The next steps: Wisely choose direction

Atlanta Forward / The Editorial Board's Opinion: For metro Atlanta to regain regional prosperity, it needs to employ a tested corporate tool to identify and develop effective strategies.

In a metro area that tumbled backward — again — into double-digit unemployment in June, it’s pretty clear that we need more jobs to emerge here. For our longer-term municipal good, we need better-paying jobs too.

Obtaining these needed results requires that we deploy new tools in new ways. That’s appropriate because some of the largest challenges before us are different than those we’ve overcome in the past. The old solutions won’t get this job done. Our economy and society continue to evolve, creating new needs and opportunities to fill them.

A first step toward embracing transformative change is recognizing the pressing reasons to do so. That’s a big part of why The Atlanta Journal-Constitution embarked on the eight-day “Atlanta Forward, 2012: The Turning Point” news report that concludes today. We’ve presented major issues facing the Atlanta metro as well as the considerable strengths we can bring to the unceasing global scramble for capital, jobs and talented workers.

That’s where SWOT comes in. It’s short for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. SWOT analysis is a popular analytic tool in corporate America. With a bit of creativity, we believe the concept can add value as the Atlanta region struggles to restart and reinvent our economy coming out of the Great Recession.

It’s not much of a stretch to view Atlanta as being one giant, interconnected enterprise — one that doesn’t hum along nearly as efficiently as it did just a few years ago. Seen that way, each of us counts among nearly 6 million shareholders heavily invested in this region’s success. We live, spend, save and pay taxes here. The fortunate and the non-retired among us still work here. We must devise ways to better work together for our common good.

SWOT analysis can help this region identify and develop effective strategies to build upon strengths, shore up weaknesses, chase down opportunities and neutralize threats. Civic planners have been at this task for a while, but each Atlantan needs to think about what we can do to improve our regional economy.

Successful organizations periodically update, rework or even throw out and redo their business plans. Then they act decisively on the strategies and tactics contained therein. Doing so increases the odds of success and lessens the probability of failure.

Getting there’s not easy. Not getting there’s even more painful. We have no other fruitful choice but to devise and act on a new playbook for the households, neighborhoods, cities and counties that comprise our metro. If we don’t, we’ll pay a measurable price both sooner and later. It will come in jobs lost, smaller paychecks and larger tax burdens as wealth creators head elsewhere.

Each of us could compile our own SWOT list, and many of the same items would likely appear. We know, for example, that having the world’s busiest airport in our midst is a giant plus, as is our status as a logistics hub. Those are strengths.

It’s a given that we must resolve our water issues. Our transportation infrastructure is undersized and substandard for a city of our stature. If we don’t fix it, gridlock will increasingly devour our economic potential. Our schools have, overall, made progress but we’ve a long ways to go toward consistently providing an education adequate for 21st-century needs. Those are weaknesses.

Opportunities, thankfully, abound here. Our universities and the research they produce can be used more effectively to grow companies and jobs. We should, as the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s New Economy Task Force Report of 2009 urged, continue to build on niches in the logistics, science and other sectors that can lure better-paying jobs to Atlanta.

The threats are many, and evolving. High on the list are cities that are aggressively building innovative ways to move people and cargo more efficiently around their towns. Add in the places that are addressing quality of life issues to lure the footloose and sought-after “creative class.” Just saying we have low taxes won’t make us competitive on these counts.

As the landmark year of 2012 approaches, Atlantans face an unparalleled opportunity to determine whether this area prospers or begins grinding toward irrelevance. The big decisions we face next year beg decisive thinking and action. So, bring on the SWOT analysis.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board

Atlanta Forward: We look at major issues Atlanta must address in order to move forward as the economy recovers.

Look for the designation “Atlanta Forward,” which will identify these discussions.