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Takeaways about tax incentives in Atlanta from our panel

ThreadATL hosted a panel discussion last week featuring an impressive group of former and current board members of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic investment arm. The discussion revolved around how the city should and shouldn’t use tax incentives (and other investment tools). 

We’ve questioned IA’s use of tax breaks on several occasions, but also praised them when appropriate. What investments we encourage, and what they look like in their details, says a lot about the kind of city we want Atlanta to be.

A video of the entire discussion is online. The panelists were: Brian McGowan, Anna Foote, Julian Bene, and Fred Smith. The moderator was local author/filmmaker (and ThreadATL board member) King Williams. 

Some key takeaways from the talk:

  • In the past, Invest Atlanta has been focused on reacting to development proposals put in front of them — and doing so without clear leadership from the City about urbanism goals. Guidelines around what kind of city we want to build through investment tools are now being created through a new Intergovernmental Agreement between the City and IA. Negotiations for the agreement have been held up specifically to have these kinds of conversations, before signing on the dotted line for another 5 years.
  • The City and IA are working with Enterprise Community Partners on a strategy to “help Invest Atlanta more intentionally embed equity and inclusion in their work,” and to make sure IA’s work reaches Atlantans who are part of communities that have historically lacked access to opportunities. See here to read more about this, and here for an FAQ on what ‘economic mobility’ means to Invest Atlanta.
  • Rather than giveaways for large projects, Atlanta needs to focus more on Workforce Development. One successful model in this area has been Philadelphia. See their clearly laid out strategies and metrics here.
  • Between 2010 and 2018, the approach of Invest Atlanta was to give money to any project that asked for it, in an effort to attract investment and jobs. Now that it’s clear growth is happening steadily in our urban core, the philosophy needs to shift from creating the biggest incentive package to instead minimizing the incentive and clearly stating what the public is getting in return.
  • Investment without strong policies around displacement, affordable housing, etc. will create unintended consequences. Yes, we want to attract investment and jobs. But sometimes that can also lead to displacement, as those new jobs often create a disruptive influx of high-paid new residents to the city.  
  • Residential developments that receive Invest Atlanta’s help need to be creating housing units that are permanently affordable, rather than set to a limit of 15 years of affordability as currently happens.
  • Fulton County should not be allowed to provide incentive packages within the City of Atlanta (this point earned a round of applause from the crowd, and it’s an issue we’ve covered before). State House Representatives David Dreyer and Chuck Martin are currently working on legislation that would establish Invest Atlanta as the only provider of incentives in the city. Currently, if Invest says ‘no’ to proposal that doesn’t provide the benefits to Atlantans we want, that developer can go to the County and get a tax break. That’s bad.
  • Invest Atlanta should be required to deliver an annual report that lays out the “return on investment” of its work so we can learn what went well and what didn’t.

Thanks to all the panelists and attendees for making this a great event, and special thanks to Center for Civic Innovation for providing the location.

There are three opportunities for community engagement coming up, and Invest Atlanta wants to hear your thoughts on inclusive economic development. 

Register here for the events listed below.

February 24, 2020
6pm – 8pm
Ben Hill Recreation Center 

February 26, 2020 
6pm – 8pm
Atlanta Technical College 

March 5, 2020 
6pm – 8pm
C. T. Martin Recreation Center

NOTE! This meeting has been postponed. Follow Invest Atlanta on social media for an update.