnett County history.

[00:10:05] Karl: Wow. That’s fabulous, the work that’s being done and seeing so many people playing a role, working together to make that happen. If I could ask a little bit around your area of specialty, when you think of startup companies, technology companies, and so on. What are some of the things that you see that can help bring more of that? How does that work to get more of that ecosystem developed here in greater Atlanta and Gwinnett County in specific.

[00:10:33] Brian: I think when people typically think of startups, there’s a little divide and there’s a lot of misconceptions on what startups will need and what they’re looking for. And the first thing that startups themselves and other people sometimes get wrong. Is that they’re looking for capital, they’re looking for funding. And everybody’s looking for funding. But one thing that we have here in Atlanta that really pushes the needle for these startups to grow is something that I mentioned earlier, it’s that just the interconnectedness between all parties and that mentorship and exposure. We’re in an ecosystem where generally speaking it’s pretty close knit. Even from Gwinnett to Atlanta or from Gwinnett to our community partners. It’s a small knit community where transportation time isn’t that far. And so when talking to these startups thinking about relocating or growing, we just tell him like, Hey, this is an area where innovation is booming fast. Innovation comes from areas where there is a problem and there’s someone looking to solve. And Gwinnett County has set themselves apart, being that problem solution for a lot of the world societal problems. And so these startups, they come here and they find a lot of success and become leaders very quickly because of that.

[00:11:42] Karl: Can you tell us a little bit about any specific startup that you’re watching, some exciting stuff that’s going on? Just to give people a feel of the activity that’s happening here.

[00:11:54] Brian: I could tell about some startups, but even some innovation hubs that we have where these startups are breeding. If we’re looking back on in your neck of the neighborhoods in Peachtree Corners, there’s a lot of startups that are focusing on 5g and cyber security. And one of them that their common conversation is Smart Eye Technology using that retina scanning to scan for security purposes for documents or providing cybersecurity solutions to municipalities. And especially with security and data breaches being something that was talked about maybe 10 years ago, but now being a necessity, these companies, these startups are becoming the face of what it means to protect yourselves in a new digital age. Kind of as you go up Gwinnett County, you have the water tower, which is a water innovation hub. Innovation hub, actually more of an innovation campus, if you really think about it. It’s an area built solely for the innovation of water development technologies and water workforce. And there’s just so many exciting water startups there from providing clean water to the masses using hydro stations that could tell you, not only the level of certainty how clean it is, but pull data about your current water usage and scan for that. To even some startups working on trying to gather water from solar panels. And then if you kind move across from the water tower, up north all the way up through 16 is kind of the biggest and largest innovation hub, which is called Rowan. Recently in Gwinnett county just purchased 2000 acres to build this kind of life science community. Life science community focusing solely on renewable energy. That life, science, and agriculture. And you can most accurately think about it as like adjacent or something very similar to what you see at the Research Triangle Park. And there’s something so similar that we’ve actually hired the COO of Research Triangle Park to run the Rowan foundation, to lead to that development. And so while the development is still ongoing, since it’s such a massive project for Gwinnett County, we’ve just engaged a lot of startups and larger corporations.

[00:13:55] Karl: Gotcha. I’m curious when you’re talking about some of these innovation hubs and so on, what are some of the things that make us more attractive than other cities around them? What infrastructure is in place that entrepreneurs and tech folks can come to Gwinnett County and leverage?

[00:14:13] Brian: One of them is just the level of service that we offer here at Partnership Gwinnett. As I mentioned a little briefly, we like to call ourselves, community connectors. So they’re kind of, the one-stop shop. So we have partners at score or SBDC or SBA and ACE capital who are willing to sit down with these entrepreneurs on one-on-one, and give them that service and that training they need to find capital. To find exposure, to find that mentorship that could really take them to the next level. But also we’ve got some, a lot of resources just around a region that provides that same level of service at very little to no cost. And one thing that’s, the best thing about Gwinnett that’s also sometimes may be the worst thing about Gwinnett, is that it’s so big that entrepreneurs don’t know where to go. And so we could help them point to that direction.

[00:15:02] Karl: Now I wanted to talk a little bit of specific resources. So if I’m thinking of starting a business, whether I’m a CEO of a large company looking to expand into the Southeast, or I’m a tech company, that’s looking to establish operations here locally, what are some of the specific resources and tools you have that I can come to and get help with that most people may not know about?

[00:15:25] Brian: And if you, as a small business, I would actually first you come to me as the, kind of the first level of inquiry, just get some general questions. And then what we’ll do from that process is kind of. direct you to the next staff. And you could think about this as almost as stages. So first the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce would be the first step, just to network. The community here and all the businesses that’s under that umbrella can really help you brandish yourself and find the market that you’re looking for. And then after that, we’ll probably divert you to Score. Which is an organization built from volunteers to help you with your business plan. To help you figure out what your target market is, what’s your SWAT analysis, who are you trying to aim for and kind of really solidify and drill down your kind of needs for your business. And then depending on your type of business and depending on if you’re a startup, we also have an Angel Investment Network. Where, similar to what Shark Tank has become, you can apply and pitch to Angel investors who are looking desperately trying to invest in startups in the region. To kind of find that next unicorn status startup. So there’s just a bunch of resources here between a lot of the agencies here that can really help you go to the next level.

[00:16:40] Karl: What if I’m a large company and I wanted to move here locally? What are some of the tools and resources available for people that are helping with that type of search?

[00:16:49] Brian: Well, if you’re a large company, the first thing you’re looking for is space. Where am I going to have my production facility? Where am I going to house my employees? Even though you might be an office, there’s the trend of working from home. You want a place where you can build that company and culture. And so one of the things we do is connect you with, well first find a property that kind of fits the parameters of your needs and connect you with our network of brokers. And then after that, pull some data and research into, where’s the best place for you? Are you looking for somewhere close to the airport or close to a major interstate? Or are you looking for a place where the city is, has a lively festival culture? And so we really work hand in hand to make sure that we find a facility for you. And then after that we pull research, we pull our state partners to help with the tax incentives that companies all often qualify for creating new jobs in our region and putting in capital investment. And then after we kind of helped you relocate you, your company, your employees, and their families. We like to do a grand opening and press release to kind of welcome you in the community. And we’ve seen some press releases that have gone and grand openings that are just minuscule. They just want to let the community know they’re here. And then we’ve also seen ones that want to do a whole festival. They want to have a ferris wheel and a barbecue. And what we try to do is have the elected officials, key stakeholders, people in the community that fits the needs and people that you want to get in front of, all at your grand opening. Just to show that the community is here for you. And then after that, it’s not after you’ve landed that we’re just done with you. One thing we always say is that one of the good things about us, that once you find us, we’re always going to be contacting you. So you then after kind of move into our retention program, where we have our director for business retention and expansion kind of keep our eye on you. Do checkups and just make sure that you’re growing and expanding. One of the services that we offer of course, is helping with permitting needs. So if you’re a company here located and you have some permitting concerns, or it’s just trouble getting someone in contact, or you need a Fire Marshall to do a quick survey of your building, we can help facilitate and expedite that process for you.

[00:19:03] Karl: If there was one thing that you, from your perspective, would really leapfrog Gwinnett County into the clear leader for companies of all sorts. What kind of infrastructure improvement would you say would need to be here, put in place so we could develop over the next five to 10 years to really become that easy decision for businesses to come and play here?

[00:19:29] Brian: It would be hard to say, because I feel like a lot of the things that Gwinnett County is already working on. So one thing typically that we’ve talked about internally in our offices, that quality of life piece. But one thing Gwinnett County it’s already one step ahead of me. Is that, you know, one thing of our 16 cities is all of them are developing their downtown area. Downtown Suwanee is very different than downtown Peachtree Corners or downtown Norcross or downtown Lawrenceville. But they all have bubbly activity. And it’s those little key pieces that are really important to the companies that are relocating. Because you have to remember, they are people too. These companies are comprised of people and of employees. And after work, they also want to unbutton their shirt and grab a beer or go to a beer garden. So just having a community that has activities, not only for the older generation, but even for the millennial generation as well. So for them to build their families. And Gwinnett County has led the way in developing that. So I would say, as for Gwinnett County it has continued to grow, we have almost a million people as a population is just to further develop. And redevelop. Which has become a huge thing in economic development, it’s redevelopment. And it’s something Partnership Gwinnett has now taken a role into is redeveloping old areas that have been long forgotten and making those areas of attraction and beauty and entertainment. Where family meets, and friends, and coworkers, and millennials, all alike can kind of enjoy the services.

[00:20:58] Karl: You know, reinvention is always a key part of rebirth. Reinvention, being able to do that. I’m curious, Brian, is there anything coming up that, what are you working on? What are some of the things that are coming up where people can engage in the community around Partnership Gwinnett?

[00:21:14] Brian: Yeah, definitely. One thing that I’ve been working on with my team is how to provide more resources to entrepreneurs. There seems to be a little bit of a gap between small and medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs to the larger corporations. So one thing that we’re working on is how to bridge that gap. How to match make where, a small business can apply to be a subcontractor for a larger company and incorporation. And see, that’s the thing that we’re hoping to try to roll out as a program or a database where larger corporations, not only in Gwinnett County but in general, a large corporation can have our RFI and these small businesses could apply. Can go to the website, apply, and to be awarded I guess a small subcontract work where they could work and kind of bridge the gap. As one thing, working in technology innovation is, innovation definitely comes from within. And it also comes with collaboration with other partners. So we’re actively looking at different ways and methods for that to happen.

[00:22:12] Karl: Oh, fabulous. Well, Brian, I want to thank you. How can people reach you? If they wanted to reach you, what’s the best way to contact you?

[00:22:19] Brian: Yes. Best way to contact me is go on our website, www.PartnershipGwinnett.com, going to teams and under my profile of Brian Dorelus. Or you can go on LinkedIn and reach me there. Or you can reach me by email at BDorelus@ParntershipGwinnett.com.

[00:22:38] Karl: Oh, that’s fabulous. Well, you know what, I want to thank you, Brian. For everybody that is joining us midway, this is Brian Dorelus of Partnership Gwinnett. Sharing some of the exciting things that are happening here in Gwinnett County, and Metro Atlanta, and here in Georgia. From on the small side entrepreneurs, startup community, the resources and the help that they’re bringing to the local cities as well as business owners. But also how they’re bringing large companies into the areas, working collaboratively, across many different stakeholders to make those things happen. Thank you so much for sharing some of the insight and introducing yourself to the local business community. Thank you, Brian. Thank you very much. And I’m Karl Barham with Transworld Business Advisors of Atlanta Peachtree. Our business advisors are available to help consult business owners, connect them to folks like Brian and other people in economic development. And if you’re looking for real estate, commercial real estate, et cetera, we have a network of folks that can help people. And also if you’re looking at planning for your business growth through acquisition, if you’re looking at doing something else, we help with business sales and business exiting planning. If you want to contact me, you can reach me at KBarham@TWorld.com. Or visit our website, www.TWorld.com/AtlantaPeachtree. We’re here in the community to help. Rico, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’ve got coming up?

[00:24:04] Rico: Sure. Sorry about, I’ve been acting more as an engineer on this episode than anything else. But we just went to press with the printer in Monroe, Georgia. To do a shout out to Walton Press. They do a great job of printing the publication. We’re at 88 pages this issue, the largest issue we’ve had since we started over two years ago. Lots of stuff in it. And the lead feature story is actually about the people that run the day-to-day activities, the five department heads of the city of Peachtree Corners. So it highlights them. Also, Judy Putnam is profiled in there. She’s the communications director who’s retiring. And we have a new communications director that will be taken over shortly. And a lot of other stories in there along with photographs from Peachtree Corners Photography Club. They did a great fall-ish photo spread for us. And it’s also the pet issue. So lots of pet pictures and the end of the giveaway that we’ve run for the last four or five weeks. So check that out and you can actually see the digital edition online at LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. Other than that, Mighty Rockets is my company as well. A publisher of Peachtree Corners Magazine, the purveyor of these podcasts and other marketing and product videos that we do for clients. So check that out. And if you need to reach me, it’s Rico Figliolini on LinkedIn. You can get me there. I’m probably the only Figliolini short of two others that are my siblings, if you find them. So Figliolini just checked that out and you can reach me.

[00:25:32] Karl: And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, if you want to keep up with what’s going on locally, multiple ways to follow us. Follow us on Facebook. What are some of the other ways that folks can hear the podcast and follow what’s going on locally?

[00:25:46] Rico: Sure. So the video podcast, if you go to Peachtree Corners Life on Facebook or the Capitalist Sage on Facebook, there’ll be streams. We always stream those as a simulcast live stream. Search YouTube channel for Peachtree Corners Life. You can subscribe there and you’ll get notified when we go live on the simulcasts. And if you’re looking to audio podcasts, anywhere that you find the podcast, right? I Heart Radio, Spotify, Apple. Anywhere that you find audio podcasts, you can find us. Just Google the Capitalist Sage Podcast and you’ll pick up all sorts of resources that way.

[00:26:19] Karl: Absolutely. Thank you for that. And the last thing I’ll mention, if you have ideas for stories and articles, is there a way for folks to send that in to you Rico?

[00:26:29] Rico: Great, great question. Thank you. You can send any story, any ideas that you have suggestions to Editor@LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. And if you’re thinking it’s going to be a great subject matter for the Capitalist Sage Podcast, certainly reach out to that email as well. And we’ll be able to talk to you a bit about that. And quite frankly, let me do this as well. If you’re looking to advertise or be a sponsor of the family of podcasts that we do, which includes the Capitalist Sage, Peachtree Corners Life and Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager, which is a monthly podcast, reach out to me at Editor@LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com.

[00:27:08] Karl: Excellent. How many homes do you reach currently with the magazine?

[00:27:11] Rico: We mailed 19,700 homes, households, get the magazine. And then another 1200 out to about a hundred locations.

[00:27:20] Karl: Lots of reach there.

[00:27:22] Rico: Oh, for sure. And more online because of the digital edition as well. And the weekly newsletters and website and all that, sure.

[00:27:30] Karl: Absolutely. Well, Rico, thank you very much. And for everybody that joined us today, thank you for supporting and watching the Capitalist Sage. We’re going to continue to have great topics for business owners and for people in the community. Let’s talk about business. Well everyone have a great day. Take care.

[00:27:46] Rico: Take care guys.

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Business

French-American Chamber of Commerce Moves In and Brings More Opportunities to Curiosity Lab

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Pictured (left to right): Bertrand Lapoire, VP FACC-Atlanta, Michael Gerebtzoff, Consul General of Belgium, Consulate General of Belgium in Atlanta, Kirk Duguid, Acting Consul General, Consulate General of Canada in SE, Mayor Mike Mason, Vincent Hommeril, Consul General of France, Consulate General of France in Atlanta, John Parkerson, Honorary Consul General & Foreign Economic Counselor of Hungary, Julie Lambotte, Executive Director FACC-Atlanta & Office Manager, French Tech Atlanta, City Manager Brian Johnson

Photos by Jason Getz– Instagram @jasongetz11

A bold initiative involving the French government and its newly unveiled technology consortium, the city of Peachtree Corners and its Curiosity Lab has been launched.

About 100 officials and community members were on hand for a recent ribbon-cutting celebrating the French-American Chamber of Commerce’s move from former offices in the Atlanta French Consulate to the Peachtree Corners lab, where it’s expected to play a key role in helping French technology firms relocate and expand here.

As La French Tech Atlanta President Sebastian Lafon put it, the move will “enable French startups to collaborate with many innovators and prove out their technology in a unique and live environment with real city-owned connected infrastructure that can’t be replicated in a laboratory.”

La French Tech Atlanta is an alliance of start-ups, investors, executives and community builders which is expected to work with the city in helping French firms develop technology in the Lab’s innovative testing environment as they seek to grow their North American footprints. The Atlanta outpost of the consortium was awarded accreditation by the French government in April.

September 9, 2021 – Peachtree Corners, Ga: The French-American Chamber of Commerce moves to Curiosity Lab Thursday, September 9, 2021, in Peachtree Corners, Ga.. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Member of an exclusive club

City Manager Brian Johnson, who attended the ceremony, said the Corners joins a rather exclusive club, as French officials chose only a half-dozen spots in the U.S. for the venture. Other La French Tech programs have landed in such places as Austin, Texas and North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Speaking on the “Primetime Lunchtime” Podcast, Johnson said, “It was a competitive process, and we threw our hat in the ring.” He added that officials not only leveraged the technology testing environment of the Curiosity Lab, but also pitched metro Atlanta and Georgia’s advantages as well, including state economic development incentives and the availability of such institutions as Georgia Tech as a resource.

Mayor Mike Mason, who was also on hand, said the initiative will be a signature resource for French firms looking to launch products in the U.S. with its laser focus on smart city technology, intelligent mobility and self-directed vehicles. That seems a hand-in-glove fit with the Curiosity Lab, which encourages companies of all sizes to test and deploy technology using such amenities as a three-mile autonomous vehicle test track.

Mason said a related hallmark of the lab is its ability to create partnerships with private firms and other entities, with more than a dozen current research projects underway there.

“Curiosity Lab has been influential in convincing several large companies to locate here. The old axiom of economic development is that activity creates more activity. This is a real plum for us.”

French business opportunities

Although no French tech firms have made commitments to work with the associated partners yet, French-American Chamber Atlanta Executive Director Julie Lambotte feels that day is coming.

“We are in discussion with a few companies, but there’s nothing definitive yet,” she said, adding that agriculture tech companies and various technology service providers are on the ‘possibles’ list.

The start-ups they’re looking to incubate at the lab complex will join an already respectable list of French firms doing business in the Peach State, Lambotte said. Some 254 firms from the European nation have already set up shop in Georgia, 135 of them in Metro Atlanta, she said. Lambotte noted that those firms are responsible for more than 18,000 jobs.

She indicated that building awareness of Atlanta and its suite of economic offerings among her countrymen has been challenging. “You probably noticed that when you talk to a French person, it’s not the first destination you have in mind when you talk about moving to the U.S. What we are trying to do with the chamber and La French Tech is to put Atlanta on the map,” Lambotte said.

And it’s not just the French who are sniffing around. Mason said that officials from other consulates such as Belgium and Canada attended the ribbon-cutting and officials from Germany and India want to tour the place.

Johnson said “portals” like these create possibilities that wouldn’t have existed otherwise and that the river can run both ways, with American companies establishing partnerships with French firms or perhaps opening facilities in that country.

“The sky is the limit right now,” Johnson said.

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