South metro Atlanta leaders see mixed success in economic outlook

If south metro Atlanta wants to grow, it will need a more skilled workforce and its leaders must establish better connections with real estate brokers who influence where companies locate, the area’s government and business leaders said Thursday.

South metro, home to Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Fayette County and Porsche's North American headquarters near Hartsfield International Airport, has made great strides in attracting new business in the last decade, but could move the needle more if it improves the training of its workforce, convinces more of its college graduates to stay in the area and can beef up its early education programs so young people are on track for the jobs of tomorrow.

"We believe the future of the Atlanta region is the southside," Fulton County Development Authority Executive Director Al Nash said before adding the caveat about workforce development issues. "We have opportunities and we have challenges."

Business and community leaders packed the Georgia International Conference Center on Thursday for the all-day 16th Annual South Metro Development Outlook, which examined everything from the role the arts play in the economic development of the south side to the impact of transit and mobility to plans to use technology to make area roads and buildings "smart."

T. Dallas Smith, a commercial real estate broker, said leaders must develop better relationships with his industry to stay top-of-mind in company location searches.

“Atlanta is what I would call a 95 percent broker-centric town,” he said, explaining that most of the location deals are made through firms such as CBRE Group, JLL, and Cushman&Wakefield. “If you are not engaging in the broker community, you are seeing only 5 percent of deals on the market.”

Others, however, seemed to think south metro was doing pretty well despite the area's challenges. They ran down a list of recent wins, including a BMW training facility in College Park, a new bathroom appliance manufacturer coming to Henry County and the expansion of a Google data center in Douglas County.

Leonard Sledge, executive director of the Henry County Development Authority, said every new business win adds to the region’s overall strength.

“When a company makes a decision for Henry County, they’re making a decision for the south metro area,” he said. “The same goes for Douglas, and for Fayette, and for every county that is represented in this distinguished group. It’s a yes for all of us.”