By Maria Saporta
The issues of public health, economic recovery and racial equity dominated Thursday’s virtual annual meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
In keeping with that theme, the Chamber also announced that Raphael Bostic, a gay African-American who serves as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, will chair the organization in 2022 succeeding Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, who will serve as the 2021 chair.
The outgoing chair – Marty Flanagan, president and CEO of Invesco – complimented Katie Kirkpatrick, who became the Chamber’s president in June. “Katie never missed a beat,” Flanagan said, referring to the disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic caused in the Atlanta region and beyond. Kirkpatrick succeeded Hala Moddelmog, who stepped down last spring.
Perhaps no business leader is more aware of the disruption caused by COVID-19 than Bastian, who saw a steep decline in airline travel when the economic shutdown began in mid-March.
“We found ourselves battling a crisis like no other,” said Bastian, adding that in addition to COVID, there was a “global reckoning” of racial inequality that permeates our society. He then quoted Delta’s board chair, Frank Blake, who told him: “Crises don’t build character; crises reveal character.”
The leaders gathered at the Delta Flight Museum Thursday morning, when they conducted the annual meeting.
Kirkpatrick said the Chamber looked for “strong voices and strong perspectives” when considering its leadership succession plan. Bostic stood out for his leadership on “Project Plato” – an effort that brought together 100 multigenerational and multicultural leaders to help shape the Chamber’s latest strategic plan.
Bostic also has been one of the region’s leading voices on the income disparities that exist among different populations in metro Atlanta.
Bostic described the economic recovery that’s beginning to take root as being a “less than” phenomenon for too people who are already straddle the bottom of the economic ladder.
He urged Chamber members “to help us make sure we have an inclusive recovery.” Business leaders can make sure their internal practices “encourage social equity” in their companies.
“We have become much more sensitive to the issues of equity and inclusion,” Bostic said, adding that the challenge will be “how we can foster more inclusive conditions” to help Atlanta thrive.
Bostic also expressed appreciation for being able to follow Bastian in the role of chairing the 161-year-old business organization.
“I love to talk about the importance of diversity,” Bostic said after the meeting. “I look forward to adding that to the Atlanta Chamber more impactfully. I’m very excited by the prospect of following Ed, who in his own right, has taken a leadership role in promoting racial equity.”
The meeting also featured taped remarks from Gov. Brian Kemp; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler; and Jewel Burks Solomon, head of Google for Startups US, among others.
Bastian closed out a post-meeting interview with reporters with an upbeat message.
“2020 has been the year of challenges,” he said. “2021 will be the year of opportunities.”
In a press release, the Metro Atlanta Chamber outlined its 2021 priorities:
- Racial Equity: In 2020, metro Atlanta’s business community came together to drive passage of the historic Hate Crimes bill and Second Chances legislation. MAC has since set out to drive collective impact to address our region’s racial equity challenges across four key areas: corporate policies, inclusive economic development, workforce and education. The organization is defining problem statements, impacts and the host of regional NGOs who are critical to the business community’s success in this area. MAC expects to fully launch this effort in 2021.
- Public Health: Earlier this year and in partnership with the CDC Foundation, MAC mobilized resources to launch the Global Health Crisis Coordination Center in response to the current health crisis and in an effort to position metro Atlanta as a center for global health. In 2020, MAC also supported efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 with campaigns like Get Georgia Well, the Georgia Safety Promise and Bank of America’s Million Mask Challenge. In 2021, MAC will continue to work across the business community to address public health concerns.
- Economic Recovery: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, MAC launched RESTORE, an ambitious initiative in partnership with more than 50 business leaders to spur job creation and economic recovery across Georgia through public policy. In addition, MAC partnered with the CareSource Foundation to create the RESTORE ATL Fund to support Black-owned small and medium-sized businesses that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. To date, more than $180,000 in grants have been awarded. Today, MAC is announcing another round of grants totaling over $150,000 to be awarded in 2021. Metro Atlanta’s economy continues to rebound better than the national average, and MAC will continue efforts to spur economic growth through job creation, advocacy and promotion.