Continent 8 data center

Michael Tobin, left, CEO and co-founder of Continent 8, and Marshall Spevak, deputy executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, talk at the Atlantic City Convention Center, which will soon house a data center that could be a catalyst for untapped economic development in South Jersey.

ATLANTIC CITY — With a focus on diversifying the regional economy to include sectors outside casino gaming and tourism, the greater Atlantic City region has begun to further embrace technology as a means for job creation and economic development.

“The economy is going to a technology-based economy, not only here, but across the entire country,” said Lauren Moore, executive director of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of total employment for computer and mathematical professions (1.9%) in the Atlantic City metropolitan area is less than the national 3%, meaning there is opportunity — and some officials would argue, a need — for growth in tech-centered jobs.

To meet that need, officials say the region needs modern infrastructure, an educated workforce and investment from key stakeholders.

Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy and co-author of the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, said that in order for the city to thrive, “a key component (has) to be diversification of the economy.”

“Regions that thrive are regions that include their core cities in their development, rather than develop as a doughnut around those core cities,” Johnson said. “The question becomes: Are we, as policymakers, going to shape these developments to ensure that the tech center and Atlantic City are developed together?”

Some of the Atlantic City policy decisions and infrastructure are already taking shape.

Continent 8, a U.K.-based network solutions and data center provider, opened a nearly 6,000-square-foot data center in the Atlantic City Convention Center in 2019 after inking a multiyear lease with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Marshall Spevak, deputy director of the authority, said that while esports, online casino gaming and sports betting operations will benefit immediately from the data center, there are opportunities for other industries.

“Those (gaming industries) are obviously huge markets for the data center,” he said. “But, when you move past that, you see an opportunity for other businesses that are not just gaming businesses. Bigger companies that invest in IT infrastructure really need reliable internet, server space and all those type of things to really operate where they want to.”

Moore said the data center has the potential, and the capacity, to attract production, hardware, software and technology companies to the region. The idea, he said, would be for those industries to cluster in the area, creating additional job opportunities for Atlantic City residents and increasing economic output for the region.

“These things take time. Economic development is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Moore said. “We’re looking to create jobs for Atlantic City residents, but the jobs might not necessarily be in Atlantic City.”

Having a workforce capable of filling new technology jobs is also critical, officials said.

One area of focus for the greater Atlantic City region is aviation technology education, Moore said. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, is working with high schools in the county to incorporate aviation technology courses so students are prepared for college or job opportunities upon graduation, he added.

The first course will be taught this fall at Atlantic County Institute of Technology. The Economic Alliance is also working with Embry-Riddle to bring aviation tech courses to community colleges in the area.

“We all know that employers follow the employees,” Moore said.

Johnson said diversifying career skills for the city’s young people was as important for the region’s future as introducing new industries to bolster the local economy.

“We need to move into areas of business that are going to be areas of growth,” Johnson said. “We know that’s going to take more participation in the digital economy. And one of the things that we’re trying to do is prepare young people to participate in the digital economy.”

If Atlantic City plays its cards right, the seaside resort has the potential to be a regional technology hub, which could solidify its economic prospects for years to come.

“It’s important that all that collectively, not just in this area, but really around the whole state and the region, that we’re training people, and that we’re educating people to work in 21st century jobs, which are a lot of them IT infrastructure and technical expertise,” Spevak said. “And I think that’s just holistically important.”

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Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.