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Column: GeorgiaForward forum back ‘to talk about the future’

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Sept. 15, 2017

After a four-year absence, the GeorgiaForward statewide forum is back.

Georgia Forward is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization aimed at improving the state by engaging business, political, academic and civic leaders to collaboratively shape a statewide policy agenda.

This year, the theme will be “Defining Georgia’s Prosperity.”

“We will explore how you can grow economic prosperity for all of Georgia, including rural Georgia,” said A.J. Robinson, chair of GeorgiaForward’s board. “We like to talk about the future.”

Georgia Forward Otis White

Otis White of Civic Strategies leads an interactive discussion at the 2012 GeorgiaForward Forum (Special: GeorgiaForward)

The GeorgiaForward Forum will take place at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta on Sept. 28 and 29.

Farmers, tech entrepreneurs, teachers, community leaders, business executives and engaged citizens are invited to bring their ideas and participate in a robust discussion focused on how Georgia can realize its full potential across all corners of the state.

Featured speakers at this year’s Forum include: Wendy Stewart, Bank of America’s Atlanta market president and co-head of the Southeast region; Otis White, president, Civic Strategies; Robinson, who also serves as president of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District; and Dr. R. Kirby Godsey, chancellor of Mercer University.

John Fortier, director of the Democracy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, will kick off the forum with a look at Georgia’s changing demographics.

Civic Strategies’ White will lead an interactive discussion on “What is our common prosperity?”

Although the statewide forum has not taken place in the past several years, GeorgiaForward has not been dormant.

It has been cultivating the next generation of leaders through its Young Gamechangers program, an initiative that is supported by the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Cities Foundation and the Commerce Club Foundation.

The Young Gamechangers leadership action program is made up of young professionals between the ages of 24 and 40 who work on projects in communities across the state to provide big ideas and solutions to the host community’s most persistent challenges.

“We have 200 alumni,” Robinson said of the Young Gamechangers initiative. “We have actually become a leadership development organization. We are cultivating talent.”

A couple of sessions at the forum will focus on the Gamechangers and the next generation of leadership.

Craig Lesser of The Pendleton Group will lead a discussion that will include the mayors of Dublin and Augusta as well as Troup County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews and Douglasville Mayor Pro Tem Larry Yockey.

At a later panel, graduates of the program also will discuss past projects and the future of the program.

Robinson said the timing of the forum is particularly important, given the changing leadership underway throughout the state over the next couple of years. It also helps that Georgia’s economy is doing relatively well.

“We seem to be at an inflexion point with the Atlanta mayor’s race this year and the governor’s race next year,” Robinson said. “When we started the forum, we were in the middle of a recession. While things are better now, there are parts of the state that need help.”

For more information about the GeorgiaForward Forum, go to http://www.georgiaforward.org/the-forum/

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.

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