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Four Atlanta metro groups helping bridge our regional divide

ARC state of the region Cherokee County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens confers with ARC's Doug Hooker at the "State of the Region" breakfast on Oct. 30 (Photo: Atlanta Regional Commission)

By Maria Saporta

Over the past decade, the Atlanta region has become more fragmented as new cities have emerged on the scene – adding to the proliferation of local governments.

But now we have a counterbalance. Four regional organizations are working closer than ever to collaborate on the major issues facing metro Atlanta.

The Atlanta Regional Commission; the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

They all have a common denominator. Their organizations all have a regional mission.

ARC state of the region

Cherokee County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens confers with ARC’s Doug Hooker at the “State of the Region” breakfast on Oct. 30 (Special: Atlanta Regional Commission)

The coalition of regional organizations has evolved because of their four executives: ARC’s Doug Hooker; United Way’s Milton Little; the Community Foundation’s Alicia Philipp and the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Hala Moddelmog.

“We realize it is a unique opening,” Hooker said. “We realize we have to take advantage of this opening to move the needle forward. We also like each other.”

Alicia Philipp said that 25 years ago, the leaders of the four organizations would meet with a human resources focus. But the effort fizzled when one of the leaders decided to abandon the effort during his rotation as chair.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Philipp said. “But it was never the right people at the right time. Then the moment came when we had three (leaders at the table), and now we have four.”

The informal coalition of the four executives came together shortly after Moddelmog became CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

MAS priority survey

Metro Atlanta Speaks about the biggest problem facing the Atlanta region. Click to enlarge. (Special: ARC)

Philipp remembered their first meeting in the Woodruff Room at the Commerce Club. When she looked up at the portrait of the legendary Coca-Cola leader – Robert Woodruff, she began to laugh. What would he think of the four regional leaders – two African-American men and two Caucasian women. Would he ask: Where are the white men?

But the profile of leadership has shifted in Atlanta since the days of Woodruff when a group of a dozen white male executives ran the city.

In many ways, Hooker, Little, Philipp and Moddelmog are symbolic of the region’s growing diversity and of the new power base that exists.

In conversations with the four, all were somewhat reluctant to talk about their partnership because “we are in the very early stages,” Little said.

The group would love to have some “wins” under its belt before it becomes more visible. That said, Little added: “I’m optimistic about the future, because we are all committed.”

When Hooker gave his “State of Region” address at ARC’s annual breakfast on Oct. 30 at the Georgia World Congress Center, he mentioned a couple of areas where the four organizations have been collaborating.

MAS transit

Metro Atlanta Speaks on the importance of transit (Special: ARC)

ARC’s extensive polling of residents throughout the region – Metro Atlanta Speaks – is now an endeavor that includes the four organizations. In fact, United Way has pledged to be a significant funder of the annual survey for the next five years.

(By the way, a key finding this year was that 91 percent of the region’s residents believe transit is important to the future.)

The group also is working together on the Atlanta Region’s Plan. ARC has reached out to 28,000 metro residents to help decide what the region’s priorities should be. The other three regional organizations are participating by sharing their strategic plans – and all will be included in the plan that will seek public comment in December.

But there is general agreement among the four organizations that the areas of focus should be:

  1. A world class infrastructure with a comprehensive transportation network in the region, especially for transit;

2.  A competitive and innovative economy with a focus on public education; and

3.  Ensuring healthy, livable and affordable communities for all where everyone can reach their full potential.

“Working with partners all over the region is critical to our success because we can’t make Atlanta all it can be alone,” Moddelmog wrote in an email, “Through the work on Metro Atlanta Speaks and the Region’s Plan, I have enjoyed getting to know Doug, Alicia and Milton and have a deep appreciation for their role in the community and how we can work together to better identify how our goals can align for a prosperous and thriving community.”

MAS traffic fix

Metro Atlanta Speaks on best way to solve traffic (Special: ARC)

The group also has been working together on another initiative – Learning for Life – where the superintendents of Atlanta, Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Fulton and Clayton have been invited to join in a regional effort to improve public education throughout the five counties and the City of Atlanta.

Philipp said the value of the four groups getting together is multifold.

“Besides collaboration, we also won’t duplicate,” Philipp said that they can decide who will be a leader, follower and cheerleader on various initiatives.

“There’s a collaboration piece and a divide and conquer piece.”

As Hooker sees it, he believes the four leaders and the four organizations “have the power to effect positive change.” in the region.

“As the four of us get more comfortable with each other, we might be the catalyst,” Hooker said. “I hope we can set a precedent for institutional partnerships so that our successors will feel the pressure to continue doing the same thing.”

Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of Civic Action of Toronto, is keynote speaker at ARC's State of the Region breakfast on Oct. 30 (Special: Atlanta Regional Commission)

Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of Civic Action of Toronto, is keynote speaker at ARC’s State of the Region breakfast on Oct. 30 (Special: Atlanta Regional Commission)

Coincidentally, the keynote speaker at this year’s breakfast was Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of Civic Action in Toronto. Her message was totally in sync with what is happening among these more regional groups.

“We are in a stage with a new leadership model,” Palvetzian said. “Collaboration is the new civic currency… You have to change the process to change the outcome. Data is your seat belt. Your collective strength can lead to civic action. I wish you action over apathy every single time.”

So what is next for the four organizations? Their alignment could extend beyond the executives and their staffs by including their various boards to a common table.

“If we work hard to find some synergies, we will be able to do collectively what none of our organizations can do individually,” Little said. “We are all like legs on a chair. All of us are trying to make sure the region is stable. And we are all trying to hold up our end.”

Given that the we now have four leaders anxious to collaborate with each other, Little said: “We have to seize this moment.”

Note to readers: SaportaReport is delighted to have all four of these organizations among our Thought Leadership partners. We embrace having them – plus all of our Thought Leaders – contribute to the virtual town hall that we hope our website provides.

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. terrykearns November 3, 2015 9:55 am

    Who are all y’alls “Thought Leadership partners?”Report

  2. James_Reese_Jr November 3, 2015 10:24 am

    I love idea of collaboration but we’re still in Georgia. A state that doesn’t move without as someone said last week ” being drug” to do something. Hope they get something done – anything for that matter.Report

  3. John R Naugle November 3, 2015 1:02 pm

    Very inspiring development and article! Atlanta: City of Peace (the organization and ideal city-brand option) welcomes the opportunity to establish a collaboration with each of these four fine groups, plus anyone else open & courageous enough to accept the invitation. May the birth-city of Dr. King fulfill its historic possibility and most dynamic destiny by transitioning from the unofficial capital of the South (representing 7 states and 77 million citizens of the USA) to becoming an official global capital of peace (inspiring our 7+ billion global family).

    FACT: “Atlanta: City of Peace” is the best-positioned city on Planet Earth to eventually receive a phenomenal windfall of economic and societal reward WHEN and/or AFTER it begins acknowledging, branding and profiting from / with “Tourism: The World’s Biggest Peace Industry.” Citizens, get your sunglasses out because the future looks VERY BRIGHT for our GREAT city!

    Go ahead Atlanta, you can do this. Define and carpé the Peace Millennium in service to our global family. Long live the elevating words and transformative teachings of Dr. King (especially regarding the topic of how to be GREAT in the best of ways)…

    Dr. King proclaimed:
    “Everyone can be great
    because everyone can serve!”
    (fyi: this can also be his birth-city, right?)Report

  4. terrykearns November 3, 2015 2:55 pm

    Aha, I never look over there. kevinalynch terrykearnsReport

  5. Burroughston Broch November 6, 2015 11:31 pm

    The same groups tooting their horns again, as if we remember nothing. The ARC and Metro Chamber proved their credentials during the TSPLOST debacle, and we all know about the Metro Chamber’s involvement in the APS scandal.
    Leadership indeed.Report


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