The Georgia Forward event in Athens gathered 225 people from across the state who acknowledge common problems. That’s a start. Now, let’s generate great ideas to solve them.
By the AJC Editorial Board
What unites us is far greater than what divides us. This year’s Georgia Forward forum provided compelling anecdotal proof of that powerful truth. From Americus to Augusta, commonsense and conversations affirm that we generally all desire similar outcomes for our families and communities.
With a renewed focus, hard work and greater cooperation and collaboration, we can begin moving vision to reality and create a more-prosperous Georgia.
This public policy ideal was solidly in the midst of roughly 225 civic-minded types who attended the Georgia Forward event in Athens earlier this month.
The need for collaboration is made readily apparent by the U.S. Census Bureau’s report showing Georgia having the nation’s fifth-highest poverty rate. We’ve got work to do, both as a state and in each of our towns.
If we can agree on the problems, however broadly, that could make for a first step toward solutions, but only if we’re willing to move past “Yep, we’ve got a problem.” And perhaps the most-encouraging thing about Georgia Forward, now in its third year, is that a sense of broad agreement on the Big Picture was ever-present in the room. We need more of that around this region, and across this state.
Participants pointed to a common need for better transportation, improved education results, greater access to water supplies and improved quality of life, however local communities defined that last, squishy descriptor. Our hope is that the Georgia Forward spirit and quest for “Re-visioning Statewide Prosperity” will go viral around the state. Next year’s forum should need a much larger hall to accommodate new registrants.
We’ve already witnessed the power that results from citizen action, most recently through the July 31 elections.
In an upset that caught the world’s attention, metro Atlanta voters crushed the long-in-coming T-SPLOST transportation tax proposal by a 2-to-1 margin. And on the controversial issue of ethics reform, Gold Dome lawmakers swallowed hard at decisive voter advisory sentiment in favor of lobbyist gift caps. That’s led leaders to change their tune.
The people chose, and the leaders listened, as is their style in this poll-driven age. Thus, we will likely see a different stance on ethics when the Legislature resumes in January.
Yet we still face transportation woes in this state, especially in the 9 of 12 regions that sank the T-SPLOST. Our state’s leaders now seem largely inclined to shrug and leave Georgia stuck in gridlock. Gov. Nathan Deal has announced that he’ll marshal some of GDOT’s limited funding to work on some of the worst mobility blockades around the state. That’s notable, but not nearly enough to start gaining on the backlog of critically needed work.
We the people must demand better, and be willing to pay for investments that yield results. Forums such as Georgia Forward are beginning to harness ideas and energy. Next should come a focus on attainable solutions. It’s up to us then to drive hard toward making things happen.
The way to do that should still be in our communal memory. We must bring it back to the forefront.
The South did not become an economic powerhouse by folding its arms and shouting “no” to new ideas or new opportunities. Not at all. We bravely gathered together what we had to work with and built wisely upon that base. As a result, we jumped ahead, putting Atlanta and Georgia on the world’s radar.
Now, looking out across the Great Recession’s still-present backwash, we must push ahead once more. That journey begins with commonly held ideas and vision, ably backed by smart, hard work.
How can job-creators be supported, how can we best educate our children for future opportunities, how can we define and achieve a better quality of life in each quadrant of Georgia? We all need clean water, good roads and adequate, viable transportation options, among other things.
There’s little disagreement on that. And we can build from there. Today’s inadequate status quo demands that, and more.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.
More collaboration will help state thrive
By Amir Farokhi
We have got to raise the dialogue in this state if we want to move forward. The petty partisan politics isn’t going to get us anywhere. — Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver
Imagine it is 2032 and Fortune magazine writes a story titled, “Georgia’s Deep and Wide Economy: How Prosperity Came to Every Part of the Peach State.” It praises Georgia for fostering economic success and healthy, educated communities. How does it describe Georgia’s statewide prosperity?
This was a question that 225 leaders from across Georgia sought to answer at the recent Georgia Forward Forum in Athens. While participants articulated varying definitions of prosperity, there were shared aspirations and a belief that we need our leadership to act with greater statewide vision and less partisanship. A consensus was reached that a prosperous Georgia would include these hallmarks and initiatives:
Collaboration: By 2032, collaboration has triumphed over competition. No longer are there “two Georgias.” Prosperity will be achieved, in part, through unparalleled cooperation among governments, planning agencies, economic development organizations and universities.
Connectivity: We are a big state with regional disconnection. Prosperity will require infrastructure (e.g., roads and rail) and high-speed Internet access in all parts of the state. Forum attendees envisioned statewide meetings held virtually; a statewide transportation plan; and incentives to encourage broadband providers to build into rural Georgia.
Quality of life: By 2032, Georgia communities’ quality of life has become a major attraction for talented young people. From arts and recreation to local history and institutions, communities have found ways to be more appealing. Among the most creative proposals to attract top minds was a monetary “X prize” for innovative ideas.
One vision, many parts: By 2032, the zero-sum economic development game, in which one region feels it has lost if another region is winning, has been retired in favor of leveraging each region’s strengths into a statewide strategy.
Solve health care, water and education problems: A prosperous state requires sustainable access to water and quality public education and health care. Forum participants envisioned the success of Georgia’s pre-K-through-college education initiative, quality early child care across the state, and balancing supply and conservation in water policy.
These are broad aspirations. Yet, without them, we will move ahead in fits and starts. We need a proactive vision based on statewide collaboration. At the forum, we began to articulate such a vision. We invite you to add your voice.
Amir Farokhi is executive director of Georgia Forward.