Atlanta: Leading the Pack -
Inc. Magazine, March 2004
Page 93 By: Joel Kotkin
1. Atlanta "Hotlanta" is precisely that, the hottest of the hot economies of the country. Pummeled in the early days of the 2000 recession, the sprawling Georgia metropolis has roared back, mostly on the basis of its strong service sector, pro-business culture, and a relatively affordable housing environment in comparison with other big-time cities.
The leading large city on the list, Atlanta, epitomizes the characteristics of economic diversity and affordability. Spread out over 28 counties in north-central Georgia, Atlanta's region includes over 4.5 million people, only 420,000 of whom live in the city itself. It combines the advantages seen in smaller communities with an array of assets--such as top-flight universities, major corporate headquarters, and a world-class airport--usually only found in leading global cities.
This vast archipelago of largely suburban communities also houses a relatively diverse economic structure. Atlanta is not wedded to technology like San Jose, or financial services like New York City and Boston. While the recession pummeled some of Atlanta's key industries--including information technology and construction--the area's well-rounded economy has allowed it to take full advantage of the current, broad-based recovery.
"Atlanta has one of the most diversified economies in the country," points out Mark Vitner, a senior economist who studies the Southeast for Charlotte-based Wachovia. "Whatever the new thing turns out to be, Atlanta will be in the forefront. They are very adaptable."
Affordability, Vitner notes, has been the other pillar of the region's success. Although not cheap by southern standards, Atlanta's cost of living, particularly housing, is much lower than that in places like Boston, New York City, Seattle, or San Francisco. This has made Atlanta an excellent spot to start a business, allowing lower costs and salaries for start-ups.
Atlanta turned out to be a far better choice than San Francisco for the headquarters of the fast-growing, 250-employee Cendian Inc., which opted for the Georgia metropolis over a series of other cities, including the fabled city by the bay. "Affordability killed us with the Bay Area," says CEO Mark Kaiser. "San Francisco is a delightful place to live, but way too expensive."
Atlanta may lack some of the Bay Area's edginess and physical beauty, Kaiser adds, but in addition to reasonable housing prices, it also presents many lifestyle options, including an increasingly lively central city and diverse suburban areas, which allows the firm to compete for talent across a broad spectrum of skills, from top management to technicians. At the same time, Atlanta's airport and long history as an area of logistics expertise, best epitomized by UPS, help the firm in its primary business of providing logistical support for the chemical industry worldwide.
"Atlanta," Kaiser sums up, "gives you a lot for the buck."