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Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker calls Atlanta a ‘vibrant ecosystem’

By Maria Saporta

Newly-installed U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, after visiting with several local executives and entrepreneurs, said Atlanta had a “vibrant ecosystem” with a “great sense of optimism.”

Pritzer was in Atlanta as part of her first 100-day nationwide listening tour to engage with business, academic and thought leaders to hear concerns and ideas on how the public and private sectors can work together to strengthen the economy.

While in Atlanta, Pritzker had dinner Thursday night with Mayor Kasim Reed, when they discussed business opportunities in the city as well as plans to build a new stadium for the Atanta Falcons.

On Friday morning, Pritzker had a roundtable meeting with executives and entrepreneurs at Invest Atlanta, where they discussed businesses from urban agriculture to entrepreneurship.

Mark McJunkin, director of operations of the Global Center for Medical Innovation, shows Penny Pritzker his tools (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Mark McJunkin, director of operations of the Global Center for Medical Innovation, shows Penny Pritzker his tools (Photo by Maria Saporta)

And then Pritzker went to the Global Center for Medical Innovation near the Georgia Tech campus to witness the research, development and business application of about 15 to 20 start-up companies in a venture that has received both state and federal support.

During the tour, she met with a company that is developing new bone-like material that can replace bone grafting for people who have had serious injuries.

Pritzker, whose husband is an ophthalmologist, also saw a new technology being developed by Digital Vision System that would replace the traditional eye exam where a patient looks into a series of lenses to determine what’s best to a digital machine that can do it more easily and more accurately. Clinical trials on that new eye exam technology should begin in the fall.

“We have supported the creation of the facility here — entrepreneurs taking ideas from concept to market,” Pritzker said. “You don’t do that by yourself.”

Later Friday, Pritzker was also going to visit UPS headquarters to meet with another group of executives. And she also was planning to spend time with Commerce Department employees based in Atlanta.

Encouraging new technology and start-up companies is a major economic development goal in Atlanta, and several organizations had applied to the U.S. Department of Commerce to get a regional patent office established in the city.

Tiffany Karp, general manager of the Global Center, answers questions with Penny Pritzker

Tiffany Karp, general manager of the Global Center, answers questions with Penny Pritzker

One of those behind the effort has been Brian McGowan, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta, who used to be with the U.S. Department of Commerce before joining the Reed administration.

When asked about Atlanta’s prospects of getting a patent office, Pritzker said McGowan “had some novel ideas about how we might be able to facilitate something here. I’m looking forward to hearing his ideas.”

Pritzker also talked about her family’s special connection to Atlanta.

“My father, when I was seven years old, moved here for six months to work on the finishing of the Hyatt Regency in 1967,” Pritzker said.

The hotel, which was designed by Atlanta architect John Portman, was so different than any other hotel with its interior atrium, no established hotel brand wanted to be part of it.

But the Pritzkers, who owned some motor motels in the Chicago area, were intrigued. They decided to put the Hyatt name on the hotel, which became an instant phenomenon — and a hotel chain was born.

“I walked into the Hyatt Regency and to see it today, thriving,” Pritzker said. “It’s also exciting to see what’s happening in the entire ecosystem of Atlanta and continuing to see Atlanta grow.”

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. Burroughston Broch August 25, 2013 10:02 am

    A vibrant ecosystem? What does this have to do with commerce and the economy?
    An ecosystem is “the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.”
    Atlanta has had a vibrant ecosystem for millions of years, regardless of the state of commerce and the economy.
    I think she ran short on nice platitudes to mouth.Report

  2. Cityzen August 27, 2013 3:00 pm

    BB, ‘Ecosystem’ is a useful and common term in the context in which Sec Pritzker employed it.  Atlanta does indeed have the ingredients – to try a different metaphor – for growth businesses to be successful, particularly in the tech arena and for corporate HQs.  And we’ve had a lot of recent wins to prove that.  Strong higher ed and a high proportion of college grads, the airport, affordable cost of living, cool place for twenty-something talent to live, presence of many major company HQs … those and other attributes make for a vibrant ecosystem for growth businesses.Report

  3. Burroughston Broch August 27, 2013 8:40 pm

    Cityzen Rubbish.
    I quoted the accepted definition of ecosystem, and I challenge you to find a credible source that gives the definition you want.
    ‘Tis not the moon if you say it’s so, Petruchio.Report


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