Category: News

Masters, Soul and Head of U.S. Cyber-Security

By Geoff Smith

When we think of Augusta, GA, I know the first thing that comes to mind: the home of James Brown, Godfather of Soul. Right?

I guess there is that golf tournament that I got away with spending an entire day on the couch watching a couple weeks ago – the Masters. But there is another thing in August I’m becoming focused on that most of you have not heard of: Augusta is the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Cyber Command. For the Army, this is ground zero for all cyber-attacks made against, and by, the United States.

The headquarters was built in 2016 and was followed up by a $60 million-campus that is the state’s “centerpiece for cyber security research and development,” according to an article in the AJC. The campus, known as The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, will help train the workforce for the Army’s headquarters, and will also incubate startups in the same field.

I am fortunate enough to sit in on the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Coalition. We study workforce trends in the technology and healthcare industries in North Fulton, and then work with our universities and schools to make sure they are aware of the demands from our local businesses. The idea is to produce students who have the skills that the companies in our area require. There are several very smart CTO’s that have been involved on our committee and I’ve learned a lot. One of the things I learned is that the tech guys in the security divisions are typically the smartest of the bunch. Most tech guys only have to learn the kind of coding that their company considers standard. But those in the security side of things have to know every kind of coding, because hackers use whatever coding the criminal is an expert in.

In March we hosted a Cyber Technology Summit where our guest speaker was Ronald W. Pontius, Deputy to the Commanding General of U.S. Army Cyber Command. He said that his office fights off ‘hundreds of millions’ of cyber-attacks every month. He happened to be speaking the same day that the City of Atlanta announced an attack that ultimately shut the city down for 6 days. (We have a knack at the chamber for having guests at just the right time. We had the state transportation director speak the morning of Snowmageddon in 2014).

Pontius said that cyber-attacks are a bigger threat to our national security than terrorism.

Knowing all of that, it’s really pretty great for our state to have both that headquarters and that college campus in Augusta. It will bring some of the best talent in technology to Georgia.

When I was growing up, life was pretty simple. We didn’t like Russia and they didn’t like us. And everyone else kind of watched us maneuver each other and it all seemed pretty visible. Today there is so incredibly much information out there that it is hard keep up with what’s true, and to understand who our enemies actually are. Whereas most of the jockeying for power back then seemed to be done out in the open, today we are fighting three million little battles a day behind closed doors on computers. All while I’m Googling the stats of Georgia’s intra-squad spring day football game.

It’s a fast-paced and unknown world we are in. But give credit to our officials running this state. Georgia has once again positioned itself at the epicenter of one of the most critical industries on the planet.

Mortgage Rates Take One on the Chin

Mortgage rates shot up to 4-year highs this week before catching a little bit of a break yesterday. News that the 10-Year Treasury yield hit 3% rattled markets who were mostly expecting it to do so.

Mortgage interest rates are tied in part to the 10-Year Treasury, some say because that’s the average time a homeowner stays in a house before selling it. When bonds are bought in low volume, the laws of supply and demand say that their price will drop, which they have. Since they are originally bought at a fixed price with a fixed rate of return, when their prices drop in the aftermarket, the yield rises.

The stock market immediately tanked when the yield hit 3%. This was kind of strange because most experts expected the yield to do that and stocks are typically bought and sold on speculation. But it seems this was likely driven by automated trading where investors programmed computers to make specific trades once the yield hit 3%.

Usually the mortgage interest rate moves down when the stock market goes down and visa-versa. This was unique in that regard.

Hitting the 3% mark was a big deal because it’s a sign investors are comfortable enough with the economy to look away from the safety of bonds.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.64%.

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Residents Report More Than 80% Satisfaction with Fulton Services

A recent survey found more than 80% of residents polled were pleased with the customer service provided by County agencies. The polling was conducted with the assistance of Kennesaw State University’s A.L. Burruss Institute of Public Service & Research.

From February 19, 2018 through March 17, 2018, more than 700 residents completed the survey that covered a multitude of Fulton County services. Here are some of the results:

  • 85.7% indicated they were satisfied with the services that Fulton County is currently providing.
  • More than 50% indicated they trust Fulton County government.
  • Nearly half (47%) rated opportunities in Fulton County as “good” or “very good”.
  • 82.8% indicated they felt safe in their community.
  • More than two-thirds of residents were satisfied with the variety and availability of cultural and recreational opportunities.
  • Residents also cited areas in which they hoped for improved service from Fulton County. Many of those suggestions are already in the midst of implementation, including proactive steps the County has taken as part of its digital transformation to improve its website and online services.

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Transit Takes Giant Step in ATL

By Geoff Smith

After returning from cities like Chicago and New York City, people always ask, “Why can’t we build a rail system like they have up there?”

The answer is simple: It’s insanely expensive.

Depending on who you talk to, expanding MARTA’s rail line costs somewhere between $150 million and $350 million a mile. And that’s not easy for MARTA to raise considering the only funding it gets, other than through ridership fees, is mostly from sales taxes in Fulton, Dekalb and Henry Counties. To make any real progress toward expansion, the agency either needs to expand its presence to more metro counties, or start receiving more capital subsidies from the state. This session under the Gold Dome, it got both.

State Senator Brandon Beach has been working doggedly for years to try to bring together all counties in the metro area in the name of mass transit. He once made a video showing how it took him almost a full day to travel from Cobb, through Fulton and Dekalb, to Gwinnett County using all the various transit options. His hard work paid off with the passage of a bill in the House and Senate that will bring together 13 metro counties and the various transit systems under one umbrella to be branded as “the ATL.” The bill would put all county leaders at the same table and give them the option to bring to a vote an increase in sales tax to fund transit expansion. This is a huge infusion of potential capital fundraising going from three counties to 13 – two of which are Cobb and Gwinnett, although it is unclear to some of the commitment of Cobb.

The re-branding would start to take hold in 2023, which is when you would start to see the name change from MARTA to ATL, and the creation of a new logo. But for now, it allows our planning agencies to start thinking bigger in their planning of where to expand.

It appears that the expansion of any heavy rail line further north up GA400 is however off the table. Fulton County helped facilitate a study that culminated in all the North Fulton mayors coming to the table to weigh options for future expansion of public transit. Many thought expansion of the rail line to Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell was likely. But according to an article by Patrick Fox at the Herald, Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said there was only unanimous consent to go with a proposal that would add bus rapid transit service along GA400 and Holcomb Bridge Road, and arterial rapid transit along Old Milton Parkway, Medlock Bridge Road and Roswell Road.

Those civic leaders inside the perimeter seem to be more receptive to rail expansion. Especially since rail stations have become desired locations for corporate headquarters. Just recently State Farm and Mercedes-Benz settled on sites for new regional headquarters largely because of their close proximity to a MARTA station. Other large development projects have begun next to and around other stations throughout the city.

In addition to Beach’s bill in the Senate, Governor Nathan Deal allocated more than $100 million in his budget this year to go toward transit expansion. It may not equate to a mile’s worth of heavy rail expansion, but it is a good sign that the state is more focused on improving the metro area’s traffic problem.

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2018 Legislation Recap

The 2018 Session of the Georgia General Assembly is history, with session officially ending after midnight on March 29. All legislation that successfully passed in 2018 now goes to the Governor for review and potential approval or veto. While any passed bills left untouched by the Governor automatically become law, the 40 day deadline for the Governor’s action is May 8. Unless otherwise specified, all approved legislation becomes Georgia law on July 1, 2018.

This weekly Capitol Overview Update is to inform you on legislative issues that may effect your North Fulton business or quality of life. Your comments and questions are welcome.

For more information regarding the North Fulton Chamber’s legislative efforts, contact Liz Hausmann, Vice President of Government Affairs, at 678-397-0572 or lhausmann@gnfcc.com

The mission of the North Fulton Chamber is to be the catalyst for economic development, business growth, and quality of life in North Fulton.

PASSED

  • Regional Transit Authority providing the dramatic expansion of mass transit in metro Atlanta to include the 13 metro counties.
  • A ban on talking on your phone while driving unless you use a hands-free device.
  • Reducing Georgia’s 6 percent income tax rate.
  • Sales tax collection on online retail sales.
  • Constitutional Amendment to establish a business court with statewide jurisdiction.
  • Rural internet expansion by setting up a structure for future government funding.
  • Tax exemptions for certain computer equipment sold or leased for use in high-technology data centers.
  • Fully funding the state’s portion of K-12 public education formula.
  • Increased funding for charter schools.
  • Increase in the tax credit scholarships for private schools.
  • Expansion of eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship.
  • Created a career pathway for high school students to earn industry certification and credentials.
  • Created a pilot program introducing agricultural education in elementary schools throughout the state.
  • Created a study committee to evaluate the school year calendar for Georgia public schools.
  • Medical marijuana for patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Allow local governments to effectively ban fireworks except on holidays.
  • Permit domestic violence victims to break their leases without penalty.
  • Funding to protect green space in Georgia.
  • Georgia Lottery winners to remain anonymous.
  • Making it free for Georgians to freeze their credit reports.
  • A ban on computer snooping without permission.
  • Adoption reform.
  • Sunday alcohol sales in restaurants beginning at 11 a.m. on Sundays instead of 12:30 p.m. by local referendum.
  • Created a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Operations and Authority Creation Study Committee.
  • Floating homestead exemption for Fulton cities and school systems.

DID NOT PASS

  • Creation of the Georgia Freight Railroad program to streamline state investment.
  • Replacing Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a paper-based system.
  • Limiting early voting on Sundays and requiring uniform 7:00 pm poll closing time throughout Georgia
  • Requirements for prosecutors and police to determine whether defendants are in the country illegally.
  • Extending the time allowed for adult survivors of child sex abuse file lawsuits against predators.
  • Keeping guns from Georgians with mental illnesses.
  • Allowing religious adoption agencies to turn away gay couples.
  • Regulation of daily fantasy sports.
  • Higher pensions for state legislators.

Transit

HB 930 sponsored by Representative Kevin Tanner (Dawsonville) and Senator Brandon Beach (Alpharetta), creates the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority (the ATL). The ATL is a new structure for coordinated and integrated transit planning for the 13-County Metro Atlanta region, and the bill passed both chambers after conference committee agreement shortly before midnight on Sine Die. The bill establishes the governance and accountability of the ATL, as well as outlining new and enhanced transit funding; including through optional local taxes (TSPLOST) which counties may apply to raise transit funds. The FY 2019 Budget includes $100M for bond funding for Transit.

HB 930 is a new regional governance and funding structure for transit in Metro Atlanta. Metro Atlanta is defined as the 13-County region currently under GRTA’s jurisdiction, namely: Cobb, Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale Counties. The bill intends to improve the coordination, integration and efficiency of transit in the region to promote a seamless and high-quality transit system for Metro Atlanta.

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Transit

Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce
Bills to create a Regional Transit Authority in Metro Atlanta have now both passed overwhelmingly out of their respective Chambers and were in transportation committee this week in the other Chamber for consideration.The expectation in committee is that both would substitute the other bill’s language for the original house or senate version, and then head to a conference committee for agreement. Both Bills are now in Rules Committee and are expected to be on each respective chamber floor for a vote this week, and head to conference committee for potential agreement.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Brandon Beach (R-21) proposed SB 386.

Major Provisions:

  • Creates the Atlanta-Region Transit Link (ATL) Commission. The purpose of this Commission would be to coordinate the funding and construction of transit facilities in the 13 county metro-Atlanta area.
  • Creates an optional T-SPLOST that counties which are apart of the system may adopt through a referendum. The money would be used to fund public transit expansion within the local jurisdiction. The jurisdictions are encouraged to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with MARTA for their transportation services.
  • Authorizes the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority to oversee the creation of the ATL board to develop, manage, and execute regional transit strategies throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area. The ATL Commission will consist of the Georgia Commissioner of Transportation, Mayor of Atlanta, Chief Executive Officer of MARTA, and County Commission Chairmen from each member-county.
  • The House Transportation Committee passed Senate Bill 386, but stripped it of all language from the Senate Bill and substituted all of the language for House Bill 930.

Rep. Kevin Tanner, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, introduced HB 930 as a result of the work of the House Regional Transit Funding and Governance Commission. The bill was amended to remove the special tax district for Cobb County and allow the entire county to have the option to join the new Regional Transit Authority if created.

Major Provisions:

  • Restructures GRTA into the Atlanta-Region Transit Link (ATL) Commission incorporating the 13 counties in the ARC region in the new authority governed by newly created districts.
  • Identifies two new funding revenues to support transit: (1.) Adds a 50-cent charge per trip on rideshare, taxi and limo providers (2.) Creates a 1% airport tax on concessions at the Atlanta airport.
  • Allows new counties to call for a referendum to levy a 1% transit SPLOST.
  • The Senate Transportation Committee passed HB 930 by substitute with language from SB 386 and is now in Senate Rules Committee.

Leadership in both Chambers agree that metro Atlanta needs well-networked, efficient transit and both are committed to passing framework legislation. What that final piece of legislation will look like remains to be seen. Rep. Tanner and Sen. Beach have both indicated that House and Senate are working together but differences remain. This is likely to not be decided until the last day of the session, Sine Die on March 29.

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