Development conference focuses on south side

Some of the leaders of Clayton, Henry, Fayette, Spalding, Coweta, Douglas and south Fulton counties will convene next week to discuss the topic of moving the south-metro area forward, during the 2010 South Metro Development Conference.

The annual event, which has become a premiere southside planning conference, will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 26 from 7:30 a.m., to 2 p.m., at the Clayton State University Student Activities Center.

Kathy Warren, a spokesperson for the event, said the conference was started eight years ago by The Collaborative Firm, LLC, as a way to unite the south Fulton area around the topic of smart growth. Since then, the event has expanded to include participation from six other counties, she said. The Collaborative Firm is a development, planning and consulting firm based in East Point.

The South Metro Development Conference "was designed as a forum to share information about economic development, regional development, and smart growth ... as it pertains to the south-metro area," Warren said. "We come together to listen to industry experts and see how we can capitalize on that information and put it into effect in the south-metro area. You have decision makers there. You have government officials who can make a difference, and you always have the private sector there. It is very useful."

The conference will feature discussion sessions addressing water conservation, transportation issues, real estate and banking forecasts, new growth, stimulus funding opportunities, and successful development projects taking place on the south side.

Among several notable guests expected to join the conversation are: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; David Oliver, senior vice president of communications and marketing for the Georgia Banking Association; Beverly Scott, CEO and general manager of MARTA; Sid Johnson, director of stimulus accountability for the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget; and Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The conference will also honor several people and development projects deemed to be visionary and beneficial to the economy of the region.

According to Leithead, much of the region's past development has been focused on the north side of Atlanta, creating traffic congestion and strains on infrastructure. He said the conference will help "raise awareness of the opportunities that we now have in the southern extremities of the metro region."

"The commute times are starting to put an enormous strain on our infrastructure in our city," Leithead said. "We have a lot of opportunity in the southern region to create quality retail and business. Given the state of our economy, it's a very prudent time to talk about it. I think as our economy recovers, we are going to be able to take advantage of those economic opportunities in the southern part of our region, as we have with the northern parts of our region in past years."

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, one of the event's guest speakers, said approaches to water conservation, transportation, and economic development will be highly-discussed topics on Tuesday. He said the conference will provide "a snapshot" of activities taking place in the region and help south-metro counties get "on the same page."

"I think economic development is one of the greatest challenges we have in the Southern Crescent ... creating jobs here for our people," Bell said. "Sixty-two percent of the people in our county are leaving our county to go to work. I believe south Fulton and Henry operate with the same challenge to create upscale jobs, so people don't have to travel great lengths to get meaningful work."

The conference is "a grand opportunity for us to exchange ideas," he added.

Bob White, executive director of the Henry County Development Authority, as well as a guest speaker at the conference, said a construction boom experienced in Henry from the late 1980s to the early 2000s was slowed by the recent recession. With the economy showing some signs of stabilization, he said the conference provides a chance for the county to discuss strategy moving forward.

"We had a very strong, building-based economy," White said. "It's been a trickle-down effect with people losing their jobs. The good news is that we are starting to pick up on the industrial side. I think there is a lot of cautious optimism. I think what most people are looking for is, ‘what does 2010 hold for us?' Hopefully, we will learn what other counties have done to weather the storm and come back forcefully."

The Clayton State University Student Activities Center is located at 2000 Clayton State Blvd., in Morrow. On-site registration for the conference is $50. For more information, contact Kathy Warren at kwarren@kwarrenllc.com.