It’s as old a description as there is in the state: Georgia is not one state, it’s two. Atlanta and the rest of the state. While Georgia is the largest state geographically east of the Mississippi, it is still amazing how much attention Atlanta receives. Not that the attention is unwarranted. While the city of Atlanta has a population of only 456,000, the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area is the ninth largest in the nation. The Atlanta Combined Statistical Area spans almost 40 counties and has an estimated population of 6.1 million, more than 60 percent of the state’s population.
So what of communities such as Macon-Bibb, Columbus-Muscogee, Augusta-Richmond and other cities and counties? Leaders from those communities, along with those from Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, got together recently in Atlanta, of all places, to brainstorm and come up with ideas to see if they could get their fair share of the pie, which comes, from all places, Atlanta. The reins of state government -- in the House, Senate and the governor’s office -- are held by residents of Gainesville and Blue Ridge. And while the General Assembly is the fountain from which state money flows, other areas have to be creative. One way is to maximize their influence by consolidating their efforts in economic development and access to markets that will help attract new businesses to other areas besides Atlanta.
The leadership from these “hub” cities recognize they have many of the same problems, and by sharing those issues, best practices can be found. In Macon-Bibb, blight is particularly vexing, but it’s also a problem in other hub communities. So is poverty. Communities can share their successes and their failures. One of Mayor Robert Reichert’s initiatives is the Second Street Corridor that seeks in part to revitalize Macon’s downtown. While the project can be given some credit for striking the match, downtown is full of life today, primarily because of the people who live there who enjoy the ambiance of downtown living and the business people who have decided to invest there.
Reichert also would like support in changing a state law that would allow cities and counties along a rail line between Atlanta and Macon to raise money (that means taxes) to fund rail service along the route. That effort will take considerable political skill -- and it will take buckets of state, federal and local money to pull off. But who is to say “never”? Cooperation can take us a long way.