Atlanta: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

While the Coca-Cola Company wields considerable influence in Atlanta—much of it in areas outside its immediate manufacturing concerns—no single industry or firm truly dominates the local economy. Service industries employ the largest number of workers, but trade and manufacturing are also important elements. Having such diversity, Atlanta has been slower to suffer a downturn and quicker to recover from any temporary setback than many other major American cities. In fact, metropolitan Atlanta saw a decrease in unemployment and an increase in its labor force between 2002–2003 despite the country's economic recession during that time period.

In 2000, 24 Fortune 1000 corporations were headquartered in metropolitan Atlanta. Atlanta is home to BellSouth, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, UPS, and Georgia-Pacific, among other big names.

The Atlanta MSA added more than 1.1 million new residents between 1990–2000, which has attracted more and more new businesses. Metropolitan Atlanta has consistently led the nation in new housing permits every year since 1991, leading the way in 2003 with 53,750 new permits, according to Bureau of Census figures. In 1991, according to the National Association of Home Builders, the number was nearly 25,000; in comparison, 2002 topped off at 66,550.

Efforts by Georgia Tech and local industry to make Atlanta a high-tech center are paying off; even though much of the technology field suffered losses, Atlanta held steady and was ranked third in 2003 among the top ten metropolitan areas in this field by the Milken Institute. Atlanta is also becoming a leading world center of business and trade. More than 1,300 foreign-based businesses have operations in metropolitan Atlanta, and they employ more than 81,000 residents.

Items and goods produced: metals, machinery, transportation, equipment, food and beverages, printing, publishing, textiles, apparel, furniture, telecommunications hardware, steel, chemicals

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Georgia has the reputation for being a strong pro-business state. Many new companies have relocated to metro Atlanta and have either built new facilities or converted vacant office space. The various local and state business incentives offered have encouraged these company moves as well as expansions of local firms.

Local programs

Atlanta was an empowerment zone city named by the Clinton administration, but in 2002 it converted to a "Renewal Community" allowing the city to benefit from a nationwide pot of $17 billion in tax incentives. Businesses within the three "renewal clusters" that were created receive tax credits and deductions, capital gains exclusives, and bond financing.

State programs

Georgia has business-friendly tax laws; the state does not use the unitary tax method, but instead taxes businesses only on income apportioned to Georgia. In addition, at four percent the state sales tax rate has risen only one percentage point since 1951. Attractive inventory tax exemptions are available in all metropolitan Atlanta counties, and sales and property tax exemptions are available for certain pollution control equipment used in production. Georgia's Freeport zones, like Atlanta's, exempt for ad valorem taxation all or part of the value of certain tangible property held in certain inventories. Companies can apply for a permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division which can result in their obtaining their federal permit as well, via a single application.

Job training programs

The Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education administers the Georgia Quick Start program, a three-way partnership between Quick Start, one of the state's technical institutions, and a company wishing to start up business in Georgia via 34 technical colleges and institutes, 4 associated university programs, and 18 satellite campuses. By developing and implementing high quality customized training programs and materials, Quick Start assists the company in obtaining a trained work force ready to begin as soon as the company opens for business. In addition, metro Atlanta's 43 colleges and universities provide a continuing supply of educated and ready-to-work graduates.

Development Projects

The staging of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta had a tremendous impact on development that extends today. More than $2 billion was spent on new construction, sporting arenas, entertainment venues, and beautification projects in preparation for the games. Another $100 million was spent on hotel renovations and expansions. The downtown area received the lion's share of the improvements as the city furthered its goal of becoming world class. Buildings were leveled and 21 acres were cleared to create the $57 million Centennial Olympic Park, which now serves as the centerpiece of downtown Atlanta. Following the Olympics, the city was left with several other multimillion-dollar sporting venues, including Turner Field, now home to the Atlanta Braves; the Georgia International Horse Park; and the Stone Mountain Tennis Center. While all of the Olympics-related construction was going on, downtown living was making a comeback with the construction of new housing units. In December 2004 Centennial Park West, which began building in 1999–2000, sold three of its million-dollar penthouse suites leaving it only four short of sellout. This property is part of Legacy Property Group, LLC who has also been involved in a 435,000 square foot, $100 million hotel and residential development that has brought the downtown area an Embassy Suites Hotel and several fine dining restaurants.

Meanwhile, in midtown Atlanta, the redevelopment of a 145-acre site (formerly a steel mill) as a community of homes, offices, shops, and hotels connected to surrounding areas by bicycle lanes, walking paths, and public transportation has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a national model for innovative development that improves air quality. This designation allows developers to build a bridge across I-75/85, connecting midtown to areas west of the Downtown Connector.

Atlanta has long been the center of business activity and development in the Southeast. In October 2004 Cousins Properties Inc. announced leases with three companies to occupy the new building of a 31-story, 500,000 square foot office tower. Construction on a new headquarters building for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to be completed in 2005 with an estimated cost of $81 million for the 12-story, 360,000 square foot facility. In February 2005 CSX Transportation opened its $8 million technology-driven training center to future engineers, conductors, and other technicians.

Economic Development Information: Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, 235 Andrew Young International Blvd. NW, Atlanta, GA 30303; telephone (404)880-9000

Commercial Shipping

An extensive array of air, rail, and truck connections makes Atlanta a city with a robust cargo industry. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the main focus of activity. A Foreign Trade Zone located near the airport at the Atlanta Tradeport provides companies with an opportunity to delay, reduce, or eliminate customs duty on imported items, while the U.S. Customs Service Model Inland Port is a highly computerized center designed to expedite quick clearance for international freight.

The railroad, for so long crucial to Atlanta's well-being, continues to serve the city through two major systems, CSX and Norfolk Southern, which operate more than 100 freight trains in and out of the city daily. In 2003 the Association of American Railroads named Atlanta as its first "Freight Rail Smart Zone" as two million railcars transport vast amounts of consumer goods throughout the region. Several hundred motor freight carriers also offer their services in Atlanta, as do many other carriers that transport only their own products.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Atlanta enjoys an expanding labor pool derived from the surrounding counties and from people coming to the city from other parts of the country and the world. Skilled laborers are more than willing to relocate to Atlanta. Wages have been the fastest-growing in the country; that trend is predicted to continue for the next 20 to 30 years as Atlanta creates more high quality jobs.

According to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2000, between 1998-2025 metropolitan Atlanta is projected to gain 1.8 million net new jobs becoming the new hub for high-tech companies—some call it the "Silicon Valley of the South." Atlanta led the list of "Top 25 Cities for Doing Business in America" by Inc. magazine in March 2004; specifically mentioned was its diverse economic structure.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Atlanta metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 2,158,600

Number of workers employed in . . .

natural resources and mining: 1,800

construction: 115,600

manufacturing: 170,300

trade, transportation and utilities: 492,000

information: 97,500

financial activities: 148,000

professional and business services: 337,900

educational and health services: 213,100

leisure and hospitality: 200,700

other services: 94,000

government: 287,800

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $13.29

Unemployment rate: 4.2% (December 2004)

Atlanta: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
Delta Airlines 26,237
BellSouth Corp. 22,000
U.S. Postal Service 16,099
Wal-Mart 15,600
Emory University (including hospitals) 13,619
Cobb County School District 12,372
U.S. Army Garrison Headquarters 10,485
AT&T Corp. 10,000
Home Depot Inc. 9,652
IBM Corp. 8,400

Cost of Living

Atlanta's cost of living figures, while high for the South, compare favorably with those of other major metropolitan areas in the United States.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Atlanta area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $247,229

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 98.2 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: Ranges from 1.0% to 6.0%

State sales tax rate: 4.0% (food and prescription drugs are exempt)

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: Atlanta metropolitan counties levy taxes up to 3%

Property tax rate: $17.86 (within city) per $1,000 of fair market value) (2003)

Economic Information: Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, 235 Andrew Young International Blvd. NW, Atlanta, GA 30303; telephone (404)880-9000