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Nike to Open Atlanta ‘Technology Center’ Early Next Year

Weeks after a report revealed internal concern over a troubing tech turnover, Nike unveiled plans Thursday to open a new “technology center” in Atlanta.

The company said it chose the city for “its strong connection to sport” and its “wealth of skilled and diverse tech talent.” Nike also noted the region’s concentration of “great” universities. The nearby Georgia Institute of Technology is ranked fifth in undergraduate computer science programs, according to U.S. News & World Report.

As part of the new office, Nike will launch three “centers of excellence” focused on disciplines it says are particularly strong in the region: logistics and supply chain, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence/machine learning. Until the center opens next year, all employees will work remotely.

Last summer, CBRE ranked Atlanta eighth overall on its 2021 Scoring Tech Talent report. The city had the 11th largest tech talent labor pool nationally with more than 143,000 tech workers, a 15.2 percent increase from 2015.

Mona-Lisa Pinkney, a senior technology leader in corporate information security, will lead the Atlanta Technology Center as senior site leader. Pinkney, a nearly eight-year Nike veteran, co-founded its Black Employees in Technology Network. She also launched the Oregon affiliate of Women in CyberSecurity and serves on the organization’s Conference Program Committee and Racial Equity Committee.

“This next chapter in my career at Nike feels like coming home, by being able to return to the South, and not too far from my home state of North Carolina,” Pinkney said in a statement. “I’m excited to lead the Nike Atlanta Technology Center, where we’ll work on cutting-edge technology and innovation initiatives that move the world forward through sport.”

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Global chief digital information officer Ratnakar Lavu shared information about the upcoming center on LinkedIn Thursday and encouraged users to check out Nike’s careers site. The company currently lists 456 job openings in technology. Fifteen of those positions, including site operations director for the upcoming technology center, are in Atlanta.

“I joined Nike three years ago because of the company’s relentless commitment to redefining the future of sport and consumer experiences,” Lavu wrote. “As I’ve seen firsthand, technology is at the center of our digital transformation and direct-to-consumer strategy. And, we have been growing the Global Technology organization to support our aspirations.”

Lavu announced plans for the Atlanta lab internally in February, Insider reported last month. The executive reportedly also signaled plans for a second new innovation lab, this one in the Bay Area.

The revelations came amid a presentation to Nike’s technology workforce. Insider said it obtained a recording of the meeting and spoke with four company insiders. Lavu reportedly told employees that “one of the things that we need to focus on” at the new labs is 3D design. According to Insider, he said Nike will build an immersive 3D design platform that will be “transformational in the industry.”

The company has submitted multiple patent applications related to virtual footwear and “cryptographic digital assets” in recent years. Last year, it made headlines when it filed a series of trademark applications for virtual footwear and apparel. In December, it bought RTFKT, a virtual fashion firm that has centered its work around NFTs.

As Lavu discussed Nike’s technological ambitions in February, Insider reported, he told employees he was “concerned that attrition is growing.” The statement affirms another report that Insider published in January that suggested Nike, like other big companies, had seen departures grow, “especially in the technology workforce.”

Nike’s return to the office has emerged as one sticking point for these employees. As the Omicron variant began spreading across the country in mid-December, Nike employees reportedly received an email saying the company was sticking to its mandated return-to-office date of Jan. 10. According to reporting at the time, only 54 percent of employees supported the plan. Days later, Nike indefinitely postponed its mandated office return. In late February, Nike announced that it would move to a “3/2 hybrid work” schedule on May 3. A so-called “transition month” was slated to kick off Monday.