By LaKeisha Fleming
The Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance is moving forward with its plans to impact the quality of life and strengthen its Regional Economic Competitiveness for the areas near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The expansive 501(c)(6) nonprofit intends to morph the immediate area around the airport and its nearby cities into a sought-after destination. The Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance (AeroATL Alliance) is spearheaded by President and CEO Shannon James and Chairman of the Board Dr. F. Stuart Gulley. They are focused on uniting the many multi-jurisdictions to now work together through economic, education and workforce development to transform the region into a thriving ecosystem. Although only a few years old, they’ve gained momentum and hit encouraging markers, changing the face of the Airport area for the better.
“The importance of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance is that we are more of a conduit or vehicle that allows our region to be more economically competitive,” explains James. The organization is adopting a unique method to accomplishing an aggressive array of goals. “What we’re doing is taking a regional approach to allowing our area to be more economically competitive through partnership and collaboration,” he tells. “We’re trying to attract corporate investment and economic development, and while we’re doing that, we want our local residents to benefit directly and grow with the area.”
The Aerotropolis Atlanta Blueprint is the document that provides the roadmap of growth and development for the organization. It details the vision of the Aerotropolis, and highlights the four catalyst areas within the Aerotropolis core. The current focus is on Airport City and Corporate Crescent; the other areas are International Gateway and Cargo City. Airport City is a mixed-use development of lodging, office space and eateries, and is expected to unveil in the fall of 2019.
“Airports have a fascination beyond the transportation they provide,” states Gulley. “I think that with these other amenities, from a retail and eating and entertainment standpoint, that this will become a go-to destination in the way that the west end has become or the area around the beltline has become for people in Atlanta.” He also elaborates on the Corporate Crescent project. “It’s that area that spans College Park, East Point, and Hapeville along the Virginia Avenue corridor, which is sort of the gateway into the airport,” he states. “There is potential of some low-hanging fruit with street modifications and efforts to attract businesses and retailers into the area, and perhaps even some living units.”
Clearing a pathway for business development and visitor attractions, while taking care of the residents in the Aerotropolis corridor, is a critical task for the Alliance. Fostering job opportunities and developing a healthy, vibrant workforce remains a key component of their mission. They are currently creating an atmosphere that allows them to bring in quality employers and equip local residents with the necessary skills that those employers are seeking. “We have a workforce development initiative, and through our workforce development, we’ve been successful at training in two industry sectors,” James elaborates. “We’ve had cohorts in construction and we’ve had cohorts in hospitality.”
Through training opportunities with various Aerotropolis partners, strides in providing employment have been made. “We’ve trained over 120 individuals, and we’ve maintained above 90% placement rate,” James notes. “While we look to bring more opportunities, we want our residents to be able to take advantage and possess the skill set to meet the demand. This will make our area more attractive and everyone wins”, he explained. They are expanding their horizons to focus on additional industries, including logistics, Aerospace and Movie/Film production. Improving resident quality of life is about more than just the job training. The progress expands to the starting level – with the education system. This arm of Aerotropolis’ initiatives is near and dear to both James and Gulley.
Dr. Gulley, who serves as President of Woodward Academy, has taken great interest in the Aerotropolis Education Collective initiatives. Its mission is to support the Alliance and Workforce collective where areas of education are concerned. Also, work closely with local school systems as community partners. “We certainly understand that the success of our effort in creating the Aerotropolis Alliance to be a live, work, play undertaking depends upon us having the best education possible,” Gulley explains. They’ve gathered key educators in the area to figure out the best strategy for rendering this assistance. “I think our greatest accomplishment is we have educators now coming together on a regular basis for a conversation about what each group is seeing from their perspective in the area of education. But promoting things like opportunities for volunteering in various schools, for the purpose of tutoring children or reading to children or helping to raise funds for children to go on field trips… those are ways that the alliance can support some of the educational initiatives in our area,” he concludes. Of course, any time there is progress and development, there is a potential for problems. Congestion, traffic, and overcrowding can be some of the concerns. But, James says that the Aerotropolis Alliance has a valuable partnership with the Community Improvement Districts (CID) to help address such concerns.
“That’s why it’s important for our two relationships to coexist. They compliment each other because the CID focuses on infrastructure, beautification and public safety, whereas, the Alliance focuses on economic, education and workforce development.” James states. Both James and Gulley are also Aerotropolis CID Board Members. In fact, both men met by working on previous projects together. They make a formidable leadership team and appreciate the qualities & insights each brings to the table. “Stuart has been not only a good friend, but he’s also been a great mentor for me,” James states. “Dr. Gulley is very committed to the community and the success of not only the Aerotropolis, but our region.” The confidence and appreciation are mutual. “He is just exuberant in his commitment to the work of the Alliance, (with) the energy and dedication and passion that he is bringing to the work,” Gulley says of James.
“I think certainly the Board has enormous confidence in his leadership and we’ve been very gratified by the results we’ve seen in a very brief period of time,” Gulley notes. The Alliance was formed in 2014. The need for a unifying body became apparent due to a spark by the Fortune 500 company, Porsche. “When the region discovered that a big corporate investment like Porsche Cars North America was looking to land in the area, all the surrounding cities put down those barriers and work together. Everyone understood what was at stake because landing a big fish like Porsche would change the trajectory of the region. That’s why Porsche will always serve as the catalyst for The Aerotropolis,” explains James. Their results to date are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Both men, buoyed by Board members, partners and staff who are equally enthusiastic about breathing new life into the area, look forward to what is in store for the future. “In three to five years, we would love to see an ecosystem that has strong multi-jurisdictional cooperation, healthy corporate investment, and economic development projects and a thriving local workforce.” James concludes. “I really cannot wait to see what the next five to ten years brings for this area because I think it’s going to be a tremendously beneficial thing that we’re doing here, and it’s going to be very exciting for the community,” Gulley concludes.