Atlanta is among 20 finalist cities in the race to cinch Amazon’s second U.S. headquarters or “HQ2.” Our city, regional and state leaders could not be more excited about potentially bringing 50,000+ jobs and billions of dollars in investment to our shores. But Black families stand to lose the most if they do not participate in opportunities such as the Amazon deal.
Black families literally live in a state of contradiction. Site Selection magazine voted Georgia as the number one place for business for the second year in a row. But according to the Equality of Opportunity Project, Atlanta – the capital of South and the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement – ranks second to last for income mobility in the country.
A Black child born into poverty in Atlanta has a less than five percent chance to move to a higher income bracket in their lifetime. Before you suggest moving to the suburbs, Atlanta also has the country’s fourth highest rate of suburban poverty.
There is hope. Amazon HQ2 can serve as a catalyst for removing economic barriers and fostering inclusive growth in the state’s job market.
According to the Employment Equity report produced by the Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), PolicyLink and the University of Southern California Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), “if the state achieved full employment across all racial and gender groups, bringing 384,000 people ages 16 or older into employment, Georgia’s economy could be $12 billion stronger every year with lower poverty, and higher tax revenues.”
We can achieve this by pressuring our leaders to ensure that projects like Amazon HQ2 include equitable policies that prioritize local hiring, promote the use of minority and women-owned businesses, and support the Atlanta Public School System and other schools in positioning their students to be job-ready upon graduation.
In a city challenged by systemic inequity, bringing HQ2 without major capital investment and strong public policies would further widen Atlanta’s racial wealth gap. Economically vulnerable Atlantans, whose tax dollars are being used to lure HQ2 to Atlanta, would be all but paying for their own displacement as a result of the online retail giant’s presence driving up property values.
By rushing to bring this type of development to the Atlanta community, we could be effectively ending the potential for Atlanta to become the “Beloved Community” for which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died.
As a native Black Atlantan, I want our city to win HQ2 just as badly as anyone else, but not at the expense of our families. I urge our elected leaders to approach the HQ2 deal with care—care for Atlantans, and particularly care for disenfranchised Atlantans, first. However, the onus for making sure our families thrive in a more equitable Atlanta is not only on Atlanta and its leaders.
We also need Amazon’s engagement. If the online retailer is serious about embodying caring corporate citizenship and mitigating any negative impact on cities like Atlanta, I invite them to roll up their sleeves and join organizations like PSE who work to ensure that the Atlanta workforce and its communities are inclusive, balanced and equitable.
Black families continue to move to Atlanta for a reason. Many believe that if there is any place in today’s America where a family can make it, Atlanta is that place. Our leaders have the moral obligation not to let these families down and to leverage the catalytic moment that is Amazon HQ2 to move towards a more inclusive community – a beloved community.
Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity and chairman of the Atlanta Public School System’s Blue Ribbon Affordable Housing Taskforce.