Regionalism: An Approach for Increased Investment and Growth

Regionalism: An Approach for Increased Investment and Growth

By Michael Davis (michael@connectsouthfultonga.org)

In our fiercely competitive economic development landscape, regionalism is becoming a more prevalent and an adopted strategy for overall improvement for the competitiveness of jurisdictions within a region to obtain increased economic investment and growth. Regionalism is when the jurisdictions think and act collectively to leverage their combined assets and resources to win regional investment, while still competing individually. Regionalism is the shared understanding that landing a project in the region creates ripple effects with direct and indirect benefits for all the jurisdictions and citizens in the region.

Economic development is the ultimate team sport in that it requires the cooperation of business and community stakeholders along with the local jurisdiction to achieve success. Municipalities acting collaboratively with a regional approach to attract investment is consistent with how a business views a prospective site relocation by considering issues of ease of doing business, thriving communities, cost of doing business, commute times, prior to considering jurisdictions. A group of small and medium-size cities collaborating to promote a region increases greatly improves site selection search visibility which start first with the macro or the largest areas or cities.

Economic Development Ecosystem

The use of public-private partnership by municipalities has become a proven way to engage in regionalism. In 2006, a successful public-private partnership brought together cities to increase regional competitiveness of a county was the formation of Partnership Gwinnett by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. Partnership Gwinnett is a public-private partnership funded by the 16 cities in Gwinnett County and Gwinnett County schools. Other metro Atlanta examples of successful public-private partnerships increasing regional economic competitiveness in metro Atlanta are Progress Partners of North Fulton (Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce) and Cobb’s Competitive Edge (Cobb County Chamber of Commerce). Clayton and Douglass counties are worked regionalism projects.

In 2014, the South Fulton Economic Development Partnership (SFEDP) was formed between the Fulton County Development Authority and the South Fulton County cities to create greater collaboration and cooperation of economic development efforts among Fulton County, the Development Authority of Fulton County, and each of the South Fulton’s cities. Based upon the new paradigm established by other metro Atlanta counties, SFEDP launched Connect South Fulton (CSF) in November 2017 to work in collaboration with the South Fulton County cities and Select Fulton to improve the South Fulton county’s regional competitiveness to attract investment and to advance South Fulton County forward. The CSF mission is to attract global investment, spur vibrant growth, support educational institutions, foster workforce development, and enhance the quality of life for each of the distinctive cities in the South Fulton county region. CSF evangelizes for the South Fulton County region and the following cities Chattahoochee Hills, College Park, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Palmetto, and Union City.

CSF Member Cities

The three principal CSF activities of Connect, Advocate, and Develop all focus on convening and engaging all of the economic development ecosystem participants, strengthening regional competitiveness, and advancing South Fulton county forward. The CSF organizational activity map aligned by principal activity area are the following:

The CSF organization focus facilitates both regional and individual member city positive outcomes. The Develop activity area targets six outcomes and balances a regional and local jurisdiction focus. Depicted below in the third level Develop activity area diagrams are the detailed target outcomes for South Fulton County as a region and the individual cities.

CSF believes the traditional economic development outcome view where the metrics are expressed only in terms of jobs and per capital personal income has to be expanded to encompass community development and quality of life indicators. The correlation between economic investment, growth, community development (i.e. housing availability, workforce education and development, health care, child well-being, and other factors) and livability is extremely strong and important for economic development success. Successful economic development strategies must include consideration and coordination for community development concerns. The CSF mission and strategy is inclusive of the aforementioned indicators, because ultimately, improving citizen quality of life is the truest definition for economic development.

Economic Development and
Community Development Connection

In the new economic development paradigm community development is included and inextricably linked to improving quality of life. A focus on maintaining the same vigor a home buyer has for curb appeal is equally as critical to first impressions on commercial corridor. Site selectors and investors judge commercial corridors with a similar ‘curb appeal’ perspective, so a vigilant dedication to code enforcement is essential to help cultivate interest. Further, a new mobile, technology-based population is using the attributes of attractiveness and desirability to select preferred destinations to work, play, and shop. The direct message to municipalities is that clean, livable community with a variety of amenities, transportation options, quality education, and strong healthcare options are part of the winning investment formula. Municipalities and economic developers must have broader strategies that actively partner and collaborate with planning, community development, and code enforcement departments to maintain curb appeal.

As the available federal money for local infrastructure projects declines, state and local jurisdictions need regionalism more than ever to provide the resources and leverage to fund infrastructure improvements. Opportunities and solutions are possible and achievable with the cooperation and collaboration of legislatures, agencies, stakeholders, and municipalities. A regionalism mindset creates the climate for an ecosystem of stakeholders to create regional authorities, public private partnerships, and joint development authorities to accelerate investment and growth. Regionalism is an excellent option for the financial heavy lift issues that are beyond the means of local municipal funding sources. Through joint collaboration and coordination, cities can leverage the critical mass provided by regionalism to tackle issues like implementing transit plans (reference the South Fulton County Transit Master Plan map below), affordable housing, consistent permitting and zoning, smart city technologies adoption, improving public safety, increasing child well-being, and other contracted services. A region of collaborating municipalities have the wherewithal to negotiate improved services cost, higher service levels, or increased quality to provide a better return on investment for tax payer dollars.

Regionalism is not a new concept. However, the true adoption and implementation of regionalism by local municipalities across metropolitan Atlanta could position the 10-county region for sustained long terms investment success. Economic development is a journey not a sprint, and municipalities can go further together than individually. As a reader of this document, you are encouraged to reach out to your community, business, and municipal leaders to voice your support for regionalism as a way to drive economic investment and facilitate improved quality of life.

To learn more about Connect South Fulton or to join us in advancing the South Fulton county region, visit www.csfga.org or contact Michael Davis Executive Director, Connect South Fulton at michael@connectsouthfultonga.org or 470.698.2218.

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