By Rusty Paul
United we stand; divided we fall. We either hang together, or we hang separately. Those two aphorisms from the Revolutionary era show that the notion of a unified voice on major issues is as old and as important as the American Republic itself.
Unfortunately, the local business community today speaks with splintered voices, and the split is growing. Why is this important?
First, the cities of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are working very cooperatively in developing policies to manage development in the Perimeter market – currently the Southeast’s hottest real estate market.
Our goals are simple. How do we manage the area’s inevitable growth without drowning in vehicular traffic and destroying our quality of life? What policies are needed to reduce pressure on our road networks and encourage more commuters to use transit?
We need a minimum increase in MARTA ridership of 15 percent to maintain mobility in this corridor, and we need the business community at the table to help us achieve this goal. Our challenge is, “Who speaks for the business community?”
Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and the city of Brookhaven each has its own Chamber of Commerce, and the Perimeter CID also now is forming a Perimeter Business Association, which will act like a chamber. With such fractured voices, we cannot attain the multijurisdictional unity of focus, purpose and cooperation needed from the business community.
Further, businesses don’t know which group to join, and they can’t afford them all. So, they choose one or choose not to engage. Creating a unified voice through a single, cooperative chamber would best serve us all.
Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis and I are in lock step that when it comes to this issue. Since we truly are one commercial real estate market, we need one group representing the total business community on cross jurisdictional policy questions. We cannot work with four different business groups when crafting policies affecting this market.
We have both urged these chambers to develop an umbrella group to represent the entire business community and, if each city needs someone looking after local business needs, operate city-specific business associations under the umbrella for that purpose.
Yet, instead of unifying, the splintering continues.
A case in point is the recent Mercedes decision. The state did not involve any of the local business groups to lay groundwork for this project. Why? The state faced the same challenge we have. What group could work objectively across jurisdictions to help Mercedes decide its best location? The answer is: with so many organizations, no one!
Instead, it relied on the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, which based in Alpharetta. In fact, these two groups were engaged before the city government was involved because they were viewed as trustworthy, objective resources during the preliminary period when Mercedes was investigating several locations.
Since Mercedes was primarily focused on the Perimeter market, wouldn’t it make sense to engage locally? Yes, but the state economic development team could not identify what entity best represented the Perimeter market. In the day-to-day operations of our cities, we encounter the same challenge.
Without a unified voice to engage in conversation, we may simply make the best policy decisions we can without business input. If so, the result will be less than optimal.
This is why I used my State of the City address to the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce to again urge the business community to lay aside its jurisdictional and territorial divisions and work together to create one group with one voice to speak for the overall business community.
I appreciate this opportunity to utilize this printed space to make that appeal one more time.
Rusty Paul is mayor of Sandy Springs.