It’s a great pleasure to be here in the beautiful city of Savannah and to join you for the Savannah Economic Development Authority’s 2013 annual luncheon and meeting.
Thank you to Chairman David Paddison and Vice Chairman Robert James for inviting me here today. I also want to acknowledge your Secretary-Treasurer, Steve Green, who happens to be my good friend. Steve not only champions his beloved Savannah, but also the entire State of Georgia, including its Capitol City, Atlanta. I also extend my appreciation to all of the SEDA Board members, advisory council members and guests who took some time to be here right now.
You know, I really enjoy Savannah. It’s one of my favorite cities because of its warm people, history, beauty, charm and of course, great food. The proximity to the beach is not too bad either. (smile)
Yet, I am here today not for any of those reasons. I am here speaking before you because I understand how important Savannah is to the region, the state of Georgia --- and yes, the City of Atlanta.
I’ve been talking about this since I was elected Mayor in 2010 --- really, before then. From my days as a member of the Georgia General Assembly for 11 years. But I notice it still surprises people when they hear me talking about Savannah.
It shouldn’t. More and more, I am convinced that our state will only maintain and its increase its relevance and ability to compete if we work together on shared goals; if we choose cooperation over conflict. And that’s why I came this way this morning and wanted to speak to you all for a few minutes.
Now more than ever, our nation is at a crossroads. We live in and our young people will inherit a world far different from the one in which we were born. Our cities, our nation and our world are faced with sobering challenges --- challenges which demand we make hard, yet responsible choices for our future.
We’re facing international threats that were unimaginable to Americans before Sept. 11. We’re facing competition from countries such as China and India and Brazil and others. All of this is happening when our deficits are growing, our environment is under siege, and our education system is not delivering the results we need for the future.
That means we must work harder to become a leading, thriving, growing state in a 21st century economy. Georgia and Atlanta’s claims to be on the global stage must go beyond the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, as groundbreaking and transformational as they were.
We have to be in the future business, you all. My vision is for our state to be comprised of interconnected links among Savannah and Atlanta that make us the logistics hub of the Western Hemisphere, the southeastern state where ideas, people and goods connect.
We now live in an increasingly transnational business world. We must not look at growing markets overseas as threats to our economy, but opportunities for business that will propel our country to sustained prosperity.
For example, Atlanta is now the 13th largest-metro exporter in the U.S. It sent $20 billion in goods and services abroad in 2010 and supported for than 150,000 local jobs. That number is expected to grow as my administration and Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, continue to attract and tap new markets for our goods and products.
That’s why I’ve been such a strong proponent of the deepening of the Port of Savannah and have worked with our state’s able leader, Governor Nathan Deal, to secure additional funding for the port. We need to be able to handle those bigger PanaMex ships with more cargo arriving or else they will call at some other port along the eastern seaboard and we will be left behind.
We can’t allow that to happen. And we’re not going to. We’re making progress. Just last week, the United States Senate, with the strong backing of Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, approved passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, known as WRDA, which contains a key provision to allow the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project to move forward. Specifically, the legislation lets the Army Corps of Engineers proceed with projects such as the Port deepening that now cost more than what Congress authorized for them years ago. We’ve been at this a long time, y’all.
And just on Sunday, I had the honor and privilege of hosting and spending some time with President Barack Obama, who came to Atlanta to give the commencement address at Morehouse College. Afterwards, to a small group of supporters, he made a point of highlighting the importance of funding for our nation’s ports. So I am optimistic that our friends in Washington can work with the House of Representatives to swiftly adopt their version of the Senate’s port legislation so that we can move this important project forward.
This project isn’t just of benefit to Atlanta, it is to the Georgia economy as a whole. The Savannah Port is the fastest-growing container port in the country and exports more goods than it imports by a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio.
I see a future where in 2-3 years, we’ll have even more goods dispersed through the state of Georgia from the Port, with a good deal of it coming through Atlanta.
You see, I believe we should build on our roots and heritage of being a transportation and logistics capital. To understand Atlanta’s rise as an international city, you must look to the past to understand its trajectory. What you’ll find is that Atlanta is an intentional city, and transportation has been an integral part of our DNA ever since the city was founded in 1837. Back then, of course, it was known as Terminus as the city was the end of the line for the Western and Atlantic Railroad.
After Sherman burned our fair city to the ground during the Civil War, Atlanta rose from the ashes, literally, and continued its strengths as a regional transportation and distribution center for the South.
Leaders of the “New South,” led by local advocate Henry Grady, successfully lobbied for the establishment of the Georgia Institute of Technology and a series of international cotton exhibitions held at present-day Piedmont Park that showcased Atlanta to the rest of the nation and the world.
By the 1940s, Delta Air Lines decided to move their company headquarters from Monroe, Louisiana to Atlanta. And around the same time, Coca-Cola became an international company by pledging to offer Coca-Colas to American servicemen around the world during World War II.
Since then, of course, our growth has been exponential.
When Billy Payne and Ambassador Andrew Young started on a quest to develop a bid and sell Atlanta to the International Olympic Committee as host of the Centennial Olympic Games, everyone laughed.
But by 1995, more than 1,000 foreign companies from 35 foreign countries were located in the metro area, as well as 37 foreign consulates and 20 trade and tourism offices.
Atlanta's most successful companies, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, CNN, and UPS are global corporations, known throughout the world. Jeff Sprecher’s firm, Intercontinental Exchange, is actually buying the New York Stock Exchange. Imagine that. And our own Global Payments, led by Paul Garcia, processes 60 percent of the world’s credit card transactions.
As a result of the Centennial Olympic Games, Atlanta experienced a direct economic impact in the billions and it established our city as a world-class place to do business, live and visit.
More than 15 years later, Atlanta still benefits from its Olympic legacy and the evidence can be seen throughout downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
The development of Centennial Olympic Park transformed a blighted area between the Georgia World Congress Center and Atlanta’s hotel district into a thriving tourism and business center.
Tourism continues to be a top economic driver for Atlanta. The hospitality industry in Atlanta welcomed 40 million visitors in 2012–more than Las Vegas - and supported more than 220,000 jobs with a direct economic impact of $12 billion annually.
We continue to draw more visitors with our attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca Cola, the Martin Luther King Historic Site and many others.
Next year we’ll open the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the College Football Hall of Fame and the Atlanta Streetcar which will help connect all of our downtown attractions.
Atlanta’s position within the world economy is becoming stronger and stronger every day.
Our region has many assets that are the envy of many cities around the globe. We are home to 13 Fortune 500 companies; the world’s busiest passenger airport; 57 college and research universities; a vibrant and active consular corps; a talented and diverse workforce; and an unparalleled transportation and logistics infrastructure.
We are the leading global city and dominant economic engine in the Southeast and every single day, I work to ensure that we continue along that trajectory.
That’s why I’m also focusing on improving and increasing air cargo operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport --- the world’s busiest passenger airport for 15 years in a row --- and why I’ve also launched a metropolitan Atlanta export plan with the Brookings Institution and other local partners.
It’s time for Atlanta to dream big again, to be in the future business. My vision is for Atlanta and Georgia to be the logistics hub of the Western Hemisphere, where ideas, people and goods connect --- and the Port of Savannah is a vital part of that goal.
You know, in three and half years as Mayor, I feel really good about where we are. I said this in January and I’ll say it again today: The State of the City is strong, and I believe that bodes well for the metropolitan region and the entire state. When I came to office in 2010, the City of Atlanta faced a nearly $48 million budget shortfall and had only $7.4 million in reserves.
We had a $1.5 billion unfunded liability with the city’s employee pension system that was absorbing almost one out of every five dollars in the general fund.
In the teeth of the worst economy since the Great Depression, we had hard decisions to make but we made them with a singular focus on Atlanta’s future.
My administration streamlined inefficiencies in city government and reduced spending in some areas, while at the same time keeping our promise to hire more than 700 police officers.
And our efforts in making Atlanta a safer city have borne results – we have seen the lowest violent crime rates since the 1960s. AJC’s Politifact has already checked me on this.
We increased the city’s cash reserves by 17 times --- taking it from $7.4 million to $126.7 million as audited by KPMG.
We addressed our city’s $1.5 billion unfunded pension liability in a collaborative way with the employee unions. My administration worked with the Atlanta City Council to unanimously pass pension reform which will save the city $270 million over 10 years and $500 million over the next 30 years.
And because of our prudent financial planning and cost-savings measures, the City of Atlanta is no longer broke.
We also kept the promise to invest in our young people by re-opening all of our recreation centers and pools and we expanded the Centers of Hope initiative.
We are now reaching hundreds of kids every day through this program and we will continue to expand.
We did all of this without any layoffs or property tax increases…and with a budget that is roughly $100 million less than the city’s general fund budget was in 2008.
Just last week, my Administration delivered our proposed FY 2014 budget to the Atlanta City Council.
The proposed $539 million spending plan maintains my top priorities of improving public safety, restoring fiscal stability, investing in youth development, fostering job growth and economic development, and improving customer service.
And most importantly, this budget is nearly $4 million less than last year’s, there is no cut in services and for the fourth year in a row there are no property increases. We’re also putting another $5 million in that reserve fund to get it over $130 million.
I lay all this out for you because we continue to do more with less and we continue to find innovative ways to address our challenges.
We are also investing in job creation. Last year, Invest Atlanta partnered with Governor Deal and the state to bring the North American headquarters of Porsche North America to the city. We closed the deal on a 30-year agreement with the Atlanta Falcons --- an $800 million private investment with only $200 million in hotel-motel taxes. This week, I worked with Invest Atlanta on the final stages of a major corporate relocation --- I hope to be able to announce details shortly.
Every single day I make decisions based upon our immediate needs but always with an eye on how our activities will have a lasting impact on Atlanta and Georgia for the next 20, 30 and 40 years.
In nearly every corner of the city, we are experiencing incredible growth and development and as we come out of the worst economic recession in 80 years, Atlanta is poised for a resurgence that will not only maintain our regional dominance but also further our global competitive edge.
So, that’s a little bit about my vision for the city, region and state and why I think Savannah’s success and Atlanta’s success are tied together. Thank you again for having me here today and for sharing some of your time with me. God Bless.