Power Players: Growing Georgia's Technology

Tino Mantella’s career has taken him from parks and “rec” to high tech. The Cortland, N.Y., native thought he’d coach or work in athletics when he graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia with a degree in Urban Recreation.

Instead, Mantella is president of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to promote growth of technology industries in the state. TAG combines networking and advocacy to achieve one desired outcome – growing Georgia’s technology industry.

“We’re evolving,” says Mantella. “If you asked people five years ago what TAG did, they would have said, ‘networking.’ But that’s not enough now. We want our measure five years from now to be the growth of the technology community. Have we grown more companies? Have we created more jobs, more opportunities for people? Have we promoted Georgia across the nation and around the world as a leading state for technology?

“Networking is more a connection goal. The other, promoting the growth of Georgia’s technology industry, is more an economic development goal. We believe that technology is the key industry for leading us out of the recession.”

Mantella’s current soapbox is changing Georgia’s business narrative. He makes the point that for decades, people thought peanuts, pecans, peaches and pines when they thought of business in Georgia. “And that’s great,” he says, “We know those industries, agriculture, are valuable. We’re No. 1 in all of them. But if you’re looking at the future and what’s happening with technology, we have an opportunity to be one of the leading states in that field. Most people don’t know that Georgia led the nation in business startups in 2010.”

He points to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Interna-tional Airport, the port of Savannah, state universities and colleges filled with strong technology programs, a relatively low cost of living and a generally business-friendly legislature as just a few elements positioning Georgia to handle tech industry growth.

“Another thing about Georgia is that we have a nice, balanced [technology] offering,” he adds. “It’s not just one type of technology like biotech.”

Talking technology growth is a far cry from Mantella’s first job out of college, as parks and recreation manager for the city of Harrisburg, Pa. After a couple years, Mantella returned to the Philadelphia area, managing a recreation department for a municipality outside the city. He says he’s never seen the TV show Parks and Recreation but has some stories he could tell.

He made the shift to nonprofit work when he began a 20-year stint with the YMCA, finally taking the director’s job at the YMCA of Chicago, “the largest Y in the world,” he says.

“We had 35 branches, 100,000 participants, 4,500 employees; I loved it.” From there he moved south to become CEO of the Arth-ritis Foundation, at the national headquarters in Atlanta. In 2004, TAG came calling and Mantella made another nonprofit shift.

“It was an interesting career trajectory,” he says. “I experienced lots of different things, but the skill set of being a nonprofit leader transfers to other industries. The basic tenets are the same: understanding strategy, surrounding yourself with people who know the market and knowing how to work with people.”

Mantella has high hopes for the technology industry in Georgia. “It’s good to have an effort to recruit companies into the state,” he says. “But we’re just as bullish on having the state and public/private organizations focus on companies here.

“We promoted programs like the 2010 Angel Investor Tax Credit Bill, providing a deferred tax credit for private investors of high-tech startups, and an economic gardening program in Savannah designed to assist companies with 10 employees or fewer, as practical boosts to burgeoning tech businesses.

“How do you help those companies that want to grow?” asks Mantella. “We help them with market intelligence, staffing assessment and strategic planning. The more we can do to keep our companies here and have opportunities – whether it’s for training, benefits or growth – that’s what we’re looking to provide”

Categories: Power Players