View from City Hall

Mayor Kasim Reed on Atlanta’s outlook

The Atlanta metro region will continue to be one of the fastest-growing areas of the country and will become more diverse in every way. Census projections indicate the number of nonwhite and nonblack residents will continue to rise, which will give the city a richer texture.

This is already the strongest region in the Southeast, and there are three or four important projects and events that will give us the edge to ensure Atlanta becomes the most important city in the Southeast. The new Maynard Jackson International Terminal connects Atlanta to seventy-five destinations in fifty countries. The deepening of the Port of Savannah, which I am confident will move forward, will enable the busiest airport on Earth for passenger travel to become a leader in air cargo as well, making Atlanta one of the Western Hemisphere’s major logistics centers. The new Falcons stadium will further contribute to economic development. And Atlanta has laid the groundwork for the creation of reservoirs that will guarantee us the water resources necessary to sustain growth far into the future.

But most impactful will be the passage of the regional transportation tax. [Editor’s Note: The vote is scheduled for July 31, meaning it will have taken place before this issue hits newsstands.] If passed, this will result in $6 billion in crucial infrastructure spending—representing the largest investment in recent state history. The T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) will catapult the Atlanta BeltLine forward, injecting it with $600 million. The tax will also help with last-mile connectivity; right now MARTA can usually get people within a short distance of their destination, but we’ll have a more effective transit network when we’re able to carry passengers from doorstep to doorstep.

You can’t have that kind of public investment without a rise in job creation and wage growth, so the T-SPLOST will help offset the downturn in private-sector development. In fact, new projects, such as the Hilton under construction on Tenth Street and the Sky House tower on West Peachtree, indicate that the city is already rebounding from the building slump. All of these factors mean we are well situated for growth and productivity, which will impact Atlanta’s other major problem: real estate values. I’ve always believed the transportation tax would pass by at least one vote, but if it doesn’t, we’ll have to dial back some of our predicted growth. Atlanta will still move forward, but the progress will be slower and less dramatic.

The city also needs to work to improve its public schools, but our fine universities give us a definite advantage in maintaining what is a well-educated population. In an era when America is producing fewer engineers, having Georgia Tech here helps us attract high-tech businesses.

Recently Atlanta was recognized by Americans for the Arts for having the highest number of arts-related jobs per capita in the country. We’re known for our vibrant dining scene. And in the next year, I’ll seek to issue an infrastructure bond to upgrade parks and other quality-of-life improvements that will help the city remain attractive to well-educated young people.

Atlanta already has the third-highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country, but our future is tied to us becoming the Southeastern hub for international investment. In hosting a delegation from Saudi Arabia, and in our recent visit to China, we’re positioning the city to be a place where foreign governments and companies want to invest their money. In the coming years, Atlanta will be a center for foreign investment and business activity—and the most important city in the Southeast.

As told to Scott Henry

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.