LINK helps us compete

We live in one of the 10 largest and most economically powerful regions in the U.S. Metro Atlanta’s business and elected leaders know it’s up to them to keep the region’s economy moving in the right direction. To do this, they must collaborate and bring home successful ideas from around the country.

That is what the Atlanta Regional Commission’s annual LINK trip is all about. LINK (Leadership, Involvement, Networking, Knowledge) takes some of the region’s most influential leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to visit metropolitan areas around the country.

LINK destinations are chosen based on their size and challenges relative to Atlanta. Denver and Seattle more closely mirror the Atlanta area in terms of size than, say, New York or Los Angeles. City selection is sometimes based on specific challenges critical to the host and metro Atlanta. For example, Atlanta and Phoenix, the 2010 destination, share significant water concerns.

The LINK program gives our leaders the opportunity to talk candidly with their hosts about how they approach issues such as traffic congestion, economic development and education. This exchange is very valuable.

Last year in Houston, LINK participants heard from Houston’s mayor, the director of the Port of Houston and panels on education, diversity, transportation, parks, arts and other topics. Atlanta leaders were particularly interested in how the Great Houston Partnership approaches economic development and achieves its cooperative spirit. A second project of interest was a public opinion survey Houston has conducted annually for more than 30 years. That idea came back to metro Atlanta as Metro Atlanta Speaks, a regionwide survey ARC released at its 2013 State of the Region breakfast. Planning for the 2014 survey is now underway.

In 17 years, LINK has visited 15 different cities. The 2014 delegation travels to Philadelphia this week. Philadelphia was chosen because it has a thriving economy supported by innovation and entrepreneurship. Participants will also explore Philadelphia’s unique community development approaches, including the Philadelphia Mural Arts program. The delegation promises to return with fresh ideas and a broader perspective on how to maintain metro Atlanta’s global competitiveness.

To remain economically competitive, the Atlanta region must have a talented and educated workforce. Businesses must succeed and grow. Communities must be livable and attractive to young and old. That means we must work with each other to develop and implement strategies that will keep us moving toward our vision. LINK sparks the creative thinking we need to keep the Atlanta region performing at the top of its game.

Kerry Armstrong is chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission.