GeorgiaForward can help propel the state into the future

I’m not really sure when North Carolina by-passed Georgia to become the most progressive state in the Southeast.

But thanks to the GeorgiaForward forum in Macon last year, I know how North Carolina passed us by.

It all came down to vision and leadership. Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt (who served during two different eras) saw the merit of bringing together bi-partisan leaders to focus on the most important issues facing the state.

That’s how North Carolina was able to coalesce around a vision to become a center for high technology; around a vision to bring passenger rail and high speed trains; around a vision to have a balanced energy portfolio that included renewable fuels; and the list goes on.

The keynote speaker at the 2010 Georgia Forward forum was Anita Brown-Graham, director of North Carolina State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues — the brainchild of Gov. Hunt and the nexus for the top leaders in the state.

For Georgia, North Carolina can become a model of how it can regain its footing for the future.

Bringing our top leaders together is the goal of the 2011 GeorgiaForward forum that will be held in Callaway Gardens from Aug. 17 to Aug. 18. The theme is “Creating an Innovation Agenda for Georgia.”

Several national leaders will address the gathering: Michele Mariani Vaughn, project manager of Pew Center on the States; Chad Evans, senior vice president of the Council on Competitiveness — who will talk about “the Global Playing Field;” and David Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General who is now CEO of Comeback America Initiative.

During the two days, a host of leaders from around the state — from mayors to business executives to technology leaders — will discuss a host of issues: transportation, education, economic development, water, public health and healthcare, and governance.

The inspiration for GeorgiaForward came from A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, who had become increasingly concerned about the divisions in the state — be it urban, suburban or rural, be it Republican or Democrat, be it the economic inequities that exist in various communities.

CAP has spun out the GeorgiaForward initiative, and it has hired Amir Farokhi as its executive director. No organization or statewide elected official has yet championed the GeorgiaForward initiative, but it has continued to persevere with the hope that it will spark the imagination of leaders who can make a difference.

“We just can’t keep the status quo with almost 11 percent unemployment in metro Atlanta and the state,” Robinson said, explaining his continuing dedication to the GeorgiaForward initiative.

Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal has launched his own plan — the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative — partnering with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The goal of the initiative is to create jobs and develop an economic development strategy for the state.

Having attended the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative summit that met in metro Atlanta on July 18 with speeches from the governor and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Throughout the all-day program, I kept thinking how much more powerful it would be if the governor’s efforts could be combined with the GeorgiaForward initiative.

After the Competitiveness session, I asked Chris Cummiskey how the governor’s efforts melded with the GeorgiaForward initiative. While the two efforts have not partnered, Cummiskey said they were complementary.

Unfortunately, Cummiskey said that he would not be able to attend the GeorgiaForward program at Callaway Gardens because of a previous commitment.

Other key players also won’t be able to attend — Gov. Deal, who participated in the forum last year through a teleconference while he was running for governor; and Mayor Reed, who has become a poster child of cooperation between the capital city and the rest of the state.

But other mayors will be present — Teresa Tomlinson, mayor of Columbus; Deke Copenhaver, mayor of Augusta; and Billy Tapnell, mayor of Metter who also is president of the Georgia Municipal Association. Also, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell will participate.

What makes the GeorgiaForward event significant is the diversity of people present and the breadth of issues that will be addressed. Participants represent local governments, businesses, nonprofits, associations and advocates for various topic areas.

For Georgia, this is a strong first step to recapture its foothold as one of the leading states in the Southeast — and become the state of choice for residents and businesses alike.

Eventually, Georgia might be able to reclaim its status as the most progressive, forward-thinking state in the region. But it will take the concerted efforts of all the players — from the governor on down — to help catapult Georgia into a state that welcomes the future.

For more information about GeorgiaForward, and the 2011 forum, please visit: www.georgiaforward.org.

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.

9 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “I’m not really sure when North Carolina by-passed Georgia to become the most progressive state in the Southeast.”

    The way you describe “progressive”, North Carolina was always poised to become more progressive than Georgia because of North Carolina’s very impressive higher education system of publicly and privately-funded community colleges and four-year universities. An extensive system of publicly-funded state universities and privately-funded universities that includes top-flight and moderately-competitive schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, East Carolina University, Appalachian State University, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, High Point University, Western Carolina University, etc, draws heavily upon a younger population from politically-liberal Northeastern states in the Boston-Washington Corridor, a younger population that may be prone to stay and continue to live in the state after completing their undergraduate degrees.

    A younger, more politically-active, college-educated population attracted by more points of draw in the state’s numerous community colleges, and four-year universities, which have fed North Carolina’s heady population growth rates that are equal to or even greater than Georgia, at times, as with a population of 9.5 million, NC has only about 200,000 or so fewer residents than GA does at about 9.7 million showing that NC is pulling closer to and in position to overtake GA to become the Southeast’s second most populous state.

    Georgians may view NC as being more “progressive” than GA with the explosive population growth and younger, more college-educated, possibly ever higher-skilled population, but Georgia still has a few amenities that North Carolinians would be thrilled to have with the world’s busiest airport at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the busiest seaports in the world at Savannah, a burgeoning entertainment (music and movies) and existing cultural scene in Atlanta, etc. Also, because of Charlotte being even more heavily dependent upon the financial sector than Atlanta was upon the speculative real estate construction sector, I hear that Charlotte’s unemployment rate, at over 11%, is even higher than Atlanta’s.

    Atlantans may be worried about Charlotte overtaking them from the rear because of Charlotte took away the title of “Financial Center of the Southeast” in the 1980’s and 90’s, but the word on the street in Charlotte is that Charlotteans are very much worried about Raleigh overtaking Charlotte because Raleigh has much higher rate of growth than Charlotte with the major universities and research facilities in and around the Raleigh-Durham area making for a much more diversified economy and population than Charlotte who has been overly dependent upon banking and finance.

    If Atlanta was to take a cue from Charlotte they might see that Atlanta should MAYBE be more worried about RALEIGH overtaking both Charlotte and Atlanta as the “Capital of the Southeast” in a quality-of-life and job opportunity sense because of the major universities and the major research/business park (Research Triangle Park) on Tobacco Road. Report

    Reply
  2. Rob Augustine says:

    Raleigh never hit my radar screen, Last Democrat.

    But Charlotte and Dallas did. Either of these cities is poised to lead us in economic development attractiveness during the coming decade, as they have clearly planned and implemented better than the Metro ATL has.

    Sounds like we here in Georgia are still planning to plan, with the creation of even more groups to consider what we should be doing. Meanwhile other cities have gotten well past this stage and are actually, like the Home Depot ad says, “more doing.”

    That Dallas and Charlotte, and even Raleigh, are doing more than Atlanta on various fronts should be of great concern. That we still seem to lack the cohesive leadership to make things happen here in ATL should concern us even more.

    Rob AugustineReport

    Reply
  3. Rob Augustine says:

    Raleigh never hit my radar screen, Last Democrat.

    But Charlotte and Dallas did. Either of these cities is poised to lead us in economic development attractiveness during the coming decade, as they have clearly planned and implemented better than the Metro ATL has.

    Sounds like we here in Georgia are still planning to plan, with the creation of even more groups to consider what we should be doing. Meanwhile other cities have gotten well past this stage and are actually, like the Home Depot ad says, “more doing.”

    That Dallas and Charlotte, and even Raleigh, are doing more than Atlanta on various fronts should be of great concern. That we still seem to lack the cohesive leadership to make things happen here in ATL should concern us even more.

    Rob AugustineReport

    Reply
  4. Rob Augustine says:

    Raleigh never hit my radar screen, Last Democrat.

    But Charlotte and Dallas did. Either of these cities is poised to lead us in economic development attractiveness during the coming decade, as they have clearly planned and implemented better than the Metro ATL has.

    Sounds like we here in Georgia are still planning to plan, with the creation of even more groups to consider what we should be doing. Meanwhile other cities have gotten well past this stage and are actually, like the Home Depot ad says, “more doing.”

    That Dallas and Charlotte, and even Raleigh, are doing more than Atlanta on various fronts should be of great concern. That we still seem to lack the cohesive leadership to make things happen here in ATL should concern us even more.

    Rob AugustineReport

    Reply
  5. Rob Augustine says:

    Raleigh never hit my radar screen, Last Democrat.

    But Charlotte and Dallas did. Either of these cities is poised to lead us in economic development attractiveness during the coming decade, as they have clearly planned and implemented better than the Metro ATL has.

    Sounds like we here in Georgia are still planning to plan, with the creation of even more groups to consider what we should be doing. Meanwhile other cities have gotten well past this stage and are actually, like the Home Depot ad says, “more doing.”

    That Dallas and Charlotte, and even Raleigh, are doing more than Atlanta on various fronts should be of great concern. That we still seem to lack the cohesive leadership to make things happen here in ATL should concern us even more.

    Rob AugustineReport

    Reply
  6. urban gardener says:

    NCDOT has always been considered a leader amongst state DOTs in the SE, and that was 15+ yrs ago. NCDOT adopted long ago steel cable interstate median divides, and it took GaDOT about 10 yrs to follow suit. They led in interstate on/off ramp flower plantings – making the drive into Asheville quite lovely when the cannas or wildflowers or whatever else was in bloom. And they didn’t consider rail the death knell of their shooting pavement gravy train (such as the Lovejoy train debacle – unless someone’s sticking a water line under the tracks to siphon off some other state’s river). [I will not address the posting regarding caliber of staff hirings.]

    GaDOT staff would privately whine about why the quantity of Marta stops so close to each other downtown, voiced unhappy thoughts regarding bike lane mandates, etc. It was discussed amongst staff that the reason the hike in the interstate speed limit was accepted by GaDOT, even tho’ it was known to directly result in higher gas consumption and higher fatality rates, was that those far-flung employees would be able to get to work faster. No joke – although it was a joke amongst the staff. And those small-town bypasses were put in for the financial benefit of locals who owned the land – and at the expense of the downtowns lifeblood, folks passing thru who might stop for lunch and a quick windowshop, even tho’ there were supposedly studies from planners who said they’d be bad for the towns (so much for an Economic Development System).

    The next time you’re driving around the state and see a ‘bypass’ sign, help out a fellow Georgian and actually spend another 10 min of your life and drive thru downtown. Stop and have lunch at a locally owned cafe. Meet a neighbor. Keep Georgia Green.Report

    Reply
  7. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    @Rob Augustine

    The numbers from the 2010 Census say that the population of Wake County, NC, which includes Raleigh and super-suburb Cary, NC, had risen to over 900,000 residents coming to within 19,000 residents of Mecklenburg County’s (Charlotte) population of 919,000. The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill-Cary “Triangle” Region of NC is closing in fast on Charlotte, which for many years has been regarded as the only thing close to a big city in the Carolinas.

    Charlotteans are sweating bullets over Raleigh’s growth as Raleigh has always had heady growth rates, but Charlotte never thought that Raleigh would accelerate in growth to the point of growing faster than Charlotte and being right on their “heels” (no pun intended).

    Combine the severe troubles in the banking and finance industries on which Charlotte had been proudly overdependent upon until the downturn (Bank of America is experiencing severe troubles because of mortgages and housing and Wachovia is no more after being bought out by West Coast banking titan Wells Fargo) with the fact that the three very major ACC universities (UNC, Duke and NC State) in addition to nearby Wake Forest and East Carolina and the mega research park (Research Triangle Park) give the Raleigh area a much more diversified economy that makes the Triangle Region of NC look like the Southeastern version of the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley and you get the gist of just how much Charlotte’s civic psyche has taken a hit during this recent severe economic downturn.

    Now I do very much agree that Atlanta needs to be worried about Dallas, because Dallas has invested ALOT more in infrastructure, especially transportation and water than Atlanta could possibly ever imagine on its best day in most regards. Dallas frequently builds and operates new toll roads when new roads are needed and there is a concerted effort to invest in more in mass transit in the form of commuter and light rail. Dallas also has a region-wide network of man-made lakes and reservoirs to draw water supply from while Atlanta is dependent almost solely upon Lakes Allatoona and, especially, Lanier.

    I know that Charlotte is Atlanta’s favorite “Boogeyman-from-the-rear”, especially after losing the banking industry to them about two decades ago, but with even higher unemployment and a less-diversified economy than Atlanta, that is not necessarily the case at this exact point in time. Report

    Reply
  8. Rob Augustine says:

    Interesting that you should bring up how Atlanta lost its banking industry to Charlotte, North Carolina. That whole fiasco of our major banks being acquired by the bigger North Carolina banks is a paradigm for the failure of leadership and smart thinking in our beloved state. It is well documented that the failure of the Georgia Legislature to allow statewide banking kept our major banks limited in their growth and capital capacity. Meanwhile in North Carolina their big banks got even bigger as they operated statewide. Eventually, the economic forces led to those NC banks acquiring our major banks and that was the end of Atlanta’s financial dominance in the southeast at least.

    Now, the forces that failed us on banking remain in place and are failing us on the transit, water, and other levels today. LIstening more to special interests, local power brokers and politicians than to smart, progressive ideas, we can see a repeat of “how Atlanta lost out” again on an even bigger scale than just banking.

    Well, this is just another sad commentary on the way we’ve developed over the years and the lack of a regional cohesive plan for our metro region and indeed our state.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.