A Look Ahead

30 leaders on the future of Georgia.

An anniversary isn’t just a time for reflection and nostalgia. It’s also an opportunity to look forward, to set goals for the next 30 years and to find ways to continue to improve. We asked 30 Georgians, leaders in their fields, what they are both most optimistic about and what they are concerned about as we look ahead to the next three decades. Some of their answers may surprise you.

Quotes were compiled by Mary Anne Dunkin, Lori Johnston, Karen Kirkpatrick, David Shivers and Randy Southerland.

Economic Development

“Georgia’s innovation across an array of industry sectors has me optimistic for the future. As an economic development professional, I can’t help but get excited for the future when I think about the corporate headquarters relocating and expanding in Georgia, the research and development investments within Georgia’s technology industry and the dynamic partnerships I see at our Technical College and University Systems of Georgia. Our state absolutely has a strong economic future ahead.”
Amanda Shailendra
Senior Project Manager for Health Sciences and Advanced Technologies with the Georgia Department of Economic Development

“[Motion Picture Association of America]-member companies spent $696 million in Georgia in 2012. Long-term effects of this are creation of a permanent sustainable industry. Today in Georgia, numerous soundstages are being built and support-service companies are locating here, creating jobs for Georgians. Film tourism is a huge component in communities across the state; we are developing the workforce through the new Georgia Film Academy, and raising the state’s profile.”
Lee Thomas
Deputy Commissioner of Film, Music & Digital Entertainment at the Georgia Department of Economic Development

“The Savannah region has benefited from having a diverse economy that includes tourism, advanced manufacturing, military, healthcare and logistics/warehousing. I believe we will continue to see economic growth in our region in the near future, in particular with advanced manufacturing. Our existing manufacturers are growing, and new companies are choosing Savannah. With that said, we have a generation of skilled workers that are nearing retirement, and we must do more to get students interested in pursuing technical training and advanced manufacturing opportunities so our community and our state continue to grow for generations to come.”
Trip Tollison
President and CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority

“Our state is asking and answering the right questions to move us forward into a brighter future. We continue to invest heavily in education and workforce development. Our state continues to be a place where entrepreneurs are encouraged to take a chance on new and innovative ideas. We continue to grow in leadership in the technology sector. And the strong base of our economy continues to be in the productive processes of agriculture and manufacturing. These, to me, are the building blocks of our collective success.”
State Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton)

Politics & Government

“Elected officials will be working in flatter administrative structures. Within the halls of government they will be valued as skillful motivators and shrewd judges of talent. Outside the halls of government, they will be in demand as bridge builders, connectors and collaborators. In summary: ‘Cheaper, faster, smarter, better’ will replace ‘The buck stops here’ on office desks.”
Kwanza Hall
Atlanta City Council Member

“Leadership in our city is very creative and works hard for innovative ways to update the tax laws, zoning ordinances and decisions that affect real property and development in our community. In the next 30 years, I expect development in our community to continue to thrive and grow. When construction and real estate move, it is a positive indicator for the rest of the community and every profession from bankers to lawyers to small business owners.”
Linda Nguyen
Columbus Attorney with Page Scrantom Sprouse Tucker and Ford

“We flourish because of forward-thinking decisions of leaders, many of whom are soon to retire. Our city managers, mayors, councilmen, folks in education, the development and industrial leaders, a lot of them are about to retire. So, while I may be the chairman, I’m the youngest on the leadership block. That leadership void concerns me the most about our future. But it also offers great opportunity. These men and women leave big shoes to fill, but I believe our generation stands prepared with innovative ideas to fill them.”
Blake Tillery
Chair of the Toombs County Commission


“America has a healthcare system in which we can document the thousands per year who die because they cannot get decent healthcare. It is a cruel irony that while I have great hope for the development of new and better cancer treatments, I also expect these treatments to be expensive and disparities in outcome will increase. Some Americans will die needlessly. This is a profound moral issue.”
Otis W. Brawley, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society

“In 30 years we will know how the body repairs itself and possibly be able to mimic how other species regenerate. The knowledge of this regenerative process will then be applied to the most devastating diseases and injuries. For example, in the case of Parkinson’s disease we could direct and orchestrate the brain’s ability to send its own stem cells to a place within the brain where cells are dying and allow them the ability to reform functional connections.”
Steven Stice
Director of UGA’s Regenerative Bioscience Center and Chief Scientific Officer of ArunA Biomedical Inc.


“As a teacher, I get to witness firsthand the awesome power of seeing a student make a connection and understand a larger concept for the first time. That ‘light-bulb moment’ is powerful, and it is what drives kids forward to achieve more. We need to ensure that we do not limit their potential by offering a less-than-stellar public education. We cannot afford for parents to lose trust in our public schools. We cannot afford for teachers to become dissatisfied or demoralized about their chosen profession. We cannot afford to continue doing things the way they have always been done.”
State Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta)

“Our industry needs to help build a robust pipeline of students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. We fall well behind many other nations in this area and, to compound the problem, many of the baby boomers in our workforce will be retiring soon. I believe it’s incumbent upon our industry to partner with educators to inspire young minds, engage in meaningful programs and provide opportunities for people seeking these types of jobs, as well as jobs in critical manufacturing skills such as welders, mechanics and assemblers. … The only way to remain relevant in this fast-paced world of ours is through innovation. So, with the right mix of new STEM-focused talent working side by side with an experienced workforce to mentor them, we can remain on the leading edge of technology.”
Shan Cooper
Vice President and General Manager for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company

Shifting Dynamics

“Georgia’s state economy is thriving. It’s not just the increased employment rate, it’s that we have a more stable and diverse industry base than we had 15 to 20 years ago. We’re less reliant on just real estate and the construction sectors, which are very vulnerable during the inevitable cyclical downturns. More high-tech jobs, particularly health IT, stronger production sectors, more corporate headquarters and regional headquarters moving here make Georgia stronger in terms of opportunities for its people.”
Jan Jones
House Speaker Pro Tem

“Georgia is changing quickly in both demography and economy. Thirty years from now, we will be a state that has effectively aligned our goals of growth and achievement with prudent early investment in our children’s education, the full development of capacity in every citizen and leadership that values difference as a competitive advantage.”
Stacey Abrams
House Minority Leader

“I am most optimistic about the way cities are broadening economic development strategies to include entrepreneurship, place and talent. Georgia’s cities offer unique quality of life to two mobile talent pools: the graduating millennials produced by our colleges and universities and retiring boomers seeking an encore career. The evolving dialogue regarding thoughtful city making, purposeful talent retention and limitless potential of developing a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem will create a sustainable 21st-century Georgia, ready for the next economy.”
Heather Pendergast
Executive Director of Macon’s College Hill Alliance


“There are a number of cyber security companies in town working on solving different aspects of this really complex problem [of privacy and cyber security]. Frankly, it’s an area of opportunity. Atlanta [also] has a long history of doing really well with building business applications, so I see that continuing in the future.”
David Cummings
Founder of Atlanta Tech Village

“Right now, we have more tools than ever before to tell the stories of our communities. I look at my son, who is 3 years old. He will never know a world without mobile technology. Just look at how that is revolutionizing our industry and world. Who knows what types of innovations the decades ahead will bring?”
Eric NeSmith
Vice President of Business Development for Community Newspapers Inc.

“With substantially higher levels of consolidation, regulation, technological proliferation and competition from banks and non-banks alike, our industry arguably has seen more change in the last five years than in any period of its history. While no one knows the future, I expect even more of the same, faster, and in ways we cannot begin to anticipate. Companies like Apple, Facebook and Amazon – or their still-to-be-dreamed-of successors – will almost certainly offer financial services, and banks will have to be even more strategically focused to remain competitive.”
Kessel D. Stelling Jr.
Chairman and CEO of Synovus

Food & Drink

“More people are going out to eat – and our clientele is more adventurous than ever. The direct marketing that social media provides also is exciting. Something we are looking forward to is technical colleges becoming more popular so they can produce a better-skilled labor force in our industry. We also are concerned about progressively rising food costs.”
Bo Henry
Albany Restaurateur, Hotelier and Musician

“I think that the TV chef phenomenon will fade as we know it today and grow into more realistic footage of chefs truly cooking, their day-to-day lives and digging into their mindsets. As this relates to food itself, I see the demand for mass-produced food with sacrificed taste and health benefits fading away and a higher demand for ingredients that are true to their origin.”
Ford Fry

“From a national perspective, my biggest concern for the industry is the sheer magnitude of entrants into the [craft beer] space. Hopefully these folks are professionals who understand the importance of producing high-quality products, not just for their own brand, but [also] for the health of the industry as a whole. There is a lot to be optimistic about in the craft industry. Our sales volume grew 34 percent in 2014, while the craft beer industry as a whole grew 17.6 percent. All of this growth is fueled by new consumers moving di-rectly into the craft space.”
Freddy Bensch
Founder and Chairman of SweetWater Brewing Co.


“It seems more and more difficult to pull together the necessary [state and federal government] partners to build big projects. In areas that are becoming more and more congested, in order to get through the environmental process, it takes much longer now. The project becomes more expensive, and the public gets even more disenchanted. Still, I see us evolving into the true solution for a myriad of transportation needs.”
Keith Parker
General Manager and CEO of MARTA

“Georgia’s transportation infrastructure has historically been critical to economic growth. Fifteen years into the 21st century, transportation infrastructure dominates public-policy discussion. Today’s leaders tackled the tough issue of funding, passing new laws to help maintain our vital road network and deepen the Port of Savannah. The stakes are high, and we must continue investing in transportation infrastructure, as generations of Georgians have done, to expand capacity for new roads, rail and mass transit.”
Ben Tarbutton III
Assistant Vice President of Sandersville Railroad Co.

Changing Demographics

“GALEO focuses on promoting civic engagement and leadership development of the Latino community in Georgia. The biggest challenges associated with that are having an environment in our state where all of the contributions of Latinos and immigrants are recognized, embraced fully and respected by policy makers, opinion leaders and Georgians of all walks of life. Latinos have become an integral fabric to Georgia. The time has come to embrace Latinos and immigrants and help shape a prosperous future together.”
Jerry Gonzalez
Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO)

“My greatest cause for optimism comes from the increasing racial/ethnic diversification of our state and how these new neighbors will help shift public policies to be more inclusive and fair for immigrants and other minorities. But demographics are not destiny. It takes years of voter mobilization, community education and dialogue, and having more immigrants and refugees lead the positive changes we are seeking.”
Helen Kim Ho
Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice


“The agritourism industry is ripe for the picking. It’s relatively new in the state of Georgia. We were a dairy farm. Farmers in general are some of your biggest and best entrepreneurs and willing to change when the circumstances around them change. That’s what we did to move to agritourism and away from dairy. What we’ve seen and what we are going to continue to adapt to is growing crops that people want to come out and pick.”
Jake Carter
Co-owner of McDonough’s Southern Belle Farm

The Environment

“I’m proud to be part of what I think is a very impressive and growing community of conservation professionals that we have working in Georgia, and that the community is increasingly tied together, communicating and working in partnership that leads to all of us being more successful with our efforts. The high level of competence, the broad conservation community and our ability to work well together is helping to promote more of the conservation and stewardship of our natural assets.”
Ben Carswell
Director of Conservation for the Jekyll Island Authority

“I am very encouraged by the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed to make Atlanta a top-tier city for sustainability, including the Better Building Challenge, citywide recycling and his continued commitment to protect the Chattahoochee River. I am excited that the state legislature passed HB 59, which allows for financing of solar energy. I think we will see a tremendous increase in solar energy by businesses and consumers.”
Laura Turner Seydel
Environmental Advocate and Chair of the Captain Planet Foundation

Quality of Life

“I am most optimistic about the work that is being done to democratize public space. What we are seeing in the BeltLine neighborhoods is a wonderful blend of singles, families, millennials and seniors. Because of that diversity, we have daily discussions with our design team about how to ensure that we are designing a space that appeals to the greatest number of residents, provides accessibility to everyone and that there is no singular claim of ownership.”
Paul Morris
President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

“I find inspiration when I look at the incredible progress we’ve had in the fight against global poverty. Extreme poverty rates have been cut in half in the past 25 years. Child mortality is declining, and people are living longer, healthier lives. But stubborn pockets of poverty remain. And that won’t change until women and girls can reach their full potential. With the support of people in Georgia and beyond, we can continue turning the tide against poverty.”
Michelle Nunn
President and CEO of CARE USA

“Quality of life issues are what I’m most concerned about. I think North Fulton in particular is fortunate to have good schools; good infrastructure; a safe, clean environment; and a well-educated workforce. My concern is that we continue that trend as our population increases. We’re continuing to keep our eye on extended public transit as an option, bringing MARTA up in a bigger way to North Fulton, on building out our trail system, our greenways, doing all those things that are going to try to accommodate what’s happening in the market 20 years from now.”
Ann Hanlon
Executive Director of the North Fulton Community Improvement District

Categories: Business Industry, Economic Development Features, Features