Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a safe, restful, and joyful holiday. Welcome back to what’s sure to be an eventful 2013!

President Peterson speaks at the opening of the Panasonic Automotive Systems office at Tech Square, adjacent to Georgia Tech's campus, on 2 November 2012.

I wanted to tell you a little about one of our newest neighbors in Centergy: Panasonic Automotive Systems (PAS). It’s an interesting story about the power of place; EI2 and Georgia Tech play a critical role.

PAS is the part of Panasonic that builds everything from dashboard infotainment systems to security sensors to batteries and more… basically, anything electronic that goes in a car. (Which, today, is a lot.)

PAS America is headquartered in Peachtree City; they employ 330 people there, and have for years. For most of those years, they assembled and sold systems designed in Osaka. But the Japanese parent company wants to tie their designs closer to the market — both consumer and OEM manufacturers. Which means they needed to recruit designers and development engineers to Peachtree City. Their plan was to localize product planning, strategy, R&D, design engineering, product testing, and validation.

Which was a problem.

Peachtree City is a wonderful suburb, as Chris Downing will be the first to tell you. But it’s optimized for a certain type of resident: married couples, probably with a kid or two, and a desire to have a nice single-family home with a bit of property around it. It’s not the ideal target for 20-somethings who’d rather ride bicycles than golf carts, and who’d rather hit the Earl in East Atlanta than the T.G.I. Friday’s by the mall.

Panasonic found that it was basically impossible to recruit the “creative class” talent they needed to Peachtree City. They realized they were going to have to open a new location. So they launched a nationwide site selection effort. They predicted they’d wind up with their new “innovation center” somewhere like San Francisco or Manhattan, or maybe a college town like Ann Arbor.

They didn’t realize what was happening in Midtown Atlanta.

Thanks to some alert work by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the state Department of Economic Development, our very own Greg King, and many others, the Panasonic executives were shown the activity in Midtown: The high-density live/work/play environment that’s so attractive to the creative class. The commitment to sustainable development, surrounded by the walkable/bikable BeltLine. The buzz of entrepreneurial startups as well as established companies like Turner and Google.

Then there were the young people who are attracted to Atlanta for college. Georgia Tech students are exactly what Panasonic is looking for — smart, hard-working, and willing to get their hands dirty. Whether as interns, or co-ops, or post-degree hires, multinationals like Panasonic have an insatiable demand for talent.

And, much as I bleed white-and-gold, it’s more than just Georgia Tech. How many of you realize that Atlanta is one of the top college towns in the country? We’re either #6 or #7 when ranked by the number of students enrolled, or number of bachelor’s degrees (or higher) awarded per year, or percentage of the population with bachelor’s degrees, or university research expenditures. Dallas would kill to have our universities. Heck, we have almost as many students enrolled as Austin and RTP combined!

(Did you know any of that? We can’t market our way out of a wet paper sack, but that’s a different issue…)

Panasonic’s internal strategy to promote innovation includes six tactics:

  • Locate where innovation is already occurring.
  • Establish an open collaborative workspace.
  • Place people from different roles into close proximity.
  • Place junior and senior people into close proximity.
  • Convene innovation events and discussions.
  • Regularly stir the pot (move people around).

Centergy turns out to be the perfect place to do that. So, earlier this year, Panasonic rebuilt and occupied a suite on the 10th floor. They currently have 40 full-time employees there, plus co-ops and interns. It will grow.

They’re not a tenant of ours (we only manage the first five floors), but they’re good neighbors. There are more companies who’d like to do the same thing. GE Energy is already on the 4th floor, as are our Korean partners. We’ve had requests from brand-name technology companies from four continents plus Silicon Valley. They’re not asking for 4,000 sq. ft. suites… they’re asking for floors. Multiple floors. And Centergy is full!

Clearly, we need another building!

Working on it. (Two different ways. Stay tuned.) But our ten-year-old vision of building a hub of economic activity in Midtown Atlanta has come true with a vengeance, and EI2 is at the middle of it all. Now we need to nurture it and not let it get scattered to the four winds.

This is going to be fun!