By Maria Saporta
Published in the ABC on Friday, June 29, 2012
Metro Atlanta can thank the multiple Forward Atlanta campaigns for helping turn a small Southern town into one of the nation’s top cities.
Forward Atlanta campaigns can be traced back to 1925, when the business community began raising money to promote Atlanta as an emerging city.
The first chairman of the first Forward Atlanta campaign was Ivan Allen Sr., who sold office supplies to Atlanta’s growing business sector.
He also was the father of Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., who helped lead the Forward Atlanta campaigns during the 1960s and was a pivotal leader who helped guide Atlanta through the tense days of integration.
Over the years, the Forward Atlanta campaign has been invested in a wide range of initiatives — an effort to save Grady Hospital, raising support for addressing the city’s $3 billion sewer crisis, promoting Atlanta to international markets in Europe, China, India and Latin America, helping Atlanta become the U.S. city to bid for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, winning NCAA Final Four basketball tournaments and Super Bowls.
“Forward Atlanta has very deep roots in this community,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. During the days of Mayor Allen, Forward Atlanta funds helped attract the Atlanta Braves to town as well as establish a public transit plan that led to MARTA passing in 1971 in the two core counties of Fulton and DeKalb.
The last five-year Forward Atlanta campaign (2007 to 2012) raised $27 million from the business community. The previous five-year campaign raised $20 million. The intent always has been to help the Chamber address issues that are above and beyond the organization’s annual operating expenses.
Chamber leaders said they plan to set a campaign goal for the Forward Atlanta campaign of 2013 through 2017 in the fall, but they said it will be more than what was raised last time. Estimates are that the goal will be at least $30 million.
This year, the business community also has been busy raising$8 million to help pass the regional transportation sales tax on July 31. That’s over and above the money raised for Forward Atlanta.
“It’s going to pass,” said John Brock, the 2011 chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. “It is absolutely essential to the future of Atlanta. The business community is very aggressively behind it. It’s the key to the future of Atlanta.”
Asked what would happen to the Forward Atlanta campaign if the tax lost, Brock said: “We are going to do the Forward Atlanta campaign no matter what happens.”
Bill Linginfelter, a past chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber who is Regions Bank’s area president for Georgia and South Carolina, said the business community needs to adapt to an economy that “has radically changed the view of economic development.” And Forward Atlanta is a way to help.
“We will happily re-up and be part of the next campaign,” Linginfelter said.
For Carol Tomé, who is the 2012 chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and chief financial officer for The Home Depot Inc., the Forward Atlanta campaign is all about “repositioning Atlanta to become a top-tier global city.”
Interestingly enough, Home Depot did not participate at all in the last Forward Atlanta campaign when the company was under different management.
Now Tomé is one of the top leaders behind the campaign, a fact that has not been lost on the community.
“That has been pointed out to me several times,” Tomé said.
The Forward Atlanta team also includes Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power Co., who is the chair-elect of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.