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Column: Falcons’ Blank kicking off ‘Westside Works’ job training program

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 30, 2014

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is calling it the “dual challenge” — building an “iconic” world-class football/soccer stadium and transforming the adjacent communities.

And Blank is quick to point out that transforming the communities will be tougher to accomplish than building a stadium and it is a multi-decade undertaking.

“It’s not just the game on the field. It’s the game off the field,” Blank said. “It’s the game of life.”

That will directly tie into the well-being of the community and the building of the stadium.

It’s called “Westside Works” — a play on words to promote employment in the westside communities around the stadium — Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill, the Atlanta University Campus and West End — as well as an uplifting message that this part of town is reversing decades of stagnation and decline.

Specifically, Westside Works is a partnership between The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) and Integrity CDC.

The neighborhood program, which will open in June in the former E.R. Carter Elementary School on Joseph Lowery Boulevard, will focus on creating employment opportunities and job training for residents on the Westside.

The initiative is focused on placing at least 100 men and women from the Westside neighborhoods into construction jobs in the next 12 months. Westside Works also will provide a host of additional services to foster employment success, such as job training, skills assessment, adult education programs, interview preparation and job placement.

The goal will be to eventually turn over the initiative to a community-based nonprofit to continue the work.

“One of the things I didn’t want to have happen was to hire a bunch of folks who were disadvantaged from other areas in the city,” Blank said in an interview. “We want to make a difference in these communities. And when I walk the streets there, the biggest need is jobs.”

Blank also said this is just the beginning of how the foundation, his organization and his family will be working on ways to improve the surrounding communities.

“We are enthused about making a huge difference in people’s lives,” Blank said. “We have a lot of work to do in that regard.”

Upon hearing about Blank’s plans for Westside Works, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was delighted.

“Turning an APS school into a community center that’s focused on employment is terrific,” Reed said. “Step by step, we will earn the confidence of the Vine City and English Avenue communities through our deeds rather than our words.”

Home Depot and Bonnie Hill.

At The Home Depot Inc.’s annual meeting May 22, company executives, board members and shareholders said goodbye to its lead director and its longest-serving director — Bonnie Hill.

Hill had served on Home Depot’s board dating back to 1999 when the founders were still running the company — Arthur Blank was CEO and Bernie Marcus was chairman.

Since then, she saw the company undergo two leadership changes — first to Robert Nardelli and then to Frank Blake.

Although it is hard to believe by looking at her, Hill has reached Home Depot’s mandatory retirement age of 72. Blake showed a video of Hill during the annual meeting, showing her working on a Team Build volunteer site for homeless veterans near San Diego.

In the video she disclosed, to the surprise of several people at Home Depot, that she once had been homeless.

“My dad left the day I was born,” she explained after the annual meeting.

Hill went on to have a stellar career.

She served as dean of the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia from 1992 to 1996.

She served as president and CEO of the Times Mirror Foundation, a charitable foundation affiliated with the Tribune Co. from 1997 to 2001; and during most of that time she also served as senior vice president of communications and public affairs for the Los Angeles Times.

She is president of B. Hill Enterprises LLC, a consulting company, a position she’s held since 2001. She also is co-founder of Icon Blue Inc., a brand marketing company.

On the night before the annual meeting, Home Depot CEO Frank Blake holds a dinner for the company’s leadership team and their spouses as well as the board and their spouses.

Each year he invites the three founders — Marcus, Blank and Ken Langone— and this year he invited them especially in honor of Hill.

“We did it at the Georgia Aquarium, which was fantastic,” Blake said. “Every year we ask Bernie, Arthur and Ken. It was very special that all three of them came this year.”

Selig Distinguished Service Award.

The American Jewish Committee annual Selig Distinguished Service Award was presented this year on May 21 to Robert Arogeti, a partner with the Habif Arogeti & Wynne public accounting and wealth management firm.

The award recognizes Atlanta residents for their dedication and service, not only to the Jewish community, but to Atlanta as a whole.

“Robert’s passion and dedication to the Atlanta community is undeniable,” said Richard Kopelman, CEO and managing partner at HA&W. “He thrives on bettering the community in which we live, and this honor could not be awarded to a more deserving person.”

John Rice and Africa.

If anyone questioned how important Atlanta is to John Rice or Africa is to General Electric Co., there was no doubt after the third Annual Global Health Summit — “Health in Africa: the Unfinished Agenda” — held in Atlanta on May 19.

Rice came from his current base in Hong Kong to be a keynote speaker at the summit, which was a great excuse to visit Atlanta. It also was a way to talk about a subject that is critical to GE’s strategic business outlook.

“Ten years ago, we got 70 percent of our revenues inside the United States and 30 percent outside,” said Rice, who is a vice chairman of GE as well as CEO of its Global Growth and Operations. “Today, 60 percent is outside the United States and 40 percent is inside the United States.”

Business also has changed internationally. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, even the 1990s, companies could do a “drop in” business — sell their products and then leave.

“Every one of those countries now expect us to be an investor,” Rice said. “If you don’t do that, you are not going to be part of that global framework.”

Rice also cautioned people attending the summit to not think about Africa as a “homogeneous” place. Not only is each country different, but areas within each country are different. Companies have to take a very local approach.

Rice said that in doing business internationally today, “three words come up in almost every discussion — sustainable, inclusive and growth.”

That includes financial, human capital, electricity, clean water, health care and food.

“If you don’t do those things, all bets are off,” Rice said, adding that it all comes back to education.


Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Kennygar July 7, 2014 1:17 pm

    You guys forgot to mention New Hope Enterprises. We are involved in the project as well and are very much a part of Westside Works.Report

  2. Kennygar July 8, 2014 10:22 pm

    @Kennygar I am really excited about what is going on there and honored that I get to be a part of it. There will be a lot of people touched and helped by organizations involved.Report


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