ARC looking to tune up economy by tackling problems that cross county, city borders

By Maggie Lee

While metro Atlanta is popular enough that new folks keep wanting to move in, not everything here is perfect. There are people stuck in poverty, there are places where good affordable housing lacks and where people can’t get the job training they need.

That’s what the people working and volunteering with the Atlanta Regional Commission’s “CATLYST” project are going to tackle. Technically, the plan is a regional economic competitiveness strategy that gets updated every five years. What was marked with a launch event last week is the next round of work on plans to grow the region’s economy.

Atlanta Regional Commission Catalyst event

Atlanta Regional Commission Catalyst launch event on agency headquarters in Downtown on Wednesday. Credit: Maggie Lee

While counties and cities do coordinate on the things that obviously cross their borders — like traffic, air and water — the plan zooms in on how to cooperate on some things that can get stuck in silos at county or city lines, like education and housing policy.

Civic leader Ann Cramer was at a kickoff event for the plan last week. She was deeply involved in the last round of strategizing, and explained how it works, and how you get a powerful network effect when people from across 10 counties meet each other. She led the “educated workforce” pillar, one of four areas of study.

“We would bring together community leaders within those four pillars, who then came together on a regular basis to identify what solutions as a community we could do,” Cramer said.

Their meetings came to be as large as 150 or 200 people — with a longer email list. People involved in it would come to know and trust each other, would learn who’s trying what in their communities, who’s got different skills, from programming to marketing. And what might be best ideas to port across borders.

One thing that came out of her pillar was Learn4Life, an organization which works with school districts in the region to discover which programs have had the greatest success, with the hope of sharing what works.

So now Keith Parker is at the same point in the process where Cramer years ago: near the beginning. Parker, the immediate past boss of MARTA, now leads Goodwill of North Georgia. As a “call-to-action leader” of the “employed and engaged” pillar, he’s looking to get folks from workforce development, affordability, education and more talking to each other.

Or as he put it, “getting those brains and ideas together.”

How they’ll get started sounds like what Cramer described: talking to each other, meetings, speakers, networking, trading best practices.

10-county Atlanta region

A map of the 10-county Atlanta region (Source: Atlanta Regional Commission)

For example, Parker said, “We’ll go out and seek companies, ask companies, what are the skillsets that you need that you are currently missing? And then we’re going to look at the workforce who are looking for better opportunities than what we have now, and see how do we bridge that gap?”

It’s too early to say what the outcome will be, might it be an organization or a policy idea or something else.

But it’s not meant to take forever.

“Our goal is not some 5, ten-year off dream, we want to start making some impact very, very quickly,” he said.

Correction: This story previous misspelled the name of the plan. It is “CATLYST.”

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