Prosperity depends on solutions

A recent AJC article noted that Georgia-Pacific, where I served as chairman for many years, was the last Fortune 500 company to move its corporate headquarters downtown from another city. The accompanying headline declared that Georgia’s “engine for growth has run out of fuel.”

That’s just not so.

While the nation has been hit hard by the recession, Atlanta as a city and region has rock-solid assets and encouraging demographic trends that continue to draw companies here.

Metro Atlanta’s population has increased 1.1 million since 2000 — the second-largest population gain of any metro area in the country. Net job growth has been positive seven of the past 10 years, with the “off” years due to national recessions.

Hard numbers from the commercial real estate sector also tell a compelling story.

More than 11 million square feet of office space has been absorbed inside city limits since 1997. At three jobs per thousand square feet, this suggests that 32,000 jobs have been created in the city alone.

Moving to downtown was one of the best decisions Georgia-Pacific ever made. Moving from downtown Portland, Ore., we were a downtown company that had a more formal approach to business and loved the hustle and bustle of the city. We had no interest in taking off our suits and ties and looking at a field.

That doesn’t mean everything is roses in Atlanta. My good friends Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank are right that the city must be more assertive on crime and quality-of-life issues. Aggressive panhandling is a real concern, and every resident of Atlanta wants these issues addressed.

But we have enjoyed a visionary and ethical mayor in Shirley Franklin, and it is crucial that we build on her accomplishments.

A laser focus will be needed for trimming expenses to a manageable level and setting goals for measurement.

Atlanta must be positioned to capitalize on the future and ensure that the convention and tourism business stays here and thrives. Aggressive panhandling threatens that, so the next mayor must figure out how the current ordinance can be properly enforced or enhanced.

But even in an urban utopia, some companies will choose to locate outside city limits because of a desire for a campus environment, or to be near vendors, partners or employees.

The point is, the “good news” of metro Atlanta’s economic strength should not get lost in an all-too-narrow analysis that relies on meaningless distinctions about headquarters vs. non-headquarters, city limits vs. suburbs, or assumptions that only Fortune 500 companies count.

In recent years the city and the region have really started working well together, thanks in large part to Mayor Franklin and Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Sam Olens.

While other cities are struggling, metro Atlanta — inside and outside the city limits — is continuing to grow and thrive.

A.D. “Pete” Correll is chairman of Atlanta Equity Investors and board chairman of Grady Memorial Hospital. He’s former chairman and CEO of Georgia-Pacific Corp.