By Saba Long
There is a political and economic revolution taking place as cities and metropolitan regions are being recognized as the political and economic fixers of states across the country. The nation’s top 100 metro areas yield 75 percent of the national gross domestic product (GDP), exceeding that of Western European cities.
The metrics are similar when comparing the contribution of Georgia’s cities to the overall state economic output.
Atlanta and the region is key center for Fortune 500 headquarters and entrepreneurial activity. It has the nation’s most diverse clean tech and is the 13th-largest metro exporter in the country.
The city’s economic development arm is working closely with the Governor’s office to support and expand Atlanta’s robust corporate environment. The region’s commercial improvement districts are doing the same; and it’s paying off. Although we lost more jobs during the Great Recession, we tie Savannah for the state’s highest post-recession employment gains by metro area.
Even as we celebrate these victories, metro Atlanta is grappling with a number of issues that continue to stifle our potential. Among these are government distrust, equity of opportunity and establishing a sense of place and community that respects our history while embracing our future. This latter notion is perhaps an area where the rest of Georgia holds an upper hand.
Partisan politics has been isolated while local and state leaders across Georgia are working together on creating economic development opportunities such as increasing exports, revitalizing downtowns and tackling transportation infrastructure. The three regions to pass the July 2012 transportation referendum were compromised of much smaller economic nodes such as Augusta, Vidalia and Columbus.
Guided by GeorgiaForward’s Young Gamechangers program, the city of Americus and Sumter County is implementing a small business incubator to attract businesses and non-profits in an effort to retain young professionals and grow a tax base. Macon and Bibb County is in the process of completing a government consolidation that will likely streamline government services. Meanwhile, the balkanization of metro Atlanta continues, particularly with cityhood initiatives in DeKalb County. It is fair to speculate, the coming General Assembly session will deal with structural government modifications specific to the Atlanta region.
Even as we tout the public-private accomplishments of Georgia’s cities, it is futile to ignore rural Georgia in the collective effort to make Georgia competitive. Yes, there will always be winners and losers. It is the nature of capitalism. We must acknowledge and support our strengths including a sustainable agriculture industry, a moderate climate, a large immigrant population and a robust network of university and technical institutes.
Georgia and Atlanta are big fish in a small Southern pond. Yes, the metrics show we are excelling but there need be perspective in celebrating our successes. While the boxing cards show we are winning round after round, our competition isn’t Alabama and South Carolina. The real measure is how we compare to true international cities such as New York, London and Tokyo. Yes, we are going pound for pound in the Southeast but how are we improving our country’s economic standing. In this new age of governing, all politics is local and global.
For Georgia, comprehensive success will only be reached through trust, collaboration and leadership. There must be many more long days and nights of working on the fundamentals before we reach the next level of greatness.