Will the Atlanta Committee for Progress survive after 2009? Nobody knows

Back in 2003, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin convened the top CEOs in the city to help her steer the city’s future.

The Atlanta Committee for Progress has been meeting ever since taking on such issues as Brand Atlanta, the BeltLine, the Peachtree Corridor, the Atlanta Education Fund, Grady Hospital and the city’s finances.

Most often the Atlanta Committee for Progress will launch an initiative, which will either be spun off into its own effort or assigned to an existing entity.

At today’s quarterly meeting, it was the future of the Atlanta Committee for Progress that was under discussion, and whether the group would stay together after this year.

“That has something to do with who the next mayor will be,” said James Wells III, the new chairman of the Atlanta Committee for Progress who is the CEO of SunTrust Banks. “The new mayor may have a different agenda.”

Franklin is completing her last year as mayor. The Atlanta mayoral election will be in November.

“I think this has been a wonderful thing that the mayor has done,” Wells continued. “We want to be helpful to the city. And we will work along with the candidates and the new mayor. One of the great strengths about Atlanta is the relationship between the political structure and the business community. Most cities don’t have that. I would hope something would continue.”

From Franklin’s perspective, being able to bounce off ideas and get advice from the top executives in the region has been invaluable.

“It’s been a rewarding exchange and beneficial to the city over a number of years.” Franklin said while thanking Wells for stepping in as chairman when Coca-Cola CEO Neville Isdell retired. “If the organization weren’t viable, we would be hard pressed to get someone to step in and chair it. People see this as a valuable role for them to play.”

One of the questions is whether the business community will continue funding the effort after this year.

“The economic world is an unknown at this point,” Wells said. “ We will have to see how it goes. My personal belief is that it is worthwhile work that needs to continue.”

On Monday, the main topic was the city’s financial situation, according to Wells and Franklin. The mayor gave an update on the 2009 budget and the city’s efforts to close the gap. And she talked to the executives about the 2010 budget.

“The city is in a difficult spot at this point,” Wells said. Business leaders apparently questioned the mayor about the city’s expenses and the need for a possible tax increase.
“We don’t know what the revenue projections will be for 2010,” Franklin said.

Asked about whether Coca-Cola will replace Isdell on the Atlanta Committee for Progress, Wells said yes.

“We have invited Muhtar Kent. The mayor gave him a call,” Wells said. “He has joined the group, and we are very pleased about that.”

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.

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