Metro Atlanta Chamber announces 2018 priorities


The Metro Atlanta Chamber on Thursday unveiled its priorities for 2018, a slate of initiatives that include new job recruitment strategies, workforce development, an emphasis on economic mobility and a new digital platform to recruit young professionals to move and start their careers in the region.

During a lunchtime gala on the field of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, chamber leaders announced three “big bets” for the region that leaders say will make the metro area more economically vibrant and inclusive, while helping companies attract talent. The organization also debuted THEA, a new streaming video platform aimed at attracting millennials here.

Chamber officials also say they will work to protect the state’s top business ratings, pass pro-business legislation and ward off possible state legislation in next year’s session that business leaders say will hurt the state’s reputation. This includes so-called religious liberty or religious exemption laws that opponents say are discriminatory to the LGBT community.

The Atlanta region is evolving from an industrial to a digital economy, said GE Power President and CEO Russell Stokes, the chamber’s 2018 chairman. The region’s competitive advantage is its skilled workforce, but the region’s future depends on further development of that talent pipeline. 

“We have the jobs of tomorrow, and we are producing talent for those jobs today,” he said. 

Chamber officials said the organization will work to protect the state’s top business ratings, pass pro-business legislation and ward off possible state legislation in next year’s session that business leaders say will hurt the state’s reputation. This includes so-called religious liberty or religious exemption laws that opponents say are discriminatory to the LGBT community.

State lawmakers passed a religious liberty bill in 2016, which was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal amid pressure from Fortune 500 companies, tech firms, human rights groups and other organizations. Four top Republican candidates to replace the term-limited Deal in next year’s gubernatorial race pledged to sign similar legislation as governor if it comes to their desks.

A debate over such legislation could complicated Georgia’s push for Amazon’s second headquarters and 50,000 jobs.

“It’s been proven time and time again that places that pass some of these restrictive laws they pay the price for that,” said UPS Chairman and CEO David Abney, who is slated to serve as chamber chairman 2019.

The 2018 legislative session shapes up to be a critical one for a number of top chamber priorities. Lawmakers could vote on dedicated state funding for transit, and leaders in DeKalb and Fulton could bring forward expansion plans for MARTA.

Longtime chamber priorities including transit expansion, education and workforce training are critical to overcoming economic immobility challenges, chamber President and CEO Hala Moddelmog said in a briefing Wednesday. But the messaging hasn’t always centered on those issues being about helping people move from a lower rung of the economic ladder to a higher one.

“We want to make sure that people know transit is about access to jobs, access to health care,” she said.

The three “big bets” to be announced by the chamber are:

  • New recruiting plans: Reinvention of economic development strategies, centered on cultivating cyber-security, global health, the internet of things (IoT), financial technology and entrepreneurship.
  • Focus on education: The chamber plans to work with the Legislature to expand access to HOPE Scholarships and develop needs-based educational aid programs. Among the ideas are to lift the seven-year cap on benefits for HOPE so that non-traditional students who might not follow a typical four-year path to a degree can still tap into HOPE benefits if their college education is delayed by life events.
  • Economic mobility and opportunity: Recognizing Atlanta, like many Southern cities, has a poor record for economic mobility, the chamber plans to rally around efforts such as transit expansion, workforce development, education and other issues to improve quality of life and economic advancement.

The video platform, THEA (think: The-A, as in Atlanta), is designed to showcase Atlanta area artists, creators, entrepreneurs and the region’s cultural touchstones. The program is born out of the Chamber’s ChooseATL campaign to convince young professionals that Atlanta is the place to start a business and their careers.

Some 15 companies have signed on and thus far created more than 130 videos covering topics such as Atlanta food, entertainment, music, technology and the startup scene.

The videos include documentary and scripted content. THEA, developed by Atlanta-based over-the-top video distributor Endavo, is available on Apple iOS and Android devices and will soon stream over Roku and AppleTV. It’s also available at the website, thea.network.

THEA has no chamber branding. The platform is about distributing Atlanta content from local to as broad an audience as possible. Partners include Blossom, an Atlanta company that produces programming for women of color, music videos produced by Motion Family and programs on the Atlanta startup scene by Techstars, a startup accelerator program backed by Cox Enterprises, whose media holdings includes The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“What THEA is, is a wonderful showcase of what Atlanta is through the eyes of Atlantans,” said Kate Atwood, executive director of the chamber’s ChooseATL campaign.

The ChooseATL team wants other Atlanta content providers to join. Ultimately, the streaming service could become an advertising revenue generator for the chamber and ChooseATL, as well as their partner companies.

Atwood said THEA can be a resource to corporate recruiters to show job prospects about Atlanta culture. 

“A vibrant culture is the Number One consideration for millennials when they choose a place to move,” Moddelmog said.

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