By Maria Saporta
Several years ago, retired Coca-Cola President Don Keough told me that the real secret of Coke was not its formula. The real secret was magic.
The company sold consumers magic and a wonderful array of good feelings. For a few discretionary coins, someone could “Have a Coke and a Smile” or could “Have a Pause that Refreshes.” And there was “Coke Adds Life” and most recently “Open Happiness.”
Over the years, the magic of Atlanta paralleled the magic of Coca-Cola.
Two themes helped define Atlanta’s spirit — “A City too Busy to Hate” and the “Next Great International City.”
Both conveyed aspirational and uplifting messages. Atlanta leaders set a high bar to reach for — a sense that the city was on the move and that better days were coming.
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, his daughter — Andrea Young and recently retired Georgia State University professor — Harvey Newman are documenting the city’s modern-day history — focusing their work on an oft-repeated sentiment — the Atlanta Way.
“We developed the fairness formula,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the Andrew Young Foundation. “We were creating a progressive Atlanta, first a regional city, then a national city and then an international city.”
Newman, who is working on the history project in his retirement, said he was humbled by being able to continue learning about the magic that made Atlanta special as it came of age.
“The Atlanta Way is about connecting the right people,” Newman said, quoting Rita Samuels, founder of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women. “Connecting the right people was the way we got things done.”
A common refrain today is that Atlanta has lost its way. The city has been weighed down by a sour economy — caught in the crossfire of regional, state and national politics. It is hungry for uplifting leaders who can inspire our sprawling region with a common vision of where we want to go.
So it was with great anticipation a couple of weeks ago to have the unveiling of the latest “Forward Atlanta” strategic plan put together by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Boston Consulting Group.
The five-point plan was described as bold and aggressive.
Strategy One: Jump-start short and mid-term job growth.
Strategy Two: Catalyze on new business formation.
Strategy Three: Elevate quality of life and core infrastructure.
Strategy Four: Confidently tell our story.
Strategy Five: Drive strong higher education and business collaboration.
The Metro Chamber is raising at least $30 million to implement the multi-pronged initiatives with countless fine points determined by some of the best consulting minds in town.
And yet after a year of working on the strategic plan, the end result feels sterile — a by-the-book recipe — a cookie-cutter solution — a plan that almost any other city could adopt.
Something was missing — the magic and the soul of Atlanta — attributes that have set us apart for more than 100 years.
Just like Coca-Cola has not sold itself as carbonated, colored sugar water, Atlanta should not sell itself as just another ordinary city looking to boost its economy.
Atlanta is, or at least should be, more than that.
We are a city that can recapture its magic. We can shine a light on the need for civil and human rights around the world. We can make the right connections to solve our problems — both at home and abroad. And we can be a progressive place with a vision of what our future can be.
Yes, we can be bold, really bold — just like we used to be.
And yes, Atlanta can find its way — again — the Atlanta way.