Opinion: Mobility, collaboration can pave way to state’s prosperity

Public transit is the talk of the town. Watching the Governor, Speaker of the House, and Lieutenant Governor – flanked by a truly diverse and bipartisan group of state and local leaders - was heartening to witness, as they announced an unprecedented multimillion-dollar investment in MARTA a few weeks ago.

This announcement, which followed other major transit victories/investments in Clayton County (2014), the city of Atlanta (2016), and the creation of the Atlanta-region Transit Link (The ATL) earlier this year, has highlighted just how far various communities have come in their support for mass transit. While much remains to be done, including possible elections in several counties that will provide more resources for expansion to effectively link the region, the momentum for more transit is undeniable.

This sentiment is in stark contrast to the resounding defeat of T-SPLOST on July 31, 2012, with the AJC headline the following day: “Voters Reject Transportation Tax” by an overwhelming margin. When I became CEO of MARTA a few months later, the mood was depressing. As I met with customers, state and local political leaders, and various representatives from the business community, their consistent sentiment was that effective public transit would be a necessity for the region to reach its full potential, but that MARTA was struggling. Working together, with a coalition of liberal and conservative politicians, civil rights leaders, environmental activists, large and small businesses, and unwavering support from the MARTA Board of Directors (most notably board chairs Fred Daniels and Robbie Ashe), we were able to transform MARTA and make it one of the safest and most fiscally sound transit systems in the nation, winning many awards and accolades along the way. Atlanta’s pro-transit shift has made the region attractive to Fortune 1000 companies, major sporting events and conventions, and an attractor of talented young people who want to take full advantage of all the incredible attributes the Atlanta metro region has to offer.

Today, the Atlanta metro area faces a challenge that is perhaps even bigger than its infamous congestion. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Atlanta ranks No. 1 in income inequality. Nearly 25 percent of Atlanta children born into poverty will remain there into adulthood, and less than half will ever achieve a middle-class income. These staggering statistics, and more importantly, the people who comprise them, are a growing concern that continue to galvanize my personal interest in economic development solutions and my current work in the nonprofit sector. I believe we can use the successful transit blueprint to challenge the pernicious impasse of economic immobility.

In this region, we are blessed with strong and vibrant organizations and individuals who can take on this challenge and let Atlanta show the way for the rest of the nation. Groups like the United Way, Partnership for Southern Equity, Center for Working Families, TechBridge, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and many others have recognized the need to move Atlanta from worst to first in regards to income mobility.

At Goodwill we are eager to do our part. The common thread that connects us revolves around a shared desire to see our community, region and state thrive. For us at Goodwill, the epicenter of it all starts with ensuring access to better employment opportunities and creating lasting employment solutions for Georgia families and Georgia businesses alike. For more than a century, our mission has been to connect people to jobs. Through our career service programs, we transform revenue generated by our donated goods retail business into job training and placement services for job seekers. We then connect employers with individuals who are prepared and ready to go to work. In the last five years, Goodwill of North Georgia has connected over 100,000 people to jobs from 5,000 area employers, making us the largest workforce development organization in the southeast.

Working collaboratively, we can change the narrative by creating true economic mobility.

Let’s keep Atlanta moving together.

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Keith T. Parker became CEO of Goodwill of North Georgia in October 2017 following five years as general manager of MARTA.