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By Charlie Whitfield

Fintech is one of the fastest-growing technology sectors, and Atlanta is emerging as one of its top locales. One recent sign of that emergence is the FinTech Academy, a statewide talent development initiative launched through a collaboration between the University System of Georgia and local fintech companies. The University System, along with private sponsors, plans to invest more than $20 million into the program during the next three years, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Atlanta already has a strong presence in the financial sector. About 70% of the nation’s $4.4 trillion in credit card transactions is processed by companies in Atlanta, according to a report by the American Transaction Processors Coalition. The city is a hub for Fortune 500 companies and startups alike, and there is growing consensus it has all the elements to become a major fintech powerhouse.

The FinTech Academy’s physical presence will be at Georgia State University, already home to one of the nation’s first fintech labs. Students at other universities in Georgia will be able to access the program through distance learning. The new initiative will benefit from Atlanta’s longtime business-friendly climate, as well as a large concentration of universities in the metro area churning out top tech talent.

An ideal business location

Although it’s a couple thousand miles away from Silicon Valley, Atlanta has significant advantages that the Valley lacks. For one thing, Atlanta is far more affordable than other major tech hubs. According to the 2018 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey conducted by The Economist, Atlanta is among the least expensive cities in the United States. The survey compares more than 400 prices across 160 products and services that include food, housing, transport, utility bills, private schools, recreational costs, and more.

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And, unlike Florida or the Northeast, the Atlanta area is unlikely to be affected by destructive storm systems, including hurricanes and blizzards, which can cause serious business disruptions.

Atlanta is also known for its accessibility. The city is home to the world’s busiest airport, and many major U.S. cities are within a two-hour direct flight. In addition, the state announced a plan to invest $100 million to improve regional transportation. Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, called the growing transit system “a major milestone for our region.”

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A growing financial services ecosystem

Atlanta is well known for being business-friendly. The city has long been home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies, among them UPS, SunTrust Bank, Home Depot, and Coca-Cola. Startups have also been burgeoning during the past decade, with many in the fintech space. And there is a growing convergence between the two sectors: Corporations are increasingly recognizing the value of startup-led innovation. Some smaller companies—Kabbage, for instance, which has secured more than $1.6 billion in debt and equity financing—have grown into enterprises in their own right.

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