If it’s 2010, it must be Phoenix.
About 110 leaders from throughout the Atlanta region will leave Wednesday morning to spend three days in Phoenix as part of the annual LINK trip.
This is the 14th annual LINK (Leadership, Involvement, Networking, Knowledge) trip where regional leaders visit a city to learn about how that metro area is handling its challenges.
In Phoenix, the major topics the group will explore will be water, higher education, immigration and transportation.
LINK is organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission, and the decision to go to Phoenix was made shortly after U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled last July that the Atlanta region has no legal right to rely on Lake Lanier for most of its water supply.
The judge gave the Atlanta region three years to come up with a way to resolve the issue, possibly by reaching an agreement with Alabama and Florida on the distribution of water from Lake Lanier.
Arizona, which is in a much drier section of the country, has had to live with a limited water supply for decades. The Phoenix region has experienced significant growth, with its population increasing by 45.3 percent from 1990 to 2000 and 31.7 percent from 2000 to 2008, making it the 12th largest metro area in the country.
In 1980, Arizona passed the Groundwater Management Act that requires developers to very that they have secured physical legal and continuous access to a 100-year supply of water.
Higher education also is a centerpiece for the development of Phoenix. Arizona State University is expected to grow from 50,000 undergraduate students today to as many as 90,000 in 15 years.
The university also is building its profile as a research institution and working to become a leader in biotechnology. The ASU’s Biodesign Institute recently was named as the finest new laboratory in the United States by R&D magazine.
In the past week, Arizona has been in the new for passing some of the toughest new immigration legislation in the nation. Although Georgia’s immigration issues are far less pronounced than those in Arizona, the LINK delegation will explore the disparate and controversial views that exist in Phoenix.
Lastly, the Phoenix region has been investing in transportation. In 2004, voters in Maricopa County passed Proposition 400, which authorized the continuation of a county-wide, half-cent sales tax for regional transportation improvements. As a result of that tax, Phoenix now has a new light rail system with 28 stations and an initial 20-mile segment.
The Georgia legislature, after years of stalemate and deadlock, just passed legislation that would permit different regions in the state to vote for a one-cent transportation sales tax.
Another area that is relevant to Atlanta is that the Phoenix metro area has nearly a dozen transportation agencies with their individual operating boards, but they have a common marketing platform. The governance of metro Atlanta’s transit agencies currently is under review.
Although the main purpose of the LINK trips is to learn about how other regions address their problems, the three days also gives participants an opportunity to get to know each other and share ideas.
In some cases, people on the LINK trips will hold side meetings to try to find solutions or reach agreements on some of metro Atlanta’s thorniest and most pressing issues.
The delegation includes almost all of the chairs of metro counties as well as other elected and government leaders, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.
Because the state legislature decided to extend the session through April 29, all the representatives and senators that had planned to go on the trip had to cancel.
The LINK group also includes key business leaders, developers, architects, engineers planners, consultants, bankers as well as representatives from utility companies and various chambers of commerce.
And the civic, non-profit sector and the philanthropic sector also is well represented, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Livable Communities Coalition, the Community Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Woodruff Arts Center among others.
The first LINK trip was to Denver in 1997, followed by Seattle: 1998; Dallas: 1999; Cleveland: 2000; San Diego: 2001; Chicago: 2002; San Francisco: 2003; Boston: 2004; Portland: 2005; Miami: 2006; Vancouver: 2007; Denver: 2008; and Minneapolis-St. Paul in 2009.
During the trip to Phoenix, I will be providing regular updates of the different sessions on SaportaReport as well as the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Upon my return, I will write a comprehensive piece that will run in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.