Atlanta Forward/ Another View: Pursuing opportunities and fixing problems

Despite the country’s worst recession in 70 years, Atlanta attracted not just one, but two, Fortune 500 companies in 2009 — NCR and First Data. More than 6,500 new jobs have come to metro Atlanta this year.

Our region is not sitting still.

The recession has forced job losses, declining incomes and a decreasing tax base. Some industries are growing. Others have shrunk. Smart cities are being proactive, looking ahead now to align their job-growth strategies with the post-recession “new economy.” Atlanta is one of those cities.

In 2009, the Metro Atlanta Chamber launched the New Economy Task Force. This task force was about one simple, but powerful question: How can we position our region for success over the next decade?

Through this task force, we developed a job-growth strategy for the next 10 years. The chamber’s historic focus on attracting corporate headquarters and global facilities, and companies in the technology, bioscience and supply chain industries is right on track. But now we need to drill down to niche markets within these industries. These new opportunities can best be realized by partnering with the state, local chambers of commerce and development authorities.

Even as we play offense ... we have to defend against threats. Water and transportation are crucial issues for our region. Inaction is not an option. How we handle the water and transportation crises will determine our business future, our quality of life and our ability to attract workers for the next 50 years.

Since October, shortly after Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that metro Atlanta’s use of Lake Lanier for drinking water could be limited in 2012, more than 80 business, environmental and government officials have been studying our “Plan B” if our ability to use Lake Lanier for drinking water is greatly reduced.

This water contingency task force gave the governor the final recommendations for how to increase our state’s water supply. We are recommending a strategy known as the “3Cs” — conserve more water, capture the water we do receive and control our water supplies through progressive water policies. There’s no single magic solution.

We made transportation a top legislative issue by growing the Get Georgia Moving coalition to 100-plus organizations, and developed public support for a regional transportation sales tax legislation around the state. According to the governor’s IT3 report, the state stands to lose up to $480 billion and 425,000 jobs if we don’t act on transportation.

Metro Atlanta needs the ability to pick transportation projects that will have the greatest impact, and present them to voters for approval. We are behind cities like Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle, where they have passed regional referendums.

As the Georgia General Assembly convenes in January, we will continue to work with the governor and elected officials. We firmly believe these issues can be dealt with, but it will take bold leadership and aggressive action. Our leaders have the guts to solve these challenges, and position Georgia for a bright future for generations to come.

Sam A. Williams is president, Metro Atlanta Chamber.