GeorgiaForward is changing the game by finding consensus statewide

October 2,2017

Source: Maria Saporta, Saporta Report

People from across the state pondered Georgia’s future looking for ways to improve prosperity for everyone.

The two-day 2017 GeorgiaForward forum, held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, asked all the big questions.

Why is Georgia consistently ranked at the educational bottom for K-12?

Why can’t 25 percent of Georgia’s population find a job that pays a living wage?

Why is there such a lack of affordable housing?

Those questions were posed by Wendy Stewart, Atlanta market president for Bank of America, which was the presenting sponsor of Georgia Forward.

Stewart set the stage by stating the finding of a study that showed Atlanta was one of the least economically mobile cities in the United States.

Only 4.4 percent of the children born to parents in the lowest 20 percent of income distribution will make it to the top 20 percent. The only city worse than Atlanta was Charlotte at 4.5 percent.

Cities with high upward mobility have lower levels of residential segregation, a larger middle class, stronger families, greater social capital and higher quality public schools, Stewart said.

“We are talking about the future of Georgia,” said A.J. Robinson, GeorgiaForward’s chairman and co-founder who also is president and CEO of Central Atlanta Progress. Robinson explained this year’s theme of defining Georgia’s prosperity. “This conversation doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

The 2017 GeorgiaForward forum was the first statewide gathering held by the organization in four years. And it was first under the leadership of Kris Vaughn, GeorgiaForward’s executive director.

GeorgiaForward actually was launched in 2010 as a way to build a closer working relationship among the different communities in the state.

The last statewide forum took place in 2013, and since then the organization has been focused on its Young Gamechangers initiative, where a group of young people look for ways to revitalize communities and help make them more competitive in the future.

Young Gamechangers has already gone to Americus, Dublin, Douglasville, LaGrange, Augusta and Milledgeville. The next Young Gamechangers will be in Albany.

“We were very exciting when we were chosen to be the second community,” Dublin Mayor Phil Best said. “A group of very smart, intellectual young folks come into your community…. If you are willing to listen, they will help your community.”

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said the Young Gamechangers came to Augusta in 2016.

“It was a way for us to bring the community together in a way that it hadn’t done before,” Mayor Davis said. “They brought us four big ideas, and we were able to talk about them in a non-threatening way.”

Among those big ideas: have a closer relationship between Augusta University and the city, to continue to build out Augusta’s river experience and to create stronger ties with Fort Gordon.

Romona Jackson-James, chair of the Douglas County Commission, called it a “very positive experience,” which looked at ways to “Connect Douglas” by having transit service that would connect it to the rest of the region.

Jackson-James said Douglas County is changing – not only demographically and politically – but it is shifting from being a bedroom community to a more urban county. As a result, she is focusing her leadership on economic development, transportation and infrastructure.

GeorgiaForward provided an opportunity for attendees to see the state through different eyes and to find areas of consensus. It also invited many of its Gamechangers to the forum, which brought younger and fresher perspectives to the conversation.

“It was a great idea to engage young people,” said Craig Lesser, a long-time economic development professional in Georgia. “They are critical building blocks for any community that’s going to move forward. They are a breath of fresh air.”

Kirby Godsey, chancellor of Mercer University, spoke directly to the young people in the room.

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