Wednesday, The Collaborative Firm (TCF) hosted their 21st South Metro Development Outlook (SMDO) Conference at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park. The annual event, chaired by TCF CEO Michael Hightower, highlights the interconnected relationships between the commercial, political and public service arenas united by a mission to drive economic growth and targeted development to the southern region of the Metro Atlanta area. Those regions include the City of Atlanta (specifically south of Interstate 20), plus Coweta, Clayton, Fayette, Douglas and Henry Counties.
The population growth of those areas have experienced more than double digit growth in the last eleven years. Moreover, according to the latest population forecasts from the Atlanta Regional Commission estimates 1.8 million people will migrate to Metro Atlanta by 2050. That is similar to the population of Metro Nashville picking up and moving to Metro Atlanta in a 30 year period.
With the expected population increases, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport must continue to keep up with ever increasing demand. Currently, more than 2,500 flights arrive and depart from the airport each day.
“Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest and most efficient airport, continues to be the crown jewel of the South Side and the whole state of Georgia has a $66 billion annual impact on the state and it also generates the region’s economic power,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.”
There will also be $12 billion in construction earmarked for Hartsfield-Jackson International airport, which is soliciting contracts from small, Black, minority and Women-owned businesses.
The chief driver of economic development is the work the City of Atlanta is doing while the communities represented in the conference are making their cases as to why families and businesses should settle in their locales.
“Michael of The Collaborative Firm knows what all of us in this room live and breathe on a daily basis: the south side is the right side,” said College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom. “The right side for development, the right side for growth, and the right side for the future of Metro Atlanta.”
Another topic of discussion during the conference was the growing need for expanded mass transportation. Gerald McDowell, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Airport Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) announced the formation of an automated transit network which promises to bring personal rapid transit and autonomous shuttles to the areas surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. McDowell commissioned a transit feasibility study in 2018. And out of that study, there was a recommendation to create a mobility district which included the entire airport area.
“On April 10th, we’re going to be releasing our request for proposal (an RFP) to build a personal rapid transit network right here in the mobility district and in the airport area,” McDowell said. “By 2025, we will have the operation of autonomous shuttles, micro transit and a personal rapid transit system right here in the airport area.”
Another topic of discussion was rising home values and equitable housing. Home values have been soaring in the last five years. Home values have risen anywhere from 58% in Fayette, 64% in Coweta, 91% in Henry, 92% in Douglas and 128% in Clayton County due to the robust economy in the overall Metro Atlanta area. With those rising costs, the crisis of affordability continues to grow with it.
“I have a newspaper article from last fall that says that Metro Atlanta remains the number one place for income inequality in the United States,” says Anna Roach, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Regional Commission. “I keep that on my desk and I look at it every morning because I am determined to work with the leadership across the region to ensure that it does not become the headline for Metro Atlanta again this year. We have got to do something to make sure that everybody’s enjoying the prosperity that we will enjoy.”
The conference attendees, as well as leaders in business, education, and in the public sector, each pledged to drive economic growth by attracting talented employees, utilizing the colleges and universities to develop the future workforce while addressing the needs of the growing communities they serve. Sarah-Elizabeth Langford is the Executive Director of the Development Authority of Fulton County, an organization which uses tax abatements as the impetus to drive growth and economic development. She says she’s positioning the organization to be a partner to developers to elected officials to attract dynamic projects to the South side of town.
“Our chairman, Marty Turpeau, led an initiative to increase an incentive because there were so many developers who were trying to get projects done specifically for workforce housing for that missing middle,” said Langford. “So now we have in our toolbox a 15-year tax incentive specifically for developers with difficult projects targeting that missing middle or those middle income earners who need quality, affordable housing.”
In the end, Hightower believes this conference is the perfect blend of business, government, and civic pride that will yield positive results for everyone involved.
“The concept of SMDO was birthed out of the need to identify new developments and investments, higher levels of community development and housing throughout the South Metro Region,” Hightower said. “ The ardent ability to create and nurture relationships that yield opportunities with tangible outcomes are the fundamental aspects of the conference and its purpose.”