You will step into the Governor’s Mansion as our nation is experiencing historic political divisiveness.
However, here in Georgia, our state leaders have worked together to make progress on several key issues, from transportation to economic development.
As a result, Georgia remains the number one state for business. We’re investing billions of dollars to improve the Atlanta region’s transportation network. And the state has even been running budget surpluses.
Of course, there have been spirited disagreements on occasion. But goal-oriented collaboration has kept our state moving forward, despite political differences.
Now, Governor-elect, let me draw your attention to three of the biggest challenges facing the Atlanta region today.
The first is housing affordability. For decades, affordable home ownership and renting have helped fuel our region’s growth and prosperity. But things are changing quickly
In recent years, rents have risen five times faster than wages. Home prices are heating up, too. Today, more than half the people in metro Atlanta can’t afford the average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment.
But, there is good news. The region is coming together to address this urgent issue.
In one initiative, ARC is partnering with hundreds of people and organizations across sectors and geographic boundaries to develop a Regional Housing Strategy that will search for innovative, community-relevant solutions to help turn the tide.
We hope we can count on your office to help develop the policies and marshal the resources to make housing affordability a priority.
The second challenge I’d like to address is regional transit expansion. A more robust regional transit network is critical to keeping metro Atlanta economically competitive and improving our quality of life.
We are making progress. MARTA is planning a two-and-a-half billion-dollar expansion in the city of Atlanta. And the Georgia Legislature earlier this year established the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority, or The ATL, offering new opportunities to expand and better coordinate mobility options across the region.
But in many ways, the hard work has just begun. The creation of a truly regional transit network will require many difficult decisions. With support from you and your new administration, we can keep the momentum going and provide new commuting options that will keep Atlanta and Georgia highly competitive for new job growth and economic prosperity.
Finally, Governor-elect, and perhaps most importantly, we must do a better job of educating our young people and putting them on paths to prosperity.
The journey to a good education and career starts at the very beginning of a child’s life. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of Georgia’s kids are able to enroll in quality pre-K early learning programs. And only 39 percent of metro Atlanta third graders read on-level. And, on the other end of the education pipeline, just 80 percent of our region’s students graduate from high school on time.
Metro Atlanta is taking important steps to help improve these outcomes. For example, the Learn4Life educational collaborative – consisting of eight public school systems, with support from foundations, businesses and nonprofits – has a goal of making sure every student is ready for college or career.
One early success for Learn 4 Life has been expanding the Vision To Learn program to more schools in our region. Vision To Learn provides free eye exams and glasses for kids in low-income neighborhoods, because we know that one out of five children have vision problems that are not addressed.
This program is making a difference. Consider Atlanta’s Deerwood Academy. Last year, Vision To Learn found that 160 of the school’s 700 students needed vision correction. They all received glasses. Their futures are certainly much brighter now.
Governor-elect, your predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal, has championed Georgia’s technical college system and supported programs that help our high school graduates find careers or fields of study. We hope you will continue to make education and workforce development top priorities during your administration.
I know these challenges may seem daunting as you begin your term. However, they are surmountable, as long as we work together, as a region and as a state.
ARC and the region’s leaders look forward to working alongside you on these critical issues.
Doug Hooker is executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission. This was adapted from a speech he gave at the agency’s State of the Region breakfast on Nov. 2.