Urban Growth Means Being “Smart” About Inclusion – Look at Atlanta

AtlantaIn the midst of racial tension in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1960s, civic and business leaders declared Atlanta “the city too busy to hate.” Although Jim Crow policies were the law of the land, black and white visionary leaders understood that economic and social exclusion were antithetical to long-term regional growth.

During the 1970s and 1980s, African-American Mayor Maynard Jackson, along with local business leaders, leveraged the Atlanta airport as the linchpin for economic inclusion. According to their website, black-owned construction company, H.J. Russell currently manages $6.2 billion in construction projects for the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (named posthumously for Maynard Jackson) alone.

By creating this culture of economic inclusion, Atlanta fostered an inclusive ecosystem that attracted the best African-American entrepreneurial and professional talent over the last few decades. As a result, everyone benefited. In my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, economic inclusion on transportation infrastructure projects remains a highly contentious issue.

Meanwhile the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 2014 Metro Economies Report indicates that the Atlanta metropolitan region has grown to the tenth largest local economy in America, and Cleveland has slipped to twenty-eighth. Atlanta has proven that economic inclusion is not some social justice handout, it is an economic development imperative!

The continuum of economic development to Atlanta:

  • The 1996 Olympics: Atlanta positioned itself as a global mecca. The capital improvements boom that preceded the Olympics facilitated unprecedented regional growth.
  • Culture of Innovation and Small Business Development: It is not enough to ensure that roads, bridges, port development, and airports are structurally sound and on budget. Inclusion on major projects will attract the best and brightest future employers.
  • Global Talent Attraction: The African-American Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, openly welcomes immigrants and international investment to Atlanta. Asian and Latino immigrants are now contributing to the Atlanta tax base as entrepreneurs.


Hartsfield-Jackson is now the busiest airport in the world. The entire region continues to benefit from an economics-driven inclusion model implemented decades ago.   Smart urban planning begins with “growing the pie” together.

About Montrie Rucker Adams

Montrie Rucker Adams, APR, DTM, MBA is an award-winning writer and public relations professional. As president and chief visibility officer at Visibility Marketing Inc., she leads the marketing communications and public relations company in strategic stakeholder engagement, making people, products and services more visible.