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.