The State of the Atlanta Region in 2017
As we head into the closing weeks of 2017, I feel more energized than ever to do something to make metro Atlanta a better place. And I know I can’t do it alone; nor can any single one of us. It will take all of us, along with our neighbors, our coworkers, and our families to shape the Atlanta region that we want to leave for future generations.
Atlanta has grown rapidly for decades because we continue to attract people and jobs. We added almost 80,000 new residents last year, making the region home to 4.8 million people. For the second straight year, we added jobs faster than any other major metro in the nation. Our unemployment rate is hovering around 4.5%.
And that job growth is poised to continue.
Everyone knows that our film and TV industry is booming. But did you know that metro Atlanta now rivals Los Angeles as the nation’s top filmmaking location?
Our quality of life, world-class universities, and our famously busy airport continue to attract technology companies, logistics hubs, and corporate headquarters.
European clothing manufacturer ASOS brought 1,600 jobs to Union City with its first U.S. distribution center. Boehringer Ingelheim, a German pharmaceutical company, recently located its U.S. animal health headquarters in Gwinnett County. And of course, earlier this year, our region sent the nation’s best proposal to Amazon. C’mon Jeff Bezos, the weather is much better down here!
And it’s not just large businesses making a difference to the region. Small companies employ about half-a-million metro Atlantans, making small business owners and entrepreneurs a significant growth engine in our economy.
As the region’s economy continues to thrive, we’ve made large strides in important areas that affect our quality of life.
Traffic and Mobility
Georgia DOT’s Major Mobility Investment Program is investing almost 9 billion dollars to improve mobility throughout the region. Fulton County and City of Atlanta residents approved new transportation sales taxes last year that will bring needed improvements to our road network and, in Atlanta, a major transit expansion.
We are collaborating regionally to ensure that we remain good stewards of our water resources, and as the Waters Wars case heads to the U.S. Supreme Court next year, bear in mind that total water use in the region has dropped by more than ten percent since 2001, thanks to robust conservation efforts, even as our population has increased by more than one million.
Resources for Older Atlantans
More of us are living longer than ever, changing the dynamics of our communities in so many ways. But earlier this year, the state allocated record funding to help older adults and persons with disabilities receive in-home services – enabling them to remain in their homes and communities.
Economic Mobility and Other Challenges
Our workforce is one of the most educated in the nation. However, our neighbors at the bottom of the economic ladder have a hard time moving up. This year, the region’s five workforce boards collaborated to develop the first-ever region-wide plan that uses an integrated approach – helping prospective workers find jobs and helping employers find qualified workers.
Yes, the Atlanta region is thriving and is leading the way in many measurements of a successful metro region. Still, the region has its challenges.
- One in seven of us can’t pay an unexpected $400 dollar expense.
- One in five frequently lack the necessary transportation to get where we need to go.
No doubt there is a lot of overlap between these two groups.
Community design also contributes to our problems. We need more developments around transit stations to help people get to work and school. But we must make sure that these remain affordable after they are built.
And these are just a few of our challenges. There are plenty of others:
- Public education remains inadequate for many of our students.
- Our homes and neighborhoods are becoming less affordable.
- Many of our neighbors suffer homelessness and hunger.
Meeting Our Challenges
So, how do we focus our energies and talents to meet these challenges?
I say that we must start by focusing on people first: ensuring that more of us have the opportunity to reach our life’s goals.
Focusing on the needs of our children, older adults, and disadvantaged neighbors will make a stronger, better quality of community for all of us. And the outcome will be a stronger, more resilient economic future.
How do we effect significant change? How might you affect significant change?
Civic Dinners: Conversations that Make a Difference
I have one suggestion. Consider hosting a Civic Dinner. The format is simple. Civic Diners are structured conversations over a good meal, about the issues facing our region: mobility, prosperity, or livability. Essentially, you break bread while breaking barriers — with a diverse group of six to ten people—maybe friends from church, the neighborhood, or people you just want to get to know better. Conversations are often more productive and interesting if you step outside your usual social circle.
ARC collects your input as we begin the work of updating The Atlanta Region’s Plan, our blueprint for the future of metro Atlanta.
Learn more about hosting or attending an ARC Civic Dinner here. And cheers! It will take all of us working together to keep the Atlanta region heading in a good direction. We just need to work hard, stay focused, and collaborate.