Earlier this month, I spoke to more than 1,300 metro Atlanta business, government, and non-profit leaders at the Atlanta Regional Commission’s annual State of the Region Breakfast. I was honored to be part of a brand-new Ted Talk-inspired speaker series called “What’s Next ATL.” Joining me on the stage were Ellen Dunham-Jones, the director of Georgia Tech’s Urban Design Program, and Wanis Kabbaj, the director of global strategy for healthcare logistics at UPS.
As the President and CEO of Invest Atlanta, I chose a topic of profound importance to our organization: economic mobility.
Looking back almost 50 years, the middle class has shrunk from 62% of the population in 1970 to just 43% in 2015, and economic opportunity become out of reach for too many families. To reverse this trend, we need to implement a regional economic growth strategy focused on equitable economic mobility. Many factors should support this strategy, including making focused investments in education, healthcare, and technology. But I focused on three areas where I believe we could have the greatest impact: training, mobility, and housing.
First, we need to upskill our workforce so individuals can make a higher wage to close the income disparity gap. A 10% reduction in poverty would translate to almost $850 million for metro Atlanta’s economy. Second, mobility must be undertaken as a region, not as individual cities or counties, to make it easier for people to get from where they live to where they work. Lowering a worker’s commute time by just one hour per week effectively increases that worker’s salary by almost $1,000 annually. Finally, we need to work together to support the retention and creation of affordable workforce housing near our job centers. Right now, the average household in our region spends an average of 63% of their income on transportation and housing. If we decease that spend by just 5%, these families would have an additional $550 million in their budgets.
The theme of this year’s ARC event was “The Power of Collaboration,” and I look forward to working together—as a region—with other leaders on these issues in the years ahead. By doing so, we’ll not only create opportunity for our residents, we’ll increase also Atlanta’s long-term economic vitality and competitiveness.