The most resilient cities have a broad base of industries or resources. The stories of the world’s great cities are usually not tied – or not tied for long – to a single kind of commerce. The seemingly endless wells of prosperity that came to steel or automotive or mining capitols were shocking in their decline when the economic foundations on which they were built crumbled, or migrated, or were replaced. What has made Atlanta so strong and yet so supple in adapting to the ever-more-rapid changes in the thrust of the economy?
The answers are as diverse as the strengths of Atlanta. Some of our economic success factors are classic and longstanding. Others reflect more recent evolutions in the source of economic value, and it is these that are so clearly exemplified in certain sectors of our city, such as Poncey-Highland, and Virginia Highland districts, where fresh townhomes in historic neighborhoods teem with the energy and style of our 21st century economy.
The Classic Answers
Connection might be the first of the answers you’d get, if you asked historians to cite the source of the Atlanta economy. The crossroads of vital railroad lines fueled our founding and our initial growth. Few realize how recent a city Atlanta truly is, in fact, still many years short of our 200th birthday as a result of this steam-powered origin story. Then why did Atlanta continue to prosper when rail travel declined? Atlanta saw that it was transportation, not railroads, that kept our economy humming.
When the Interstate Highway System was deployed, Atlanta maintained its vital crossroads position. When air travel became the dominant mode for long-distance transport, Atlanta made the series of decisions and commitments that resulted in the world’s busiest airport. Seeing the effect – transport – rather than the tool – railroads – stands as a classic example of our city’s vision beyond the limits that stood in the way of success for so many others. Through this persistent wealth of connections, Atlanta prospered through nearly every evolution of the overall economy. From local timber to Birmingham steel, the structure of America passed through Atlanta.
The Dynamic Response
In today’s economy, it is the value of intellectual property and knowledge-based businesses, and of the nimble energy of small business entrepreneurs and creative enterprises, that forms our engine room. Atlanta has provided well for the lifestyles that this people-based economy demand. Art, nature, exercise, and education are among the requirements for fostering this kind of growth. They are here in abundance, thanks to the foresight, persistence, and cooperation of business and public leaders here.
The Atlanta Beltline, our 22-mile loop of multi-use trails and parks linking 45 in-town neighborhoods, is a prime example of how well prepared we are to take part in 21st century economic growth and sustainability. Ponce City Market hums with the synergy of this generation as they peruse merchandise and cuisine from around the globe.
Intellectual property generation and knowledge-based resources are inherently adaptable. In fact, they are based fundamentally on change and evolution. As a result, this particular cornerstone of the Atlanta economy may prove to be the best indicator of all that our own style of economic development will continue to prevail.
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