By Maria Saporta
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has been in his job for less than 40 days, and it’s no accident that one of his first stops in his new role was a trip to Atlanta on Monday.
Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., was a keynote speaker at the 2013 Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures at the Georgia World Congress Center Monday morning.
But Foxx then went to a private “roundtable” meeting at the Metro Atlanta Chamber with 33 business, civic and transportation leaders from metro Atlanta and Georgia. The meeting lasted for more than an hour.
In some ways, a visit to Atlanta was like old home week for Foxx.
“Georgia and North Carolina are joined at the hip,” Foxx said. “It’s never unusual for there to be a large North Carolina contingent in Georgia, or vice versa.”
It goes deeper than that.
MARTA’s new general manager, Keith Parker, worked in Charlotte, where he got to know Foxx through various roles.
The new CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., Paul Morris, was North Carolina’s deputy secretary of transportation for transit before taking this post.
And Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed worked actively behind the scenes to get Foxx nominated as President Barack Obama’s secretary of transportation, succeeding Ray LaHood.
“This region has an incredible amount of team work between public and private and across political lines,” Foxx said after his meeting at the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “That’s so important to the success of this region.”
As he was talking, Foxx kept being greeted by friends and colleagues from Atlanta.
“Where I’m from, we are cousins in Charlotte,” Foxx said of his close ties to Atlanta. “There’s a lot of good feeling and a desire to see the best thing happen in the Atlanta region.”
After the roundtable meeting, Foxx and Parker were going together to meet with students to talk about careers in transportation.
“It’s great to see him,” Parker said of Foxx. “It sounds strange to say this, but I’m proud of him. I’ve known him from the early days of his first council run, and now he’s transportation secretary.”
According to the people in the room, during the roundtable meeting, Foxx did more listening than talking.
“We are grateful that he came,” said Tim Lee, chairman of the Cobb County Commission. “He was like a sponge.”
Shan Cooper, vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said it was “fantastic” that he came to Atlanta “so early in his tenure” as DOT secretary.
“I was impressed because he was there to listen,” said Carol Tomé, chief financial officer of Home Depot and past chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, called it a listening tour. But Robinson said Foxx did give the Atlanta region a sound piece of advice. When applying for grants from the federal government, it’s best to target something that makes people collaborate rather than something that makes people compete.
Several state transportation leaders were there, but Foxx said he would had no plans to meet with Gov. Nathan Deal on this trip. Also, Reed was not in town, but Foxx said he had spoken to the Atlanta mayor on Monday morning.
One of the questions during the roundtable was about the deepening of the Savannah port — a project that has strong bi-partisan support, including both Deal and Reed.
“The most important thing is for us to work through the budget,” Foxx said. “Then we can help Atlanta and Georgia.”
In the meantime, having a strong state and metro partnership is key, local leaders said.
“It speaks well that Secretary Foxx would come and meet with the partnership that we have here in metro Atlanta and the state,” said Robert Brown, a Decatur-based architect who is a member of the Georgia Board of Transportation, after the roundtable.
“We had the business leaders here, and state leaders here. That was a great picture for the secretary to see,” Brown continued. “We are actively looking for innovative solutions as we look into the future.”