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Metro Atlanta Chamber in 2016 to push transit and an inclusive region

MAC 2015 annual meeting

SunTrust's Jenner Wood - incoming chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Chamber President Hala Moddelmog thank Cousins Properties' Larry Gellerstedt III for his year as chairman at Thursday's annual meeting (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

Three words dominated Thursday’s annual meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber – inclusive, innovation and transit.

Those words were repeated by outgoing Chairman Larry Gellerstedt III, CEO of Cousins Properties; incoming Chairman Jenner Woods, corporate executive vice president of SunTrust Bank; and MAC President Hala Moddelmog.

“Our legislative priorities first and foremost is to have a working environment in Georgia that’s welcoming of everybody and not discriminatory of anyone,” Gellerstedt said in his opening remarks to reporters before the meeting, which was held at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

“Obviously we want to really build on what we did last year with transportation,” Gellerstedt continued. “Transit will be our focus in 2016.”

MAC 2015 annual meeting

SunTrust’s Jenner Wood – incoming chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Chamber President Hala Moddelmog thank Cousins Properties’ Larry Gellerstedt III for his year as chairman at Thursday’s annual meeting (Photo by Maria Saporta)

During the 2015 legislative session, the Chamber worked with state leaders to pass nearly $1 billion of new transportation revenues, but nearly all of that money is restricted to being spent on roads and bridges.

Most transit funding proposals currently being considered are coming from MARTA and the two counties that have been supporting the agency for more than 40 years – Fulton and DeKalb. Historically, the state of Georgia has provided few funds for MARTA or transit in metro Atlanta.

When asked if the Chamber would be asking state leaders to invest in transit, Gellerstedt said: “We certainly think that long term it’s in the state’s interest because of competitiveness and jobs. Our role is going to be advocating for transit wherever and provide a context for how it can be done.”

Gellerstedt also said the business organization’s regional polling of voters has shown strong support for transit.

“If you look at it from a voter standpoint, a key component to passing anything is going to be transit,” Gellerstedt said. “A half-penny for roads doesn’t do well.”

Chamber officials were equally forceful in their views about possible religious freedom legislation, which the gay community has argued could discriminate against particular segments of society.

“To attract people to this city, we have to have a completely inclusive workplace,” Wood said. “We won’t tolerate any discrimination.”

Gellerstedt agreed.

“We are not for anything that has potential for discrimination,” he said. “With religious freedom, I’m not sure what problem this bill is trying to solve.”

Moddelmog also described Atlanta as a city with “a special brand of hustle and hospitality.” She said the Chamber is focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders, welcoming millennials and encouraging innovation. in every zip code in the Atlanta region.

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young also mentioned how the Atlanta business community – driven by the Coca-Cola Co. – had been a leader in giving the city a global platform that welcomed economic growth.

“People don’t fight when they drink Coke together,” Young said. “Since we got air-conditioning and integration, the towns in Georgia and the Southeast are perhaps the best place to raise your family.”

Wood said that when Chamber leaders met Monday with a prospect looking to locate its corporate headquarters in the metro area, they shared the message that the business community will fight any kind of discrimination against race, sex, color, religion, age, gender or sexual orientation.

“We all told them that Atlanta is a welcoming and inclusive community, and it’s always been a city too busy to hate,” Wood said.

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. yourkidding December 15, 2015 10:55 am

    Wow………..its too bad that Marta is does not practice diversity or inclusive hiring practice.  For over 40 years there has been little if any latino, Asian or other hired.  How does the Chamber think supporting non-diversity hiring and forcing tax payers to pay for it works out?Report

  2. John R Naugle December 15, 2015 10:58 am

    Greetings from Atlanta: City of Peace. It’s GREAT to see transit becoming a priority in the unofficial Capital of the South (representing 7 states and 77 million citizens). If anything will propel our city towards its true destiny of being formalized as a global beacon and capital of peace, so it may inspire our global family for generations to come, it is developing every form of alternate transit.
    Is there ANY POSSIBLE WAY that you and other GA leaders can get GE to reconsider choosing the Peach State? This Nov. 23 news was tragic!
    < Georgia officially eliminated from GE’s HQ race >
    Compare that sad news with the related and recent news that GE secured a $5.6 BILLION contract to build 1,000 locomotives for India: The World’s Biggest Democracy.
    < India’s $5.6 Billion GE, Alstom Deals Step Up Rail Overhaul >
    For ANY major city or nation to insure a prosperous future in the Peace Millennium ahead, they must commit to supporting and developing every form of alternate transit.Report


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