By Maria Saporta
Imagine it’s 2032. Georgia has become a national model of a prosperous economy where growth is enjoyed in every corner of the state.
In fact, Fortune Magazine is writing a cover story with the headline: “Georgia’s Deep and Wide Economy: How Prosperity Came to Every Part of the State.”
What does Georgia need to do in the next 20 years to make that vision a reality?
That is the question that the 2012 GeorgiaForward forum will seek to answer when it convenes 250 leaders from among the space at the Classic Center in Athens from Sept. 12 to 13.
This will the third annual GeorgiaForward forum, an initiative that seeks to develop a common vision and bonds between the state’s metro and rural areas.
The 2010 conference was held in Macon, and the 2011 conference was held at Callaway Gardens.
The prosperity theme is particularly relevant this year because Georgia continues to lag behind the rest of the nation in rebounding from the economic recession.
Otis White, founder and president of Civic Strategies, will be holding three interactive sessions during the two-day conference to try to get input from all the attendees.
“This would be the beginning of a more robust vision for our state,” said Amir Farokhi, executive director of GeorgiaForward. “Where are going? Attendees will help define that. What does it mean for the state to be successful? If we are going to be a thriving state, how can we work in tandem and not compete against each other?”
Farokhi believes the answer will be in developing collaborative and grassroots relationships. He hopes that GeorgiaForward will become “a safe space to have cross-sector conversations.”
Already, GeorgiaForward has been successful in getting participation from business, government, academic and civic sectors. In addition to its annual forum, it also has several special initiatives underway that occur throughout the year.
“Leaders understand it is a useful tool to have thoughtful and proactive conversations about this state,” Farokhi said. “Our challenge now is to ask people in the room to build consensus around ideas and priorities at these discussions.”
Farokhi added that the recent regional transportation sales tax vote showed that much more work needs to take place to build consensus in the state.
The tax — known to most as T-SPLOST — only passed in three of the state’s 12 planning regions, and the results were particularly disappointing in the Atlanta region, which has gained a national reputation for traffic and congestion.
“One thing that is evident from the T-SPLOST vote is that we remain a divided state,” Farokhi said. “I don’t think there’s a sense we are a united state and that we are moving toward a united vision for our state.”
Not surprisingly, one of the breakout sessions at the GeorgiaForward forum will focus on the T-SPLOST and explore what’s next for transportation in Georgia.
Other breakout sessions include: Ending Childhood Hunger; What’s the Future of Rural Georgia — Beyond Agriculture, Leveraging Rural Georgia’s other Strengths; Thriving Cities — the Local Solution: How Cities and Counties are Getting Things Done; Healthcare as an Economic Engine; Is it Possible to Coordinate Local Comprehensive Plans, Regional Priorities and State Goals?
The forum also will have several national keynote speakers that will challenge attendees.
Roland Stephen, a senior economist with SRI International, has written a book called: “After Manufacturing: Lessons for a New Reality from North Carolina.” He is an expert on regional and national economic growth, and he has helped align higher education institutions around state economic development goals.
Another keynote speaker on Wednesday, Sept. 12 will be Mark Mykleby, a senior fellow of the Smart Strategy Initiative of the New America Foundation. Mykleby most recently has served as a special strategic assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, he co-authored: “A National Strategic Narrative” — a concept and vision for a 21st Century grand strategy for the nation.
The keynote speakers on Thursday, Sept. 13 will include Ted Alden, who is the Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations. Alden also is the director of the Council’s “Renewing America” publication series.
One of the last two keynote speakers will be Jamil Zainaldin, president of the Georgia Humanities Council and a past president of the Washington-based Federation of State Humanities Councils. Zainaldin has been studying moments in Georgia’s history that have helped changed the world. Currently, he is involved in an effort to create a Georgia State History Museum.
Shivani Siroya, CEO and founder of Inventure , will be the last keynote speaker. She founded Inventure in late 2008 hoping to unlock the potential for micro-business and help alleviate poverty in communities in need. Siroya has a deep background in global health, microfinance and investment banking.
After the two days of in-depth discussions and conversation, Farokhi said he hopes people will have a better idea of where to focus their efforts to help Georgia reignite its economic vitality.
“There will always be a need for statewide collaboration — for concrete transformative change,” Farokhi said. “We will always be trying to convene Georgians around a common vision for the state.”