In a day when people tend to clump together around like minds or identical zip codes, it’s a refreshing change to see the Georgia Forward forum back on the scene, bringing together a variety of people around the idea represented by the nonprofit group’s very name.
Georgia Forward’s mission is broad, yet simple — to help move past an unproductive construct that, somehow, there’s more than one Georgia. That’s never been an easy thought to banish. It’s even harder now, when we collectively have a hard time as a society seeing past dissimilarities to the powerful commonalities that have always been hidden in plain sight, waiting to be exploited.
So it was encouraging recently to see about 200 people, urban and rural alike, gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center to discuss obstacles to statewide prosperity. It’s easy to see how two-plus-two can equal more than four when pinstripe-suit types are talking animatedly with rural businessmen who cut deals while wearing carpenter’s jeans and work boots. Georgia needs both, and more.
As we wrote on this page in 2013, “That’s where Georgia Forward can be of value. Now in its fourth year, the forum attracts a dynamic mix of local activists, academics, experts, entrepreneurs and a smattering of pragmatic political leaders who come together to brainstorm ways to improve Georgia, both across its whole and the various parts. The concept is a noble one that’s needed to help neutralize the recurring spats and political rhetoric that overemphasize regional differences and disagreements. This dynamic too often obscures the civic recognition that Georgians do share significant commonalities —- ones that span geography. Are our concerns and interests perfectly aligned across Georgia? Of course not. Nor should they be, given this state’s diversity in economics, geography and every other imaginable way. Yet, we’re one interdependent state. Or, at our best, we must be.”
“The needs vary around Georgia, but our desires and dreams do not. There’s opportunity in acting on that realization.”
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, told this year’s attendees about his car tour around Georgia, asking people about the state’s future. That journey informed the thinking that led to Georgia Forward. “Through all of these conversations, we quickly discovered that our state needed an effort that focused on bringing together groups and promoted working as a catalyst for cross-sector, statewide conversations and programs that would engage young professionals and business, political, academic and civic leaders.”
Program facilitator Otis White spoke of the state’s “common prosperity problem” and the ability of collaborative work to improve things. That process is turbocharged by listening to each other’s perspectives, he suggested.
He’s right, we believe. Welcome back, Georgia Forward!