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Maria's Metro

Minneapolis-St. Paul is this year’s place to link metro Atlanta’s topleaders

The metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul will be the site of this year’s LINK trip.

LINK — Leadership. Involvement. Networking. Knowledge — is in its 13th year of taking top metro Atlanta leaders to a different city to learn best practices as well as failed initiatives in other communities.

The LINK trips prove especially valuable in forging regional ties between government, business and civic leaders.

Minneapolis-St. Paul will help Atlantans understand how a cold Midwestern city remains one of the strongest Fortune 500 metro areas in the country. With 19 Fortune 500 firms based in the seven-county region, Minneapolis-St. Paul focuses its efforts on retention of its existing business rather than recruitment.

And despite the cold and hostile weather most of the year, the secret weapon of the Twin Cities is education.

Minnesota has one of the top educational rankings in the country; but metro and state leaders continue to work on improvements so students can truly receive a “world-class” education. The state’s educated workforce is a primary draw for keeping companies in Minnesota and attracting newcomers.

The Twin Cities also have another great claim to fame. Back in 1967, the Minnesota legislature established the Metropolitan Council to coordinate development throughout the region.

As years went by, the council added more functions; and today it operates the region’s largest bus system; it collects and treats wastewater; it engages the public in planning; it provides affordable housing; it plans, acquires and it funds a regional system of parks and trails.

When it comes to transportation, individual counties can tax themselves for transportation. Five of the seven counties have approved a quarter-cent penny to develop new rail lines and bus transitwyas in the Twin Cities. The transit tax will go into effect on July 1; and it is expected to generate at least $100 million a year.

With a population of 2.85 million people, Minneapolis-St. Paul is significantly smaller than metro Atlanta’s 5 million residents. Still the Twin Cities region has a bad traffic problem, ranking third nationally in the rate of growth of its congestion.

The group will leave Wednesday morning, and it will mean with the mayors of both Minneapolis and St Paul.

The agenda of the three-day trip will include sessions on regionalism, transportation infrastructure, education, economic development, arts and culture, business, the future of its economy as well as a visit to Target’s headquarters.

The trip will finish with a “leadership exchange and discussion” with key leaders from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Last fall, a large delegation from those two cities came to metro Atlanta to learn from us. The final session will give both sides an opportunity to compare notes.

This year the group of 120 leaders will include Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; Cobb/ARC Chairman Sam Olens; Gwinnett Chair Charles Bannister; Clayton Chair Eldrin Bell; Cherokee Chair Buzz Ahrens; Fayette Chairman Jack Smith; and Douglas Chairman Tom Worthan. (Unfortunately, the participant list does not include Fulton Chairman John Eaves or DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis).

Among the civic leaders: Woodruff Arts Center President Joe Bankoff; Atlanta Community Foodbank’s Bill Bolling; Southface’s founder Dennis Creech; Kevin Green of the Clean Air Campaign; the Blank Foundation’s Penelope McPhee; and Trust for Public Land’s Helen Tapp.

Business leaders include the heads of the major chambers of commerce, Tad Leithead of Cousins Properties; Sylvia Russell of AT&T; David Allman of Regent Partners; Michael Coles who founded the Great American Cookie Co.; IBM’s Ann Cramer; Comcast Cable’s Andy Macke; Hedgewood’s Pam Sessions; and Atlanta Gas Light’s Suzanne Sitherwood.

Other notables include: Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Ben DeCosta; Georgia Ports Authority Chairman Steven Green; Georgia DOT board members Robert Brown and Dana Lemon; MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott; and Georgia House Transportation Chairman Vance Smith.

The line up of LINK trips is as follows:

Denver in 1997; Seattle in 1998; Dallas in 1999; Cleveland in 2000; San Diego in 2001; Chicago in 2002; San Francisco in 2003; Boston in 2004; Portland in 2005; Miami in 2006; Vancouver in 2007; back to Denver in 2008; and Minneapolis-St. Paul in 2009.

Note to readers: I will be covering the trip and providing updates on what is being said several times a day. Those updates will appear both on the Atlanta Business Chronicle website as well as on SaportaReport (technology willing). When I return, the plan is for me to write a comprehensive piece for the May 15th edition of the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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. Mason Hicks May 4, 2009 8:17 am

    I’m glad to see that Vance Smith will be along. It will be important to remember his involvement in this trip during the next Legislative session. I’m sure he will then inact his state of amnesia to any positive lessons he may have learned while in Minneapolis-St Paul.

    Maria, stay on him..Report

  2. Richard E. Hodges May 4, 2009 5:36 pm

    Sounds like another worthwhile trip and investment in time and dollars for all participants, leading to useful insights, fresh ideas and significant actions that undoubtedly will prove beneficial to metro Atlanta citizens and other fellow Georgians. Seeing how others confront challenges and take advantage of opportunities has proven over the years to be invaluable, but there obviously are still big lessons to be learned. Will look forward to coverage during and after by the best business reporter and columnist this long-time participant in, and observer of, Atlanta’s growth and progress has known over a period of nearly 60 years. Such “shoe leather” reporting by a truly professional journalist will help the Minneasota experience be known to many more than the participants alone. And that’s good news.Report

  3. KeHoeff May 28, 2009 3:28 pm

    hey this is a very interesting article!Report


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