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Opinion: Problems well-known, we’re working on solutions

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been running a series of articles suggesting Atlanta is falling behind other southern metros such as Dallas and Charlotte in terms of economic development and, more specifically, business growth. The AJC highlights the challenge we face recruiting new business to metro Atlanta because of issues that include traffic and education. The idea that Atlanta has too much traffic and not enough education is old news and, in truth, what metro in America doesn’t have challenges? Since these are known, I think the more important questions are: what are the solutions we should be implementing and what are the competitive strengths we can capitalize on right now?

To the former, we have leaders who are clearly engaged and actively working to implement answers, not just rehashing the old refrain of what ails us. Mayor Reed does a great job engaging business and community leaders through the Atlanta Committee for Progress to drive solutions, and he and Governor Deal work extremely well together on behalf of Atlanta and our entire state. Likewise, the Metro Atlanta Chamber is a forward-thinking organization that does a terrific job highlighting Atlanta’s strengths and helping to work on real issues that need improvement.

A billion dollars or more in new transportation funding is being considered, and we have recruited and hired dynamic and nationally recognized superintendents to get our public schools on a better track. At the same time, we have the CEO’s and senior executives of metro Atlanta businesses, including Fortune 500 industry leaders, linked through the Mayor’s office and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, working on innovative solutions. And when I say working, I mean working, as the resolve among these individuals to implement solutions – not just list problems – is very real.

No kidding ourselves here, our region has some big challenges and it will take time to resolve them. Step one in solving any problem is acknowledging there is one. Consider step one complete. While we are working on solutions, let’s remember the incredible benefits this region has to offer. Knowing metro Atlanta’s current profile, PulteGroup, Mercedes and others decided to move here because we appreciate the tremendous strengths this region delivers every day.

It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that metro Atlanta offers a competitive business climate, low cost of doing business and low cost of living, fantastic airport, improving transit system (MARTA), and a robust talent pipeline. The region’s higher education system, with 66 colleges and universities and more than 275,000 students, is a vital component of its economic success that fuels area businesses with talent, discovery and innovation. Metro Atlanta ranks seventh in the nation for total number of bachelor’s degrees conferred, ahead of Dallas and Charlotte.

In addition to talent, I have found an open community where one can engage quickly to help tackle critical issues. Two groups I’m involved with personally are the Westside Future Fund, an independent, non-profit entity that is working with numerous partners to help guide the development of the critical neighborhoods that are part of the westside Atlanta community, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Public Policy Advisory Board. I agreed to chair the Advisory Board because I believe it is critical we come together to develop a stronger business voice with our elected officials and advance the key policy priorities to build a more prosperous region.

Based on the strong talent in our great region with state and local government, civic, non-profit and other leaders willing and able to engage and drive change, I see a huge opportunity to improve the numbers and help tell the next chapter in the story of the Atlanta region’s prosperity and growth. Let’s move this dialogue forward and focus on what we’re doing – today and tomorrow.

Richard J. Dugas Jr. is chairman, president and CEO of PulteGroup.

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