Invest Atlanta is the city’s updated and diversified economic development agency. With the incentives it’s creating, it’s fostering a vibrant business environment – and giving new meaning to that old nickname “Hot ‘Lanta.”
Once known as the Atlanta Development Authority (ADA), Invest Atlanta is on a mission to bolster the city’s economy and global competitiveness. Increased business opportunity and prosperity are its goal.
This research-based organization—the city’s official economic development agency—focuses on residential, business and investment growth. It wants companies to flourish, and a large part of its mission is ensuring that new technologies are developed and infrastructure is built.
The name change indicates the agency’s expanding nature: Explains Bill Cronin, Invest Atlanta’s vice president of economic development: “Established more than 20 years ago, ADA focused mainly on housing finance and tax allocation districts. It turned those two areas into profit centers, but it really wasn’t focused on economic development at the city level. Many programs were financial in nature and were geared toward developers.”
The idea was “If they build it, they will come,” to paraphrase the quote from the film “Field of Dreams” (which Invest Atlanta has transformed the city into).
“The developers shouldered the financial risk and construction burden, building large office and multi-tenant structures,” continues Cronin. “But there was no emphasis on who filled those buildings. We ended up with all eggs in two baskets: in real estate and finance. Everyone knows what happened to those two industries in 2008. The city lost more than 30,000 jobs. We needed to diversify.”
Cronin and agency President and Chief Executive Officer Brian McGowan came on board last year. Both realized there wasn’t enough focus on economic development activities. “We launched Invest Atlanta in January 2012 with an expansion of the ADA mission, to now include business creation and attraction, expansion and retention,” relates Cronin. “We kept in place the community development element—with housing finance and redevelopment through tax allocation districts—but we’ve supplemented what previously existed, to fill a void. Essentially, we’re still ADA but doing business at an increased level. Invest Atlanta is an update, and it’s fresh and exciting.”
McGowan brought significant experience—and a track record of success—to his leadership position. Before joining Invest Atlanta, he served as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and chief operating officer for the US Economic Development Administration.
Invest Atlanta serves a vibrant city with a population of 541,000 (and growing). The agency is comprised of the Urban Residential Finance Authority, Downtown Development Authority and the Atlanta Economic Renaissance Corporation. It is governed by a nine-member board of directors that is chaired by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
During his January 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Reed commented, “I have made economic development one of my administration’s top priorities. This change represents an effort to modernize our approach to economic growth.”
Invest Atlanta has 50 employees and partners with more than 55 economic development organizations.
Specifically, Invest Atlanta’s programs and initiatives focus on developing public-private partnerships to accelerate job creation and economic growth, and neighborhood revitalization and investment – all combined with fostering a fertile environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. Economic tools deployed include:
- Bond financing
- Revolving loan funds
- Housing financing
- Tax increment financing
- Tax credits
Invest Atlanta anticipates that its diversification will bring more manufacturing jobs into the community, says Cronin. “We also hope to bring in more advanced manufacturing.”
According to the agency, advanced manufacturing currently is not Atlanta’s largest industry. However, the manufacturing cluster varies greatly and includes companies within different manufacturing sectors (e.g., food processing, textiles, metal products and transportation equipment). Atlanta is also home to Fortune 100 headquarters for Delta, Coca-Cola, Novelis and Newell-Rubbermaid.
“Attraction of even more advanced manufacturers will be tied together through logistics, transportation and infrastructure, and information technology,” says Cronin. “Our creative strengths reside in the high-tech, IT and R&D platforms.”
The reason is apparent: local academia.
“Atlanta boasts major academic institutions such as Georgia Tech [Georgia Institute of Technology], Morehouse College, and Emory University,” says Cronin. “They all have strong programs in those areas, as well as in engineering.”
Recently, Georgia Tech became part of a steering committee of President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership that connects educational institutions, businesses and government to invest in emerging technology.
“I speculate that there are more R&D expenditures in Atlanta than in most other places,” says Cronin. “That creates what I call a ‘hidden corridor.’ Invest Atlanta wants to communicate to the nation and the world that we have such assets. These lead to a vibrant ‘start up’ community comprised of members hungry for success. It’s time to honk our horn.”
He points to other elements that make Atlanta a great place to do business:
- The city is the fourth-largest US research center,
- Atlanta boasts the nation’s fifth largest concentration of supply chain employment
- In recent years, it has been ranked as one of the “Top 5 Best Cities to Find a Job” (CareerCast) and one of the “Top 5 Major Cities of the Future” (fDi Intelligence)
- Atlanta ranks #1 for minority entrepreneurs (ForbesLife) and #2 on “Top 10 Metros for Entrepreneurial Activity” (Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, March 2011)
- A top-10 city for “Small Business Vitality” (American Express OPEN Independent Retail Index, October, 2011)
- In 2005, Metro Atlanta placed ninth and second for Business Expansion and Relocation (Expansion Management magazine’s “America’s Hottest Cities” for business expansion and relocation
- On Zipcar’s “Most Innovative City” study, which took into account top innovators across several key areas vital for economic growth, Atlanta ranked number-one. (Source: Zipcar Inc.’s first “Future Metropolis Index
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l Airport is the world’s busiest serving over 83 million travelers annually.
Further, Atlanta provides an environment to do business at a lower cost, thus resulting in a lower cost product and lower cost to end users.
Industries Atlanta services include:
- Transportation and Logistics – Atlanta’s logistics and transportation network make it a key distribution center in the Southeast – with key air, ground, rail, and sea access. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world’s busiest, serving more than more than 200 cities and more than 83 million travelers. Also, the Port of Savannah attracts major manufacturers (such as Caterpillar);
- Bioscience – Atlanta possesses a comprehensive bioscience community, with its strong pharmaceutical, technology and research programs;
- Medical Technology – With local research institutions including Emory and Georgia Tech, Atlanta is a US healthcare IT capital;
- Technology – Atlanta is one of the nation’s fastest growing high-tech cities, with 13,000 technology companies;
- Manufacturing – Atlanta’s supply chain infrastructure makes Atlanta an ideal home for companies within a broad spectrum of manufacturing sectors, from food processing and textiles to metal products and automotive;
- Clean and Green Manufacturing – A growing number of startups have introduced inventive methods and products for sustainable manufacturing.
“Also, from a geographic standpoint, Atlanta is the largest city in the fastest growing region in the United States,” says Cronin.
Appropriately, he uses a manufacturing metaphor to underscore Invest Atlanta’s value: “We have brought our experience into the mission, and we’re a car that is being built, even as it is driving down the road.”
For more information about Invest Atlanta, visit www.investatlanta.com, or call 404-880-4100. Also, get latest updates at Twitter @InvestAtlanta and on Facebook.