Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company plans to make metro Atlanta a major hub as it embarks on a significant expansion.
The tech giant is adding two regional data centers and could bring thousands of jobs to 90 acres of land it bought in recent months at a stalled development called Quarry Yards on the city’s Westside.
“You don’t buy 90 acres if you don’t have plans to grow substantially,” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview.
He declined to provide specific details or a timetable for the development, one of the largest undeveloped tracts of green space near the city center, beyond saying it would set aside a quarter of the development for affordable housing before building any offices.
But Smith placed Microsoft’s potential growth here in the context of its two largest locations — metro Seattle, where about 62,000 Microsoft employees are based, and Silicon Valley and San Francisco, which have a combined 7,000 employees.
All of Microsoft’s business divisions will have workers assigned to Atlanta, Smith said. The company’s businesses range from cloud computing to products like Word and Excel.
“It will be one of our important hubs,” he said.
Microsoft declined to say how many workers it currently employs in metro Atlanta, but it’s likely around 1,000.
The company is in the process of hiring and moving 1,500 workers into a new office. The $75 million project, announced last year, is focused on cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Smith said the company will have 2,500 workers in metro Atlanta once that office opens.
Microsoft said it is also adding two data centers in addition to a 250,000 square-foot data center it is building in south Fulton County. While such projects can cost a lot of money and bring many construction jobs, they typically don’t produce a lot of full-time jobs.
Georgia’s emphasis on workforce training helped attract Microsoft, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a Thursday news conference.
“If you build anything, if you don’t have people to work in that facility it doesn’t make sense to do that,” Kemp said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she stressed that Microsoft should recruit from a wide range of the Atlanta community, to “make sure we’re getting people in the line for technical training, providing mentorships to people who may have family members” who have not attended college.
The broader expansion should burnish Atlanta’s reputation as a regional tech hub that provides a diverse workforce. Microsoft will recruit heavily from Georgia Tech and Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College, three historically black colleges and universities. It’s already developed a relationship with the Atlanta University Center colleges, partnering with Morehouse to provide tablets to all new students.
Microsoft will primarily recruit graduates with computer science, software development and data science degrees, Smith said.
The Redmond-based tech company also has partnered with the CDC Foundation to create a pandemic-response center in Atlanta. And it may participate in a proposed health care innovation district. Smith declined to comment on Microsoft’s plans for Atlanta in health care technology.
Quarry Yards is located in a rapidly developing area. Microsoft has been mum until now about its plans for the 90 acres of land it purchased in two tranches since last year.
Smith said the company will not release detailed plans until after it meets with community leaders. The plans could change, depending on community input.
The area was in decline until recent years, and longtime residents are concerned about being pushed out by the rapid development. Atlanta’s city council placed a moratorium on new building permits in the neighborhood last year unless they are for affordable housing.
Michael Ford, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global real estate and security, said the company wants to encourage private developers to add a grocery store, pharmacy and bank branch to the neighborhood, amenities it currently lacks.