2007-12-18

Athens as a business destination

What does it take to entice business and industry to locate in the Athens area? Does Atlanta have to reach capacity first? There is a story today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called "Corporate execs wary of traffic in Atlanta" suggesting that businesses are now being discouraged from considering that area. What businesses need to consider is that a significant portion of the labor and talent working in the Atlanta area are actually commuting from Athens-Clarke and its surrounding counties. People want the quality of life provided by this area, but they need the wages and opportunities of Atlanta.

I would be glad for corporate executives to realize that Atlanta's labor pool is not concentrated in Atlanta. They should certainly consider other metro areas. When I lived in Jackson County and worked in Gwinnett County, I had co-workers from Henry, Spalding, and Gordon Counties, and one even commuted from Alabama. Perhaps businesses have contributed to the traffic problem by locating alongside other businesses rather than where the people actually live.

Atlanta's growth presents us with opportunities here. Fortunately, we are smart enough to anticipate transportation and planning challenges. Now the question is how to do we actually bring more businesses to Athens?

(Read the first comment. It gives a lot to think about.)

1 comment:

jmSnowden said...

In my opinion, we first concentrate on our strengths. We have always been good at educating people and have a decent infrastructure to support the student lifestyle. What other types of schools may be lingering out their looking for a home? Culinary comes to mind. Chiropractic, why not? Let’s be honest with ourselves. No one comes to Gainesville state college in Athens because of the exemplary history department. They’re here for Athens and bring their money with them.

Instead of chasing down the universal dream of attracting bio tech in its broadest terms we should look where our strengths are. We have a world class vet school, a major animal health manufacturer already here and a very pet friendly environment. NBAF is considering Athens because of our animal heath strengths. We are a hub for animal sciences and should begin to see ourselves as such. We could serve bio tech but we can rule animal health.

Our art scene gets touted here and there and we get plenty of promises of how it is one day going to be a massive part of economic development. Yet nobody really seems to know how to harness the beast and, let’s be honest, when we reference Athens music scene, it’s often referencing the past. I believe the arts can be turned into a strong part of industry. Birmingham has an extremely strong arts scene thanks to the publishing industry. Publishing employs everyone from the fellow who runs the offset to the writer, photographer, designer and such. It is a good business and we could attract it.

More than anything else we need to have the motivation, tools and ability to carry out a plan to attract business. I have personally talked with a few people who exert a tremendous amount of influence on our elected officials and was honestly told “Athens has enough people and business and we don’t want anymore”. Obviously, this guy did not need a job.

If we can hone a strategy to attract industry with focus such as the examples above, I believe our efforts would be best to pursue those organizations directly. No waiting on the State or thinking that Athens is just so awesome that people will magically know it without us telling them. And then it takes people who know how to pursue action rather than process. Economic development could be a big effort. Our leaders spend lavish amounts of time debating words and dragging out every overreaching ordinance as far as they possibly can. Are they capable of doing what it takes to attract business to Athens?
I don’t know. But if they are, then why aren’t they?