When Keisha Lance Bottoms was elected in 2017 to lead one of America’s largest, most storied southern cities, the lawyer and longtime public servant outlined her vision of “One Atlanta.” A 49-year old wife and mother of four, Bottoms believes that the metropolis of 498,000 souls should not only be “an affordable, resilient and equitable” place but it should also be a national model for both “commerce and compassion.” “I grew up in Atlanta, and most people in my family owned a business,” says Bottoms, a third-generation Atlantan.
“My mother owned a hair salon; my grandfather owned his own business, and my uncles did, too. So that was the norm in my family.” Yet the family’s businesses didn’t really survive for future generations. “That’s the story of so many African-American businesses and small businesses,” she reflects. “They may exist day-to-day, but no real structure is in place to make sure that they’re lasting and profitable.” One way her administration hopes to change that paradigm is via Invest Atlanta, the economic-development arm of the city.
Its mission is to advance Atlanta’s global competitiveness by growing a strong economy, building vibrant communities and increasing economic prosperity for all Atlantans. Eloisa Klementich, Ph.D., is Invest Atlanta’s president and CEO, and the mayor serves on its board. “We have had great success attracting Fortune 500 companies to the city,” says Bottoms. “But I think the areas that could stand to be improved tremendously are small businesses and minority- and women-owned businesses.” To that end Mayor Bottoms and Invest Atlanta have announced sweeping projects of many types, including affordable housing, job creation and neighborhood revitalization.
Invest Atlanta helped to create more than 10,800 new jobs in the city in 2018 and generated $1.6 billion in new capital investment that year. Noting the city’s status as a major hub for music and film, the mayor also touted opportunities in those fields. “We have what’s called a Creative Industries Loan Fund through Invest Atlanta,” she says. “It’s for the creatives, meaning it’s not just for people who have the technical skills but also for people who are creating the content.”
She adds that the city is working with Atlanta Technical College to make sure that there is a training pathway and a trained workforce in the city “so that people aren’t having to come from other places to fill these jobs.” The focus on minority opportunity is vital because as Bottoms explains, Atlanta has one of the largest income gaps in the country.
“So while we see all this glitz and glamour, all these things that are happening on social media, there’s another part to our city that we must be mindful of,” she says. “It’s why we’re making sure that our communities are informed and that everyone can raise their level of expectation. These resources are available to all of our communities, not just some.”