Defining Atlanta: 'The city too busy to hate' always knows when to put politics aside

Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Defining Atlanta series continues March 12, with a look at how local business and political leaders have often put aside ideological differences in order to build one of the South’s most diverse economies.

The question is whether that winning formula is still being used today. A good sign, say those engaged in bringing jobs to the city, is that controversial pieces of legislation that made noise under the Gold Dome in 2019 have been mostly quiet this year.

Consider House Bill 481, better known as “the heartbeat bill.” Last year, it caused a backlash among movie studios and production companies, an important development considering how those companies are making Georgia into one of the top manufacturing centers for the film and TV industry outside of New York and Los Angeles.

This year, the heartbeat bill has been a non-issue, said Ryan Millsap, chairman and CEO of Atlanta’s Blackhall Studios. The reason: a federal judge last October temporarily blocked the law, which would have banned abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Currently, Millsap is watching a new piece of legislation, House Bill 1037, which would strengthen oversight of the state’s film tax credit program. It follows on the heels of a withering report about the industry earlier this year.

“The legislation they are working on is very intelligent,” Millsap said.

Atlanta’s film and TV industry has regained “the momentum we lost,” he added. “If we can get through this legislative session without a social, financial or political gaffe, what we can achieve will be significant.”

Millsap will join additional Defining Atlanta panelists at the March 12 event including:

Doug Hooker, executive director, Atlanta Regional Commission

Anne Kaiser, vice president of community and economic development with Georgia Power

John Yates, partner with the Atlanta law firm Morris Manning & Martin.

For the greater good

The program, held at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, will highlight Atlanta’s reputation as “The City Too Busy To Hate” — more than just a slogan to the city’s business and political leadership. Charlie Loudermilk, the founder of Aaron Rents Inc., Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador, Atlanta mayor and civil rights icon, John Portman, the renowned Atlanta architect, and Roberto Goizueta, the longtime CEO of The Coca-Cola Co, spent years uniting the interests of black and white business leaders throughout the city around economic growth and prosperity.

In Atlanta, putting political differences aside is still the norm when recruiting major companies. Former Gov. Nathan Deal and previous Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed didn’t share political ideology, but they found common ground when it mattered.

Their wins included the expansions of NCR Corp. (NYSE: NCR), Anthem Inc. (NYSE: ANTM) and Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE: NSC) in Midtown, now home to one of the country’s top innovation districts, Technology Square.

The diversity of Atlanta’s workforce is also becoming a major attraction. Macy’s (NYSE: M) recently confirmed it is moving a technology unit employing close to 1,000 from San Francisco to Midtown Atlanta. In a Feb. 18 interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, the company’s Chief Technology Officer Naveen Krishna described how Atlanta’s growing diversity played a role in the decision. “You see it in the workforce,” he said. “You see it in the pipeline of candidates you have in for interviews.”

A city that cares

The flow of capital for new development into long neglected parts of the city, and the speed those areas are gentrifying, are also unprecedented. While that is creating a more dynamic, urban environment that attracts people back to the city, Atlanta also has the largest share of gentrifying neighborhoods behind only Washington D.C., Portland, and Seattle. Over time, those trends will likely displace longtime city residents who waited years to see their neighborhoods on the cusp of revitalization.

“We are beginning to talk openly about equity issues, economic immobility, and our desire to improve that,” said the ARC’s Doug Hooker. “We are growing beyond a city too busy to hate to one that is also not too busy to care.”

Defining Atlanta is a quarterly event that explores what is uniquely Atlanta, from its places to the way it is dealing with its most pressing challenges. Previously, Defining Atlanta has explored how the city’s neighborhoods and culture compare to other cities in the Southeast, and the way suburban areas of the region are finding ways to thrive without a car.

By Douglas Sams

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