Invest Atlanta to hire firms to work on city’s economic development strategy

By Maria Saporta

The City of Atlanta is working on a “21st Century economic development strategy” to set itself apart from other metro areas.

At this Thursday’s board meeting of Invest Atlanta, the economic development arm of the city formerly known as the Atlanta Development Authority, the agency will be hiring consultants to begin working “on a comprehensive development strategy for Atlanta,” according to Brian McGowan, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta.

The economic development team that will be working for Atlanta will be Atlanta-based Garner Economics, founded by Jay Garner; and Deloitte.

Their work will build upon the work that IBM has been doing for the past three weeks to help Atlanta carve an economic development strategy focusing on the creation of jobs and on global competitiveness.

The City of Atlanta won an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant worth about $400,000 to help the city recruit new businesses, create jobs and become more competitive globally. The grant is part of a $50 million investment in technology and services that IBM is giving to a total of 100 cities across the world through 2013.

McGowan said that Atlanta is looking to create a unique economic development strategy and not just adopt a strategy that has been “rehashed” from another city. The IBM grant is helping establish the framework for that strategy by looking at the city’s “weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” McGowan said.

The consultants for Invest Atlanta will then build upon that foundation while trying to answer several questions.

“How do we make sure we are globally competitive?” McGowan said of Atlanta’s quest. “How can we withstand global economic shocks? What’s next for us?”

McGowan said metro Atlanta and Georgia have had numerous exercises and efforts to determine how they can be more globally competitive. It is hard to coordinate those various efforts or get every one to collaborate behind one vision. But McGowan does believe all the various entities can start to “navigate in the same direction.”

Metro Atlanta has numerous assets, such as its universities and the $1.2 billion in research that they conduct each year. “That’s 65 percent of what Boston is spending in research and development,” McGowan said.

It has been almost a year since McGowan moved to Atlanta from Washington, D.C. where he worked in the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Barack Obama. McGowan said he was drawn to Atlanta because of the role it has played in being a visionary city in the South.

“We need to think big again,” McGowan said. “We need to think about what’s next for Atlanta.”

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