Shannon James, right, speaks Thursday to a colleague at the Annual State of the Aerotropolis Breakfast at the Georgia International Conference Center. James is the incoming chairman of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, a business group focusing on promoting development around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (LEON STAFFORD AJC/lstafford@ajc.com)

Group celebrates south metro Atlanta’s progress as business destination

For those hoping to make the area around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport a business and residential destination, what happened in 2016 and 2017 was long overdue.

After years of false starts, investment in south metro in the past 24 months such as BMW’s training facility in College Park, $500,000 spent beautifying 22 miles of roads and interchanges and millions planned to redesign Camp Creek Parkway — one of the area’s busiest mixed-used developments — are giving boosters hope that the southside is finally getting momentum.

“I know it seems like a longtime coming, but we are finally here,” Shannon James, the incoming chairman of Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, said Thursday at the second Annual State of the Aerotropolis Breakfast.

Growing the area around the airport is important to Aerotropolis Atlanta, whose partners include Chick-fil-A, MARTA, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the cities of College Park and East Point. The group hopes that corporations turned off by the traffic congestion in the region’s more established business centers, such as Buckhead, Dunwoody and Alpharetta, will give south metro a look.

To attract business prospects, however, members of the group acknowledged that south metro’s schools would have to continue improving and more investments will be needed to groom a workforce that matches what the businesses want, including skills in the technology, construction and medical fields.

“We need regional solutions for education,” said Ken Zeff, executive director of the metro Atlanta office of national education program Learn4Life.

James said while he’s happy progress is being made in the Aerotropolis area, the effort is way behind. A symposium held in 1989 pointed out the urgent need to leverage the growth of Hartsfield-Jackson, but the effort got little traction.

“We haven’t progressed at the same pace as the airport,” he said.

He doesn’t think the same thing will happen this time around.

“Are you ready to take off?” he asked the crowd as they applauded.

said.

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