The April 12, 2013 front-page Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, City’s Job Woes Deeper Than Region’s, compares unemployment numbers between Atlanta and its suburban neighbors and then draws the misguided and myopic conclusion that the city has fallen behind. The column’s premise is deeply flawed because it ignores this fundamental truth: Others do not have to be short for us to be tall; we can simply be tall too. We cheer for the success of our neighboring governments and municipalities. The article’s slant is clearly divisive and attempts to undermine the capital city of Georgia and the leading city in the Southeast.
Atlanta is the primary economic driver for not only the metropolitan region, but the state of Georgia. Plainly stated, the city of Atlanta’s economy is larger than that of every other county or municipality in the state. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest passenger airport with more than 95 million travelers per year, employs more than 58,000 people and has an annual economic impact of $32.6 billion to metropolitan Atlanta. The city’s tourism and convention industry generates $10 billion annually and employs approximately 229,000 people. Unemployment rates, as the article notes, are based on where people live, not where they work. Atlanta’s population increases by 62 percent during the day because thousands of our suburban neighbors commute to jobs within the city limits. Moreover, cities such as Atlanta attract a higher percentage of people seeking employment because urban density provides the best opportunity for individuals to climb from poverty to prosperity.
The city and the region, both of which suffered staggering job losses, including more than 50,000 in the construction sector alone during the Great Recession, are visibly rebounding. Major new intown development such as Ponce City Market and Buckhead Atlanta are already underway and construction cranes are once again dotting the skyline. Jobs with a range of salaries for both skilled and unskilled workers have been created thanks to the efforts of vital agencies such as Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority. Over the past year, Invest Atlanta had 35 project wins, facilitated in the creation of 2,024 direct and 1,292 indirect/induced jobs and attracted more than $700 million in private sector capital. We have successfully attracted companies with well-paying new jobs such as Asurion, Carter’s, Porsche and Panasonic that help the economic recovery not only of the city, but of the region.
We are also focused on business development in traditionally underserved urban neighborhoods to create jobs with various pay and skill levels, such as the recently opened Walmart in the Historic Westside Village and the new Falcons stadium scheduled to open in 2017 near the English Avenue, Vine City and Castleberry neighborhoods. The $1 billion stadium investment would create more than 14,000 construction-related jobs and another 14,000-plus jobs indirectly tied to the project, according to George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller. Without a doubt, these types of projects generate jobs during the construction phase and for years afterward.
Yet, the article presents the same, tired view of the city of Atlanta vs. the suburbs when today’s reality is that urban, suburban and exurban areas are economically integrated and rise and fall together. In today’s global marketplace, economic growth and development disregards traditional jurisdictional boundaries. For example, the metropolitan region has 13 Fortune 500 companies, the third largest concentration in the nation, as ranked by Fortune Magazine in 2012. These companies, according to CNBC, posted an average return of 22 percent for a 52-week period that ended October 31, 2012. Our region was also the only city where none of the biggest public company stocks dropped over the one-year period, according to CNBC. Why does that matter? Strong stock performance by these major corporate anchors is a strong indicator that our economy is on the mend, and a positive sign for job creation not only for the city, but for all of our neighbors. We are not competing against each other; we must be able to outperform other cities in the nation and around the world.
Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, which in turn, are essential for a globally competitive America. The city and Invest Atlanta have set a tone of collaboration with our regional partners and the state, from working together to recruit companies, growing our entrepreneurial and start-up ecosystem and supporting the deepening of the Port of Savannah.
We have reason to be optimistic about the economic future of the city of Atlanta and the metropolitan region, and I am confident we’ll achieve more wins that create well-paying jobs, put job-seekers back to work and create more prosperity for a greater number of people for years to come.