Opinion: In a year of challenges, Atlanta showed up strong

June 11, 2019 — View of Atlanta skyline from south of the city. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
June 11, 2019 — View of Atlanta skyline from south of the city. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Honesty and transparency — these are leadership values that can motivate a community to push forward toward a brighter future, especially during tough times.

So, here’s an honest and transparent take on 2020 in metro Atlanta: it has been both exhausting and inspiring.

Together, we faced the impacts of a global pandemic: furloughs, layoffs, remote work, virtual school, canceled events, revenue and profit losses, mental health challenges and too many lives lost. Many of us rolled up our sleeves to help move towards healing racial division and advancing social justice in our workplaces, our neighborhoods and our country. We witnessed heated, partisan debates on social media and even around our dinner tables. And with the holiday season upon us, we are forced to balance our desire to gather with family and friends with prioritizing the safety and health of our loved ones and our community.

Katie Kirkpatrick
Katie Kirkpatrick

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Exhausting.

Yet in the face of adversity, we’ve seen our neighbors, colleagues and leaders step up in extraordinary ways to solve unparalleled problems. And as much as this can be said for communities across the country and around the globe, there’s something unique about the way we’ve shown up in Atlanta.

Our healthcare professionals have provided exceptional care to patients, while Emory University is charting the path to a COVID-19 cure by partnering with Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos. on a large-scale clinical trial of a vaccine candidate. Our educators are constantly innovating in a virtual world, with groups such as the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) creating tools and resources to guide teachers during this unparalleled time. Our film industry has developed ways to safely keep the cameras rolling – for example, the “camp quarantine” setup at Tyler Perry Studios brought more than 300 cast and crew back to work.

Ed Bastian, ajc photo
Ed Bastian, ajc photo

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Meanwhile, our airport, the busiest and most efficient in the world, has enabled those who feel comfortable traveling to do so as safely as possible, while Delta Air Lines has led the way in enacting protocols to keep its passengers safe in the sky.

With the help of the Georgia Restaurant Association, our restaurant industry – whether quick or full service – has embraced technology to enable delivery and opened patios so people can continue to enjoy meals together. And entrepreneurs and small businesses have stayed connected while social distancing by embracing virtual collaboration tools.

Yes, there have been stressful moments and tough business decisions — many made while balancing family obligations and mental health. Still, we didn’t miss a beat in stepping up to help our neighbors and improve our community. Here are just a few examples:

  • In the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlanta Community Food Bank saw a 300% increase in inquiries from people seeking food assistance and provided nearly 30 million meals to struggling families in metro Atlanta and North Georgia. They were able to meet this demand with an increase in financial support from community partners.
  • In March, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta together launched the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to get emergency funding to nonprofits working on the frontlines to support our region’s most vulnerable workers and families. As of Oct. 27, the Fund raised more than $27 million and distributed more than $18 million to agencies within the community.
  • In June, Google for Startups announced its Black Founders Fund, which has since provided $2.35 million in non-diluted capital and resources to 35 metro Atlanta-based startups in partnership with local non-profit Goodie Nation.

At the same time, our business community has turned words into action in response to racial injustice in America. Companies are working to make a difference in their organizations and the wider community by addressing issues like workforce diversity and better supporting black business partners and groups fighting racism. This focus on solutions has also extended to public policy, where we achieved passage on the Hate Crimes bill and Second Chance legislation, all in the name of creating a more just and equal Georgia.

Atlanta’s strong civic engagement was also on display during the election this fall, with the Atlanta Hawks turning State Farm Arena into the state’s largest voting precinct and Metro Atlanta Chamber’s campaign to attract new poll workers to ensure a smoother voting experience for all of our citizens. And because stopping the spread of COVID-19 remains a battle we must all take on together, projects like Get Georgia Well, a collaborative effort of Central Atlanta Progress, the Georgia Hospital Association and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, will continue to help us return our state to full health.

There’s only one word for all of that: Inspiring.

But it’s no surprise. This is Atlanta, a community with a can-do spirit and genuine grit. During one of the most difficult seasons our nation has ever faced, we have watched metro Atlanta quietly and confidently come together -- and persevere. Today our region’s economy is recovering at a healthy rate, and our job market is returning to its pre-pandemic position. And with a strong innovation ecosystem, 30 Fortune 1000s, more than 3 million workers, 6 million residents and 300,000 college students, our business community is well-positioned for 2021 and beyond.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to assess lessons learned and build strategies for the next phase of our economic recovery. All the while, honesty and transparency will continue to be paramount. Equally important will be our ability to remain tenacious, inventive, collaborative and inspired. And when exhaustion creeps up as we navigate vaccine adoption, hybrid work and education models, and the journey to racial equity, we must remind each other of our region’s secret sauce: We never stop rising.

Katie Kirkpatrick is president and CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber. Ed Bastian is CEO, Delta Air Lines and 2020 Metro Atlanta Chamber chair.

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