JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Opinion: Securing Atlanta’s next-gen future

The pace of change in business is faster than ever before, and stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders – are holding companies accountable across a broad range of categories that go far beyond profits and losses. Within our walls, diversity, inclusion and equity are consistent discussion points. Corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability and ethical impact are always top of mind. And the war for talent is ongoing, especially as design thinking, analytics and automation become increasingly more important for the workforce of the future. How does a collective business community stay on top of these trends? And how do business leaders come together to challenge each other, share best practices, solve problems and find partnership opportunities that drive impact for a community at large? In our region, for 160 years, the Metro Atlanta Chamber has been the answer to these questions.

Rooted in the same railroad legacy that built Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber was established in 1859 as the voice of the business community. And while our interests – and the region’s – have evolved through the decades, we’ve remained laser-focused on making metro Atlanta a vibrant and prosperous region where bright careers, a welcoming community and an unmatched culture set us apart.

But we haven’t done that alone. We stand on a firm foundation of business leaders, government officials and regional partners who have championed our efforts and worked alongside us for more than a century and a half. We also pay homage to past Chamber leaders, including Asa Candler (1908-1909), L.L. Gellerstedt (1944), Ivan Allen Jr. (1961), Herman Russell (1981), Ambassador Andrew Young (1996), Jackie Ward (1997), Arthur Blank (2003), Carol Tomé (2012) and many others. Their vision and unparalleled collaboration helped the Chamber drive a long list of Atlanta’s notable milestones, including the purchase of land for an airport in the 1920s, which grew into the world’s busiest and most efficient. In 1926, the Chamber launched Forward Atlanta, one of the first city-specific marketing campaigns in the U.S. It raised funds for public education and an interstate system in the 30s and 40s. During the 1950s and 60s, a time of remarkable social change, the Chamber advocated for business integration and school desegregation while also playing a key role in setting the stage for what would become today’s MARTA.

Bidding for the 1996 Olympic Games, saving Grady Hospital, ensuring a sustainable water supply, changing the state flag, fighting discriminatory legislation, recruiting corporate headquarters, accelerating growth for scaling companies, working to attract and retain millennial talent and hosting Super Bowl LIII…these are just a few of many examples where the Metro Atlanta Chamber played a significant role to shape our region for a better future.

Our legacy is rich, but it hasn’t all been easy. We have worked to make informed decisions and succeed in partnership with expected and unexpected allies. Still, our priorities haven’t always satisfied every constituent’s objective, and our positions haven’t always been applauded by the masses. We’ve taken note of the successes and the lessons learned along the way as we reimagine the next phase of our work. We are building on our region’s position as a knowledge capital, our history of uncovering innovative solutions, our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the Chamber’s forward-thinking worldview with one phrase in mind: next generation.

But what does a next-generation approach mean for a chamber? For us, it starts with next-gen leadership. This summer we brought together nearly 100 multigenerational and multicultural business people representing a cross-section of industries over a series of intimate dinners. Through open and honest dialogue, we covered a host of topics, including entrepreneurship, access to capital, education, workforce development, public policy and more. Ideas were birthed, solutions were offered, partnerships were formed and relationships were strengthened. Most importantly, we began charting a thoughtful strategy that will leverage the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s legacy, collaborative spirit and know-how to build on our momentum. Our aim is clear: we will drive inclusive innovation in metro Atlanta, fuel our economy and help extend the benefits of our success across our 29-county community – regardless of zip code.

A next-generation mindset is a must as we rise to this challenge. True next-generation leadership is our promise as we continue our legacy and grow our impact for the next 160 years and beyond.

Hala Moddelmog is president and CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber. Marty Flanagan, president and CEO of Invesco, is 2020 Metro Atlanta Chamber Chair-elect. David Abney, chairman and CEO of UPS and 2019 Metro Atlanta Chamber Chair, and Russell Stokes, president and CEO of GE Power and Metro Atlanta Chamber Immediate Past Chair, also contributed to this piece.

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