Metro Atlanta and Gwinnett chambers begin to heal frayed relationship

By Maria Saporta

The business relationship between the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber began a healing process Thursday when Hala Moddelmog was invited to speak at the 1818 Club on Satellite Boulevard.

The healing is being made possible because there is now new leadership in place at both organizations, leadership that does not have a history of competition and a struggle for power.

In introducing Moddelmog, who has been president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber since January, Gwinnett Chamber President Daniel Kaufman said he reminded her that “I have six months seniority.”

He became president of Gwinnett’s Chamber last July after serving nearly eight years as president of the Georgia Gwinnett College.

In getting to know Moddelmog, Kaufman only had warm words to say.

“She is fully committed to being a regional partner so we, the regional metro area, can work together as strategic partners to market Atlanta,” Kaufman said.

Moddelmog responded in kind. She said that when she accepted the job to be president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, she understood from the Chamber’s top leadership of the need to be collaborative in the region, and that the relationships with the Gwinnett and Cobb chambers were particularly critical.

“Dan was my first visit,” she said. “We can never be all we can be in this region if we don’t work together.”

In addressing the Gwinnett Chamber’s Membership luncheon crowd of about 150 people, Moddelmog said she and members of her team were coming to Gwinnett in a spirit of partnership.

“We know that we at the Metro Chamber can not do it alone,” Moddelmog said, adding that the teams of both organizations have already started having talks of how to work more closely together. But she also acknowledged that “until you do it, it doesn’t really make a difference.”

The two key issues that Moddelmog mentioned were transportation and a strategic economic development plan for the region.

“I think we all know we will be talking more about transportation with more specificity after November,” Moddelmog said. “We wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t talking about transportation.”

She did not go into much more detail other than saying that when the Port of Savannah is deepened, it will add more traffic on our highways and railways, and that Georgia will be more on the world stage in terms of shipping and distribution.

Also, after returning from the LINK trip in Philadelphia, Moddelmog said that other cities have a much more “robust” transit system than metro Atlanta — an area in need of investment.

Moddelmog said that one thing both chambers have in common is having a strategic plan, which have many similar goals for job growth in the region. She said she has been comparing notes with Nick Masino, the Gwinnett Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development.

In closing, Moddelmog made a last appeal for new partnerships.

“It’s time we start collaborating as a region,” she said. “We can never be all that we can be unless we work together. I know it’s just words right now. But my team is really committed to us being a real serious partner. Dan, I couldn’t be more thrilled that you are the one in charge, and Nick, you aren’t too bad either.”

“Well one of two ain’t bad,” Kaufman said jokingly in thanking Moddelmog for her talk. “I think we’ve gotten a sense of how committed you are to working together to move forward as a region.”

Masino said the relationship is a 100 percent improvement than it had been under previous presidents of both organizations, which he described as “adversarial.”

Sam Williams, the former president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber; and Jim Maran, the former president of the Gwinnett Chamber; were not known for having a close working relationship.

“We’ve had more meetings – leadership to leadership – in the last four months than we’ve had in the last four years,” Masino added.

Gwinnett developer Emory Morsberger couldn’t have been more pleased with the change in tone.

Their two predecessors did not get along, and as someone who works in Atlanta and Gwinnett, it made things difficult,” Morsberger said. “Each one considered the other a threat to their power structure, and that hurt the region.”

After hearing Moddelmog’s talk and witnessing her interaction with Kaufman, Morsberger said it was a new day.

“The new generation here is a breath of fresh air,” he said. “If we don’t hang together we surely will not grow together. I’m truly excited about this.”

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.

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