If metro Atlanta is going to attract more companies and jobs, it has to deal with the Big Three — education, transportation and water.
That’s what Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams said when we discussed the local economy recently.
“We don’t have a choice. We have to work on all three of these,” Reed said.
Reed and Williams put education on top of their to-do lists — and spent most of our interview talking about it — now that the Atlanta Public Schools is in jeopardy of losing its accreditation. That’s largely because of infighting among school board members. But let’s not forget that the district also is searching for a new superintendent and being investigated over a test-cheating scandal.
If APS loses accreditation, Williams said, “the economic consequences are horrendous.” Even an official warning that accreditation could be lost if certain conditions are not met would hurt Atlanta’s ability to lure companies, he said.
Reed agreed, saying he would try to change how Atlanta Public Schools is governed if it would help save accreditation — although that would require some mighty political lifting.
Both think the entire metro area would suffer if APS loses accreditation — not just the city.
Here’s why: Corporate execs are in the driver’s seat these days when it comes to selecting where to make new investments. The competition among cities is steep. So news of a loss of accreditation in a big school system, both said, would cause many execs to scratch metro Atlanta from their search list.
Reed and Williams met with the accreditation decision-maker, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and expect a decision soon.
While they hold their breath on that issue, they’re also trying to wrestle with two other sore spots that detract from the metro area’s appeal — traffic congestion and the tri-state water war.
“We’ve got to take on transportation. You can’t hire from a 50-mile radius,” Reed said. What’s more, as congestion has worsened, competing cities are able to denigrate Atlanta as having “L.A. like traffic,” he said.
Atlanta still scores favorably with corporate execs on transportation because Hartsfield-Jackson provides accessibility to travel around the globe, both said. But the gap has been shrinking between the positive feeling the airport engenders and the negative one from the logjams on the Downtown Connector or Spaghetti Junction, they said.
Both Williams and Reed said it’s critical for voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax to fund an estimated $6 billion to $7 billion in regional transportation projects when the referendum appears on next year’s ballot.
“We’ve got to decide what we’re going to be,” Reed said. “Are we going to be a world-class city or not?”
That partially depends on how much water we’ll have to drink. And that will depend on whether a solution emerges on withdrawing water from Lake Lanier by next year’s deadline, when metro Atlanta could lose about 250 million gallons a day if the stalemate continues.
One thing became clear from talking with Williams and Reed. The city and the region will rise or fall together. It’s not an us-versus-them proposition. We’re all in the same boat, assuming there’s enough water to float it.
- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat
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