After losing her job due to COVID, Kenefra Carter of Atlanta knew that she needed to build a career that could provide for her family in the long-term, despite not having a college degree. The single mother of three earned a Google Project Management Certificate through The Mom Project, and today she is a DEI Program Manager at the organization. “30 days after completing the Google Career Certificate, I received a new job with a 25% higher salary. That was when I knew my life was changing.”
ANDRE DICKENS (D)
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens touts his city’s "thriving" economy. But he wants to ensure its growth is enjoyed by everyone there. He’s wooing tech companies and other businesses and convincing them to set up shop across the city.Watch the full interview
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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens on building a world-class business city
Atlanta is thriving, according to its Mayor Andre Dickens. And most economic metrics back that up. The Atlanta metro area is among the fastest growing in the nation and boasts one of the highest concentrations of Fortune 500 companies. Home Depot, UPS, Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines all call Atlanta home.
As Atlanta, like the rest of the country, works its way through this phase of the pandemic, Dickens said he wants the area to become a technology hub in the post-Covid era.
“One of the things that we’ve done coming out of the pandemic is we made a lot of investments in technology,” Dickens told Punchbowl News. “We really are trying to make sure that Atlanta is seen as a technology ecosystem; that ecosystem is ripe for investment and support.”
But Dickens said that growth has come with challenges, and he wants the city’s future to be more “balanced” so the whole of Atlanta’s population can enjoy the fruits of its boom.
“That’s what I’m here for – to make sure that we grow in lots of fields of enterprises and industry, from technology to logistics to healthcare sciences, you name it,” Dickens, who took office in January 2022, said. “But we want to make sure we have balanced growth. And what I mean by balanced growth is growth that everybody can participate in.”
Dickens’ goal is simple but lofty; he wants to be one of the top five cities in the nation for business.
He is aiming for Atlanta to become a place where people “bring their business and bring their ideas and have all these great universities, this diverse talent comes out of Atlanta. So we want to be able to grow this economy in a way that everybody wins,” Dickens said.
Atlanta and housing
Atlanta is grappling with a booming – but expensive – housing market that Dickens wants to fix.
Once called the “poster child” of the U.S. housing shortage, Atlanta’s real estate market has exploded in recent years, pushing out longtime residents and businesses in the process. For years, Atlanta has consistently ranked as one of the fastest-gentrifying cities in the nation.
“Atlanta is a victim of its own success,” Dickens said. “As we continue to grow, more people want to be here and the value of homes increase – homes that once were affordable, they’re not as affordable anymore.”
As part of his efforts to make more homes available, Dickens created a housing-focused “strike force” in 2022 designed to prioritize the development of vacant or underused land. With a goal of building or preserving 20,000 housing units in the next seven years, Dickens said, the team had already helped build 1,600 units since 2022. Another 3,000 units are funded, under construction or otherwise on their way.
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‘Atlanta is a group project’
Dickens’ approach to housing underscores a crucial component of his philosophy as mayor. He sees a role for the city’s business community in tackling many of Atlanta’s growing pains.
“We want to make sure we have balanced growth. And what I mean by balanced growth is growth that everybody can participate in.” Andre Dickens Atlanta Mayor | D
“Atlanta is a group project,” he said. “We’ve all got to chip in, and that’s why these developers are setting aside units for affordability.”
Beyond housing, Dickens said the city is trying to get businesses to expand where and how they set up shop. That’s another component of his effort to find balanced growth for Atlanta’s residents.
“It’s not just in the central business district, but it’s all over the city. And that includes everybody,” he said. “I’m trying to get businesses to locate in areas that they hadn’t considered before.” That includes Atlanta’s south and west sides.
But the mayor remains convinced that the city’s existing business community has a critical role to play in growing the local economy from the ground up, like supporting Atlanta’s startup scene. Atlanta boasts 15 Fortune 500 companies, according to the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
“Atlanta has the third-highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies,” Dickens said. “We’re really trying to make sure that we match up these startups with these founders, with investors, with customers, with clients, and for us to really grow this technology ecosystem.”
Federal dollars for a world-class city
Dickens acknowledges Atlanta needs a little help from its friends in high places for the city to continue to grow. He has a message for national policymakers in Congress and the federal government: A world-class city like Atlanta needs world-class funding.
Dickens cited Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the world’s busiest with nearly 94 million passengers in 2022 – as a project that generated huge economic returns for the city while requiring plenty of upkeep and investment.
“Outside of the world's busiest airport, we’ve got lots of the world's busiest roads. So the federal government needs to continue to support our needs for roads, bridges, sidewalks.” Andre Dickens Atlanta Mayor | D
“We want federal lawmakers to always remember that this is the world’s busiest airport, and so cargo, passengers – all of those things need investment,” Dickens said. “And outside of the world’s busiest airport, we’ve got lots of the world’s busiest roads. So the federal government needs to continue to support our needs for roads, bridges, sidewalks.”
But the mayor also argued that investments in Atlanta would have a long tail for the rest of the American South. “Atlanta is the economic heartbeat in the capital city of Georgia, and Atlanta is one of the biggest cities in the whole southeast,” Dickens said. “And so whatever happens in Atlanta, it actually reverberates throughout the whole South.”
– Brendan Pedersen
Over the past three years, the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund has supported Georgia’s underrepresented technology entrepreneurs by providing $4.95M in cash funding to 60 inspiring Black founders in Georgia who have gone on to raise over $31M in follow-on venture funding. Among those recipients are the founders of two thriving Atlanta-based companies. JT Lidell started Promenade, a social impact platform that helps military veterans locate the resources they need to transition to their post-military lives. And Devin Dixon founded BingeWave, a no-code/low-code solution that lets creators and companies quickly host interactive virtual and hybrid events directly on their website or app.
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