Atlanta’s health doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg

By staff writer

July 2019

As home to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta has healthcare written into its DNA. But until now, the city has focused more on control than prevention. After years of lackluster patient outcomes, Atlanta is beginning to recognize that prevention is healthier approach.

In 1990, Georgia ranked 43 among all 50 states in the America’s Health Rankings annual report. Over the years, the state has slowly climbed and in 2018 it held 39th place.

Although there is a way to go for Georgia as a whole, Atlanta is somewhat ahead of the curve. When compared to the rest of the state, metro Atlanta has some of the lowest Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL) rates – the measure of premature death – even though the metro area has the fifth-largest population in the U.S. with 5.9 million residents.

In the same rankings, although metro Atlanta ranks moderately for “Outcomes” (how healthy people feel), it is has one of the lowest rankings for “Factors” (behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol and sedentary lifestyles). Although major cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of death in the state and region, Atlanta’s rates have been on the decline over the last 10 years.

“We have to get back to prevention,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, who previously served as chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, at the Health Journalism 2019 conference in Baltimore.

According to the Integrated Benefits Institute, a health research group that works with U.S. employers, poor worker-health costs amount to “60 cents for every dollar employers spend on healthcare benefits.”

Earlier this month, CVS announced an ambitious plan to open 1,500 HealthHUB stores by the end of 2021, with Atlanta named as one of its strategic locations. HealthHUBs combine a traditional CVS store layout with health services; in particular, focusing on preventive care, wellness activities and education and management of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes.

And employers are starting to see wellness costs as another business essential. The global wellness industry is now valued at $4.2 trillion – more than half of total health expenditure[CN1] , which comes in at $7.3 trillion.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle has even launched an award recognizing the Healthiest Employer. Atlanta-based Catalyst Fitness won the award in 2017 and says the key to improving a balance sheet lies in guaranteeing that staff are healthy, and that doesn’t always just mean providing an insurance plan.

“Regular exercise can significantly improve workplace health. Instances of absenteeism and staff turnover, low staff morale and reduced productivity can be alleviated with a corporate wellness program in Atlanta that energizes and motivates tired employees,” says the company on its website. “Boredom, repetitive motion injuries and workplace fatigue can only be combated with physical and mental stimulation.”

Another company founded in Atlanta is AMP Recover, which provides data that allows better outpatient care. “We have been pleasantly surprised by the burgeoning injury prevention and wellness market and love seeing providers and patients take a more proactive and preventative stance,” said CEO David Nichols in an interview with Hit Consultant magazine.

Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, told the Value-Based Care Summit hosted in Atlanta that the next step is tracking results. “We (now) have an opportunity to start documenting and cataloguing these cost savings,” Johnson said. “There are plenty of instances where we are saving a lot of money.”

Atlanta Creates Board to Boost Tech Growth, Connectivity

By staff writer

April 2019

Atlanta may be one of the nation’s leading technology hubs, but the city isn’t satisfied. Last week, it announced the formation of a Chief Information Advisory Board (CIAB) to take its tech industry to the next level while improving the city’s digital connections.

Leaders from public and private sectors who comprise the board will analyze the challenges facing Atlanta’s technology sector and overall digital connectivity. Members of the CIAB team include IT leaders from Delta Airlines, Georgia State University, Cox Enterprises, Equifax, Chick-fil-A, Southern Company, Metro Atlanta Chamber, Quikrete, Adams & Reese LLP and Atlanta Tech Village.

 “The Chief Information Officer Advisory Board will play a vital role in setting the strategic direction for innovation and technology now and in the future,” said Gary Brantley, the city’s chief information officer.  “We’re thrilled to partner with these senior executives within top companies whose deep experience will fuel our agenda and help shape the future of technology in the great city of Atlanta.”

Building the right ecosystem for a growing tech hub requires a community of entrepreneurs, tech-focused corporations and higher education institutions who can supply skilled workers. As they say, it takes a village, and Atlanta has created its own Atlanta Tech Village, the country’s fourth largest tech hub. And it’s tethered to a robust investment and business community.

The city’s goal is to create 10,000 jobs and fuel Atlanta’s rise to a top-5 U.S. tech start-up center. The Village facilitates connections between talent, ideas and capital. In addition to providing fully equipped office space, The Village offers daily interactions to spread ideas and collaboratively solve problems; mentors and advisors who guide participants through challenges; networking events and classes to create collaborations and pre-accelerator programs; discounts from partners like Google, Microsoft and Hubspot; pitch competitions; and access to talent that can help grow businesses and attract new customers.

Atlanta is also home to the BridgeCommunity, a platform developed by Coca-Cola that aims to accelerate the success of technology start-ups by connecting them to corporations, while supporting local entrepreneurship. In addition, those with ties to cybersecurity and machine learning have a robust accelerator program in Cyberlaunch.

Higher education opportunities for techies include programs at Georgia Tech and Emory University, designed to help students and non-students further their businesses and achieve greater success. They’re another critical component of the city’s high-tech plans.

“We are proud of the ever-growing tech hub Atlanta has created,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms upon announcing the new board. Its members, she said, “will serve as a great resource as we explore how we can continue to use technology in creative ways to improve our city and leverage our innovative local tech community.”

To learn more, please visit:

Atlanta Chief Information Officer Advisory Board members include:

Eric Anderson, Egon Zehnder
David Cummings, Atlanta Tech Village
Cynthia Curry, Metro Atlanta Chamber
Martin Davis, Southern Company
Michael “Mike“ Ebrick, Chick-fil-A
Jay Ferro, Quikrete
Roy Hadley, Adams and Reese LLP
Bryson Koehler, Equifax
Danielle McPherson, Delta Airlines
Gregory Morrison, Cox Enterprises
Krishnakumar “KK“ Narayanan, Delta Air Lines
Phil Ventimiglia, Georgia State University
Tye Hayes, City of Atlanta

Atlanta’s Booming Entertainment Industry

By staff writer

March 2019

The entertainment industry is often very loyal to the areas that give birth to its craft. Nashville, for instance, is the birthplace of country music, while Detroit is the home of Motown. And the motion picture industry is no different.

From its black-and-white beginnings to the modern advancements of computer-generated imagery, the film and television industry centered in Hollywood, California is synonymous with all things visually entertaining. Yet recently, that industry has found new places in which to create its masterpieces.

Among the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and the southern ridge of the Chattahoochee River is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas on the eastern seaboard — and a rising force in film and television. Besides a cultural heritage steeped in southern charm and the City of Atlanta’s diverse population, the area also has become a booming business and industrial zone.

With the average cost of creating a blockbuster surging to around $30 million, it’s no wonder investors are moving their projects to other places. And Atlanta has created everything from production companies and music studios to innovative educational opportunities meant to support the vibrant industry.  

Sensing the growing demand for cost-effective alternatives to the highly-taxed entertainment industries of California, Georgia took the initiative to create and pass the Entertainment Industry Investment Act in May of 2005. It gives a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend a minimum of $500,000 on production or post-production activities in Georgia — as well as an additional 10% credit if the finished project includes promotional material provided by the state.

This almost unheard-of financial nod to the entertainment industry not only has bolstered the area’s already-surging artistic vibe, but it has catapulted it to the top of the movie industry’s filming locations. In fact, in 2016 Georgia was the setting for more feature films than any other state.

The state of Georgia saw such massive growth in the film industry after the passage of the act that, in 2017, the Georgia Music Partners (GMP) successfully lobbied for a version of their own. The resulting Georgia Music Investment Act, which came into effect in January 2018, offers a tax credit equal to 15 percent of a music production company’s qualified production expenditure. While it’s too early to tell whether the act will have the same kind of ripple effect, proponents are hopeful that the music scene will follow suit.

Following the passage of these two incentives, colleges and universities have scrambled to create a workforce that’s both knowledgeable and invested in the entertainment business. Clayton State University, for example, has created several programs focused on developing behind-the-scenes talent.

Tim Hynes, president of Clayton State, said he has already seen his university’s investment in the film and music industry pay off.

“Eighty-six percent of our graduates stay within Georgia’s state lines after graduation, giving us an advantage in cultivating long-term partnerships with local film and television production companies,” he said. “From these partnerships, we’ve been able to establish scholarship programs for our film production students.”

Partly as a result of the state’s enthusiastic support of the film and music industries, Atlanta’s economic growth has been robust. In 2017, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced that the combined revenue created from these two industries produced a whopping $9.5 billion windfall in that one year alone.

Affordable Living

By staff writer

March 2019

By Urban Land Institute Atlanta estimates, the Metro Atlanta region needs 5,000 new units of affordable housing annually just to accommodate the area’s growth and 10,000 homes annually to start mitigating the affordability problem. To really solve the problem, it’s estimated that the area would need about 250 million units per year over a 10-year period, which is equivalent to a $2.3 billion investment to preserve and produce affordable units at this scale.

While not quite on that level, in January 2019 Invest Atlanta and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms approved millions of dollars of funding for three new affordable housing projects along one of Atlanta’s most important emerging commercial corridors and in the Westside neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue.

The first project, CityPlace, received a loan of $1 million from the Vine City Housing Trust Fund, which will allow developer Place Properties to build five new single-family residences with price tags ranging from $135,000 to $160,000. The second project, Urban Oasis, secured financing of $250,000, also from the Vine City Housing Trust Fund. Sims Real Estate Group plans to renovate three old homes and build a fourth in this community. The renovated homes will be available to families who earn 80 percent area median income (AMI) or below, while the new home will be offered for sale to families earning 100 to 120 percent AMI.

The third project is a 130-unit multifamily development, Hartland Station, that was approved for up to $1.3 million in pay-as-you-go grant funding from the Metropolitan Parkway tax allocation district. This development will offer 40 units for families earning 50 percent AMI and below and 70 units to those earning 60 percent AMI or below.

These three new developments underscore the efforts of the mayor and the city’s economic development arm to bring more affordability to Metro Atlanta. It’s an issue that city leaders don’t take lightly. When our team at Focus: Atlanta sat down with Mayor Bottoms last year, she pointed to several important initiatives designed to broaden the conversation about affordable housing.

“We named the city’s first-ever chief housing officer, Terri Lee, whose singular focus is developing a citywide affordability strategy, including coordinating policy initiatives with our agencies and partners and helping us reach our $1 billion affordable housing investment goal,” Mayor Bottoms told Focus:. “We also brought together our planning department, the head of the Atlanta Housing Authority, the head of Invest Atlanta and the head of the BeltLine, and what we learned is that a conversation with those leaders around the table had never happened in our city. I think this really speaks to how much work needs to be done.”

There’s no question that the affordability issue will take more than just conversations to effect real change. “Affordable housing is a passion of mine, and it’s probably a bigger problem today than it was a year ago,” Matthew Shulman, CEO and managing partner at Ardent Companies, told Focus:. “Projects like the Gulch are planning on 20 percent affordable housing, and it would be great to see a lot of development going that way. I’m hoping there can be more engagement between the public and private sectors to solve the issue of affordable housing.”

In the spirit of public-private collaboration, in January 2018 the public-private taskforce HouseATL was launched to promote a collaborative, cross-sector process for expanding the supply of affordable housing in the region. In August of last year, HouseATL set a goal of investing $500 million in public resources and another $500 million in private resources to build or preserve 24,000 affordable homes in Atlanta over the next eight to 10 years.

Some metro area residential builders are also stepping up to the plate to provide housing options at affordable price points to Atlanta residents. “We’re really excited to reintroduce the Centex brand in Metro Atlanta,” Will Cutler, Georgia Division president at PulteGroup, told Focus:. “It has not been a part of this market for about six years or so. Our newest community in South Fulton County, Princeton Village, is opening up as we speak. Centex is focused on the first-time buyer who is very conscious about price point. Many first-time buyers walk through the front door and truly don’t understand what it means to be able to buy a house. Can they afford it? That’s where the strength of the Centex brand comes into play. A lot of teachers and police officers have a hard time finding affordable homes in the Atlanta market right now, so we think it’s important to make sure that we focus on delivering a quality home that is consumer inspired to that buyer. We’re excited to bring that into this market again.”

The BeltLine could also be welcoming new below-market-rate housing as early as the summer of 2019. The Madison Reynoldstown development includes plans to set aside 116 apartments for affordable housing. This project would be the first in a private partnership between Atlanta Housing and the BeltLine.

Atlanta has a long way to go to ensure affordability and quality of life for its residents, but leaders in both the public and private sectors are taking important steps toward providing viable housing options to all. Focus: Atlanta will be keeping a close eye on these developments throughout 2019.

For more information on our interviewees, please visit their websites:

City of Atlanta:

The Ardent Companies:



Digital Transformation

By staff writer

February 2019

Esports is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, and Atlanta is quickly becoming a southeastern hub. In 2017, the video game industry had a more than $750 million economic impact in Georgia, and global revenue in 2019 is expected to reach $1 billion. Georgia is currently home to more than 75 gaming companies, including Hi-Rez Studios, based in Alpharetta. Part of the reason for the industry’s staggering growth is its overwhelming appeal to younger generations.

Atlanta will soon welcome its own Overwatch League team. Until this year, the LA-based league hasn’t moved out of its hometown to host games, but the 2019 season will begin in Dallas, TX, in April and then move to Atlanta in July. Atlanta’s first-ever esports teams, dubbed the Atlanta Reign, was purchased last summer through a joint venture by consulting firm Province, Inc. and Cox Enterprises, which together formed Atlanta Esports Ventures.

“[Esports] is outpacing any other sport — traditional or not — by a wide margin,” Paul Hamilton, president and CEO of Atlanta Esports Ventures, told Atlanta magazine. “You’re seeing a huge number of eyes in a demographic that, traditionally, has been hard to reach.”

The Overwatch League copies the format of professional sports leagues and franchises teams by city, providing fans with a home team to route for. The league has a preseason, a regular season, an all-star break and playoffs, just like traditional sports leagues. There are codes of conduct for players and coaches, skilled announcers, loyal fans and primetime spots on television. The league also attracts sponsorships and doles out prize money. In fact, in 2018 the prize pool was a staggering $3.5 million.

Atlanta’s leading gaming proprietors are bullish about the growth potential of the industry and the viable investment opportunity it offers to businesses. The metro area’s higher education institutions are also supporting the industry. For example, in the fall of 2017 Georgia State University launched an esports program, which helps students make the necessary connections to start careers in the industry. And it goes far beyond just being a gamer, including areas like social media management, esports reporting, event management, game testing, team coaching, business strategy, broadcasting and more. In fact, of the program’s inaugural 350 students, only 20 percent had an interest in competing.

In 2019, Hi-Rez Studios co-founder and COO Todd Harris has plans to host SMITE and Paladins Pro League regular-season games at its gaming production studio, Skillshot Media. These games are expected to attract more than 100 professional esports players to the Metro Atlanta area. This follows the November 2018 SMITE and Paladins World Championship, which was held during the first eSports Week at global gaming festival Dreamhack Atlanta. The events spanned three days, attracting more than 31,000 spectators, while another 10 million watched online.

The global esports industry continues to see significant year-over-year growth, generating a tremendous impact for both businesses and post-graduate talent and contributing significantly to Georgia’s economy. And Atlanta is at the heart of it all. Focus: Atlanta will be keeping an eye on this exciting digital transformation in 2019 and beyond!


Booming Blooms

By staff writer

February 2019

More people visit public gardens annually in America (78 million) than visit Las Vegas (48 million) or Disneyland (11 million) and Disneyworld (11 million) combined. This is great news for Atlanta, whose garden tourism industry has been blossoming in the past few years.

Metro Atlanta is home to a number of beautiful gardens, including the Atlanta History Center Goizueta Gardens, Callaway Resort and Gardens, Dunaway Gardens, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and Gibbs Gardens.


“We’re going to be doing a lot with our gardens in 2019,” Sheffield Hale, CEO of the Atlanta History Center, told Focus: Atlanta when he sat down with our team last year. “A lot is going to open. That’s a whole other focus that people don’t even know about: our 22 acres of gardens.”

The 33 acres that comprise the Atlanta History Center campus are home to six historic gardens, each of which represents a period in Georgia’s history, from its pre-colonial settlement to the 1930s. Visitors can spend hours — or even days — exploring the enchanting gardens, woodlands and trails.

According to USA Today, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is one of the top 10 best botanical gardens in the U.S. The garden occupies a 30-acre site dedicated solely to the care and enjoyment of a variety of plants and flowers. Its 200,000 annual visitors in 2010 more than doubled to 500,000 in 2017, underscoring the growing popularity of these green attractions.

Barnsley Resort directly incorporates gardens and hospitality by connecting travelers to nature and an outdoor lifestyle. More than 3,000 acres in size, the resort offers countless hands-on learning experiences in its beautiful gardens and takes advantage of the boom in garden tourism. In fact, the attraction opened a new 55-room inn and 9,000-square-foot event space called Georgian Hall in early 2018.

The City of Atlanta has also taken note of the emerging garden tourism industry. In May 2018, the Atlanta City Council approved a $100 million expansion project within Piedmont Park that includes the botanical gardens. According to a press release from the City of Atlanta, “The expansion project will include a connection to the Atlanta BeltLine, improved pedestrian trails and access to Piedmont Park, additional open greenspace and forested land.” Piedmont is one of the most visited parks in Atlanta, and this expansion is sure to attract even more visitors.

While it’s difficult to measure the economic impact of garden tourism, there’s no doubt that visitors who come to tour Atlanta’s parks and gardens contribute significantly to the local economy. And it’s more than just at hotels, restaurants and shops but also at the metro area’s diverse offerings of cultural organizations. In fact, one research study found that the single most common denominator among cultural tourists was an interest in gardening. This is one blooming industry that Focus: Atlanta will be keeping an eye on as we move into 2019!

For more information on our interviewee, visit




Atlanta’s Transit-Centric Growth

By Sean O’Toole

January 2019

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is gaining popularity across America. TOD seeks to promote more walkable communities by mixing housing, office, retail and recreation space and situating it all within a half-mile of public transportation. The benefits of this kind of development are swift and pronounced. More walkable neighborhoods can lead to healthier and more community-minded residents. TOD also helps with environmental conservation by increasing public transit ridership and reducing the number of cars on the road, which simultaneously reduces traffic congestion. That last benefit is especially attractive in cities like Atlanta with a history of bad traffic.

Since 2017, Atlanta has seen delivery of 1.1 million square feet of office space located within a half mile of a MARTA station. In addition, the multifamily market within a half mile of a MARTA station experienced 68 percent growth in inventory from 2008 to 2017, compared to 19 percent in Metro Atlanta not in proximity to MARTA. With TOD on the rise, Atlantans are seeing more housing options near public transportation, and MARTA is simultaneously building its user base.

“You see transit-oriented development from the influx of Midtown, Downtown and Buckhead areas that have stations,” Arnie Silverman, president of Silverman Construction Program Management, told Focus: Atlanta when he sat down with our team in 2018. “I recently spoke to a business owner who plans to move his office so it can be next to a MARTA station in order to attract millennials.”

MARTA’s first TOD project was the Lindbergh Station, a mixed-use marvel consisting of housing, retail space and public transportation amenities that was completed about 20 years ago. Today, MARTA seeks to expand the city’s TOD footprint with even more such projects that will change Atlanta for the better in numerous ways. For one, more TOD is likely to have a positive impact on fare revenue and new ridership, which is not only good for MARTA but will also help to alleviate congestion and carbon emissions throughout the metro area. In addition, MARTA has vowed to use its TOD projects to eliminate eyesores like abandoned parking lots by turning them into vibrant, mixed-use communities. This type of development will complement other community-oriented projects already underway in Atlanta, such as the BeltLine, which aim to make the city a more interwoven, walkable community.

“A great example of transit-centric growth is the State Farm development,” Jeff Parker, CEO and general manager of MARTA, told Focus:. “Then NCR relocated and wanted to be on a MARTA stop. We have a great opportunity to provide good connectivity between businesses that want to relocate or expand in a vibrant place like Atlanta and grow with the city.”

MARTA currently has six TOD projects in the works, and although all of them are still in the construction or planning phases, a few are nearing the completion of their first stages of development. These projects are the Chamblee Station, Avondale Station, Edgewood/Candler Park  Station, Arts Center Station, King Memorial Station and upgrades to Lindbergh Center Station. All of these stations will include an innovative mix of office, commercial, residential and green space and will further MARTA’s goal of upping ridership while lowering congestion.

In October 2018, Invest Atlanta announced the launch of the city’s first-ever TOD fund — at a total of $15 million — designed to provide affordable capital to support the acquisition and pre-development of workforce housing near MARTA stations and other modes of public transit. Nearly 70 percent of Metro Atlanta’s residents commute to a different county for work every day, and reducing both travel time and cost could save these commuters close to $1,000 annually.

“If we want to make the biggest impact on people’s lives,” Eloisa Klementich, CEO of Invest Atlanta, told Focus:, “we need to lower their costs of transportation and housing. We are investing in transit-oriented development opportunities with the goal of increasing people’s ability to live in this beautiful city.”

With cities like College Park considering transit-oriented zoning and MARTA’s board of directors recently giving the greenlight to a more than $2.5 billion transit expansion, we’re sure to see more TOD projects cropping up across the metro area in 2019 and beyond. Focus: Atlanta will be keeping a close eye on the developments!

For more information on our interviewees, visit their websites:

Silverman Construction Program Management:


Invest Atlanta:



Atlanta’s Champions

By staff writer

January 2019

Nothing says success like the groundbreaking emergence of the MLS Atlanta United Football Club. In just its second season of existence, the United has grown to tower over all other teams in the MLS and has broken records for both the city of Atlanta and major-league soccer.

More than 73,000 fans showed up to watch the 2018 MLS Cup, held in December at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This attendance was nearly 20 percent higher than at the 2017 MLS Cup, which hosted roughly 61,300 fans. With their 2-0 win against the Portland Timbers, the United clinched the city’s first major professional sports championship since the Braves beat the Cleveland Indians in 1995 and became just the second expansion team in MLS history to reach the finals within its first two seasons.

Supporting the largest fanbase of any franchise in the MLS, as well as being the highest-ranked team in the league, the United is currently the most valuable soccer team in the U.S., worth nearly $330 million.

Although the United had a rough start to the regular MLS season with a 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo, the team was not discouraged and focused on improving its performance. Atlanta ended the season with 21 wins and 7 losses (up from 15-9 in the 2017 regular season), going cleat-to-cleat with many of the league’s top teams, including the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC and D.C. United.

But Atlanta’s 2018 achievements did not stop there. United forward Josef Martinez proved to be the top scorer in the MLS, collecting 31 goals, 10 game-winning goals and eight penalty kicks during the regular season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the LA Galaxy was runner-up, with 22 goals. The wide margin between the leading scorer and the number two was due to more than just team chemistry. Atlanta United Coach Gerando “Tata” Martino noted that there was a solid plan in place to achieve these winning numbers. “They never modified any part of the plans,” he said. “The most satisfying thing to me is that we followed the plan.”

In addition to improvements on the field, the Atlanta Football Club has seen massive growth over the past two years. Arthur Blank, billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, funded $70 million worth of expansions for the team in 2016 and placed the United in the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Blank’s NFL Atlanta Falcons also play. Since then, the United has sold more than 1 million tickets (by far the highest number in MLS history) and is responsible for one-quarter of total MLS merchandise sales (with Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron being among the top-selling jerseys in the league).

Things are looking good for not only Atlanta United but also for Atlanta professional sports in general. Atlanta has been named a potential host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and the entire metro area is gearing up for Super Bowl LIII, which will be held in February 2019 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Focus: Atlanta is excited to see what’s in store for the United and Atlanta’s other superstar sports teams in 2019!

For more information on the Atlanta United, visit their website at