The Atlanta Beltline is a jewel to our city and region.

What once started as a community revitalization graduate thesis has now transformed into one of the largest urban development initiatives in the country. Atlanta’s investment in the vision of the Beltline has paid off. The multi-trails project has increased alternative transportation options, enhanced recreational activities, and attracted new job opportunities for city residents. I enjoy the excitement of families taking leisurely walks on the trails and new communities and neighborhoods taking shape while maintaining an eye on the future with hopes for our children.

The construction of the Beltline project is not over. 

To meet the completion project date of 2030, the Beltline needs to garner additional funding mechanisms. The Beltline has recently introduced legislation to the Atlanta City Council, which would create a Special Services District (SSD) to generate funds to complete the trail project. By establishing the SSD, Atlanta Beltline can complete a 22-mile multi-trail network, implement a light rail network, create new affordable housing units, and attract new businesses within the Beltline corridor. If enacted, the Atlanta Beltline has pledged to allocate up to $150 million in construction funding to minority-owned contractors.  

I am delighted about the Beltline’s proposed dedicated construction funding for minority-owned contractors to provide more equitable and inclusive development while offering meaningful community mitigations that offset material economic impacts to minority communities.  

Now more than ever, the city has a social responsibility and feasible opportunity to allocate more construction funding to minority-owned contractors and professional services organizations.

Starting with Mayor Maynard Jackson’s bold decision to empower minority communities, local minority-owned businesses have demonstrated proven excellence in the development of various infrastructure projects across the region and state.  Many of the nation’s largest 

Minority-owned architectural/engineering/ and construction service (A/E/C) firms call the Atlanta region home, while countless others are drawn to our region and state with the vision of procuring scalable opportunities, such as the Beltline.  

As the Managing Director of Corporate Environmental Risk Management (CERM), our award-winning full-service engineering, environmental, and program management firm completed small to large scale revitalization projects to ensure the construction of the Atlanta Beltline Eastside and Westside Trails. Minority-owned developers will not be the sole recipients of this proposed allocation of funding; but also minority businesses specializing in economic analysis, marketing/public engagement, and land-use planning would have a greater opportunity to perform key roles in the planning and execution of construction projects. Numerous minority-owned construction firms possess the financial capacity, technical expertise, and managerial capabilities to complete the Beltline revitalization program, while creating meaningful workforce development opportunities that offer livable wages and sustainable career opportunities.

Also, minority-owned contractors are more sensitive to preserving and enhancing the historic character of neighborhoods within the Atlanta Beltline. These businesses tend to have employees who live in Atlanta’s historic neighborhoods.  As a result, these companies tend to have a greater commitment to adhere to the communities’ public safety concerns of construction activities within their communities, and more likely to partner with local education and workforce development partners.

Minority contractors are more adept in garnering public involvement and engagement in Atlanta throughout the construction process to ensure the development projects do not destroy but enhance our historic neighborhoods’ cultural integrity. Numerous minority-owned construction firms possess the technical expertise and capabilities to complete the Beltline revitalization program. 

Over the past 10 months, the coronavirus pandemic has further illuminated the racial and socioeconomic disparities between minority-owned businesses and their counterparts. 

Several local minority-owned businesses have experienced unexpected financial losses, with some firms having to temporarily furlough or even lay off their employees. 

As a business owner, one of my greatest joys is signing employment offers; understanding that the job will provide financial stability to individuals and their families. In the past, some of my most painful experiences have been laying off a dedicated employee. Exacerbating this discomfort is the fact that most of my employees fall into a minority group. Unsurprisingly, there is a direct correlation between minority-owned businesses and minority employment. 

Simply put, when minority-owned businesses suffer, it directly affects the largely minority workforce and thus the prosperity and spirit of our city and region.   The Beltline’s proposed allocation of $150 million in construction funding for minority-owned firms can alleviate the economic inequities the pandemic has clearly illuminated by providing much-needed opportunities for qualified minority-owned firms.   

Minority-owned businesses are indispensable to the city’s economy. 

As the Board Chair of the Atlanta Business League (ABL), an Atlanta-based association promoting African American businesses, our ____ members have contributed to Atlanta becoming the economic epicenter of the Southeast region and an international city on the rise.  

The Beltline project is most comparable to the citywide urban revitalization initiative prior to Atlanta hosting the 1996 U.S. Olympics. Our ABL members played an instrumental role in the construction of several public infrastructure projects to ensure the city had state-of-the-art facilities to host the global event.  

Furthermore, for the last 50 years, numerous black businesses have led the modern expansion of the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, which has consistently been ranked as the world’s busiest airport. Subsequently, many of us have leveraged this world-class experience to build aviation practices in other cities across our nation.

Expanding opportunities for minority participation on Beltline projects continues the city’s legacy of equitable economic development.  

Albert Edwards (Courtesy)

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