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


Next Stop: Alpharetta

By staff writer
October 2018 – 2 min. read

It might come as a surprise that the name Alpharetta often pops up when executives in the high-tech sector go scouting for sites to expand or relocate. Yet for many years Alpharetta has successfully lured high-tech companies to the quiet purlieu of Atlanta. Notable reasons include the city’s developing technology infrastructure — such as its nexus of fiber optics — but also the access to a high quality of life, complete with good roads, good neighbors, excellent housing options and affordable university systems.

The groundwork for this kind of development was laid 20 years ago in Alpharetta, when private groups invested in those fiber optic lines. Another boon for the local economy was the widening and redevelopment of Georgia 400 into an eight-lane highway. Since then, Alpharetta has also established itself as a notable travel destination for both business and leisure.

Focus: Atlanta recently spoke with Janet Rodgers, president and CEO of the Alpharetta Conventions and Visitors Bureau (CVB), about this development and how it has encouraged more visitors over the years.



“With the foresight and the exponential growth of the city in the last 20 years,” Rodgers told Focus:, “Alpharetta is now home to thriving corporations and more than 625 technology-based companies, bringing more businesses and business travelers to the city each day. Alpharetta has been home to 23 hotels to accommodate those travelers for nearly 15 years now. This year, that changed with the addition of a four-star hotel in Avalon that hosts 330 rooms and a 44,000-square-foot conference center.”

Rodgers notes that Avalon was the first Gigabit community in Georgia, and as the city continues to grow and evolve with more business developments, so will the number of hotels to accommodate the expanding number of business travelers.

“These two growth factors go hand in hand, much like how the city and Alpharetta CVB work together, with the city promoting itself to new businesses and approving development projects while the CVB promotes the destination as a place where successful business happens with hotel accommodations for business travelers,” Rodgers told Focus:. “We credit the hotel development success to the strong average daily rates and occupancy rates in the city’s hotels. The travelers dine in our city’s restaurants, purchase gas from our city’s stations, shop in our city’s stores and patronize our city’s entertainment venues and attractions. These travelers increase the economic impact of the destination to help these businesses thrive within our city. The developers bringing new hotels and travelers to the city are what make Alpharetta a strong destination for shopping, dining, events, attractions and new businesses.”

As the growth continues, there are approximately 1,500 guest rooms per night that will be added to Alpharetta’s hotel inventory, averaging about 4,000 total guest rooms per night in the city. “The city and Alpharetta CVB will continue to work hard to make the destination attractive for not only the business traveler but also for family reunions, weddings, sports tournaments, bar/bat mitzvahs, leisure travelers — and everyone who wants to be here,” Rodgers says.

The Alpharetta CVB is the official destination marketing organization for the city, and the organization has amassed repeat visitors by establishing a strong and identifiable brand for Alpharetta. “The city has worked hard to make the city what it is today, and the CVB has worked hard to brand it as such,” Rodgers told Focus:. “It’s innovative, it’s upscale, it’s dynamic, it’s safe and clean. And yet the city has still retained its small-town suburban charm, where you feel comfortable bringing your family and orchestrating business. We show CEOs that this is where they want to live and start their business. We are contributors to that economic engine.”

To learn more about the “Alpharetta Buzz,” visit the CVB website:

P20: Driving Change

Focus: Atlanta partners with the P20 Conference to help drive change in the payment industry

By staff writer
October 2018 – 2 min. read

Focus: Atlanta is proud to be a media partner for the P20 Conference, a two-day global payment initiative set to take place in the heart of Atlanta on October 9, 2018. P20 is a direct response to the great need for collaborative innovation, cybersecurity and, simply put, clarity in the payment industry. The initiative alternates annually between London, the world’s financial capital (where the inaugural conference was held in 2017), and Atlanta, which has recently come to be known as “Transaction Alley” for being the hub of the future of payment processing. Currently, 70 percent of all North American payments are processed in the Atlanta area.

The event cannot come at a more opportune moment, with the future of fintech and cybersecurity being of paramount importance among America’s financial institutions and the general public. The majority of financial transactions — from paychecks to groceries — now happen electronically, which means the slightest glitch in our tenuous payment-processing infrastructure could throw the entire country out of whack. As a nonprofit organization formed last year, P20 promotes the development of the global payment industry and fosters thought leadership in four key areas: cybersecurity, regulation, innovation and financial inclusion.


“Right now in Europe, there is one regulator. In the U.S., there are 19 regulators, and the penalties for violating the regulations are severe,” Allen Maines, managing partner at Holland & Knight, told Focus: when he sat down with our team earlier this year. “Holland & Knight is the leader in the electronic payments and transaction industry, both in regards to government relations and in trying to moderate the multiple, overlapping regulations that apply to the industry.”

Maines explained that the world follows the example set by the UK and the U.S., thus the reason for the coalition of P20. “We’re so passionate about this,” he said. “We try to help our clients innovate and engage in best practices for cybersecurity and best practices for inclusiveness.”

Atlanta has a long history of supporting startups and fintech startups in particular, going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“There is just a tremendous amount of talent around the financial services space here,” Bruce Lowthers, chief operating officer at FIS, told Focus:. “It’s a great place from the perspective of available talent, innovation and real estate and as a commercial hub through Hartsfield-Jackson. There are a lot of positives about the city.”

The P20 conference is about driving home the idea that the regulatory officials and business people all need to be in the same room, Lowthers explains. “We wanted people in the room who could make the decision to change and have an impact,” he said. “Until we did that last year, there was never an event in the payments world where this had been accomplished. Our initial thought when organizing the P20 was to get two countries that get along: the UK and America. We first tried this idea with DAVOS, but when you are dealing with regulatory issues with 100-plus countries, the differences were far too vast to make changes appropriately. However, the UK — and ultimately Atlanta because of the amount of transactions going through here — made the most sense. We wanted to demonstrate that it could work, and then the followers would come. We have seen a tremendous amount of attention and momentum since our first conference, which is exciting.”

Above all, the goal of P20 is to drive change, and everyone here at Focus: Atlanta is excited to see what the future holds for the payment-processing industry in Atlanta and beyond.

To register for the 2018 P20 Conference, click here.

To pre-order Focus: Atlanta 2019, click here.

For more information on our interviewees, visit their websites:
Holland & Knight,


The Fight for Fresh Food

By contributing writer Sean O’Toole
September 2018 – 2 min. read

Urban agriculture is an integral part of human civilization. The ability to cultivate food consistently in one place was the impetus for the founding of the first human cities, and the need for a reliable supply of food has been one of the most critical concerns of every city since. This was no less true for early America. However, over time, our ability to factory farm massive quantities of food on faraway farms and then ship it to urban destinations reduced the need to keep farms and gardens close to home. The victory gardens of World War II — necessitated by the need to conserve for the war effort — were an oasis of urban agriculture that quickly dried up when postwar prosperity made them obsolete yet again.

In 21st-century America, there is no shortage of food. But there is a shortage of good food. Our cities are food deserts — areas lacking fresh, healthy whole foods. Instead, we subsist on the processed, the fast and the fattening. We are always fed but never nourished. In response to the epidemic of bad food, urban agriculture is making a resurgence in cities across the country, including Atlanta.



Atlanta residents were extremely vocal about the need to improve the quality of locally available food, and the city listened by making food part of the Resilient Atlanta Strategy, among other local initiatives. This led to the rise of the AgLanta Grows-A-Lot program, which makes vacant, city-owned land available to residents and nonprofits for the cultivation of fresh fruits and vegetables. The program represents a positive step toward Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ goal of putting 75 percent of Atlanta residents within a 10-minute walk of fresh food by 2020 and developing a resilient food system by 2025.

MARTA is also bolstering this effort. In 2015, the organization launched its Fresh MARTA Market as a pilot program with the goal of both helping farmers sell their produce and providing healthy, fresh food to the city’s residents in a convenient location. What could be more convenient than a MARTA station? The program currently operates at five stations following the recent opening of the Bankhead Market on September 19, 2018.

Leading construction company Skanska also understands the importance of resilience and urban farming. “Our Atlanta office was the first Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Gold-certified office space in 2007,” Scott Cannon, Skanska’s executive vice president, told our Focus: Atlanta team. “We have two unique and sustainable projects underway in Atlanta: the Georgia Tech Living Building Challenge and an urban farm shed along the BeltLine. The shed is a 500-square-foot off-grid storage and workshed featuring a photovoltaic energy and storage system, composting toilet and the use of salvaged and locally milled wood products.”

Atlanta’s renewed commitment to urban agriculture in recent years is already beginning to have an impact. The total area of the city’s food deserts shrunk by 17 percent between 2010 and 2016 alone. Like other successful programs in the city, this is thanks in part to the enthusiastic creation of public-private partnerships intent on furthering the expansion of urban agriculture. AgLanta Grows-A-Lot is receiving assistance from groups such as the Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District, NewFields, the Atlanta Community Food Bank and many more. Thanks to these efforts, Atlanta will not just grow in the future; it will also grow healthier.  

For more information on the City of Atlanta’s resiliency efforts, visit the Office of Resilience website:

For more information on our interviewee, visit Skanska’s website:

High Times Ahead at the High

By staff writer
August 2018 – 2 min. read

On Monday, tickets went on sale exclusively to members of the High Museum of Art for the highly anticipated Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, an exhibition by one of the 20th century’s most influential artists. By 10:30 a.m., there were already 8,550 museum members in virtual line. The exhibit will be on display at the High from November 18, 2018, to February 17, 2019. Tickets go on sale to the public on September 17.

Infinity Mirrors, organized by the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, takes visitors on an incredible journey through 89-year-old Kusama’s six decades of work, exploring the evolution of her iconic Infinity Mirror Rooms — wild vistas of color, dimension and space. With six of these rooms on display, along with a collection of sculptures, paintings, works on paper, film excerpts, archival material and additional large-scale installations from her early career to today, this is without a doubt the most comprehensive exhibition of the Japanese-born artist’s work to tour North America in 20 years.

Director Rand Suffolk. Courtesy of the High Museum of Art.

“It’s an exhibition that has sold out at each of the five venues it has visited before,” Rand Suffolk, director of the High Museum of Art, told our Focus: Atlanta team when he sat down with them earlier this summer. “It’s truly a global phenomenon. It will be a great memory maker, not only for the museum, but also for the city.”

In addition to this world-renowned exhibition, the High has plans to reinstall its collection galleries, set to debut in October 2018, marking the first significant overhaul in more than a decade. “The reinstallation has several goals,” Suffolk told Focus:. “First, we want to provide greater internal equity among our collecting areas. Second, we want to highlight our strengths in ways we perhaps haven’t in the past. Lastly, we are blessed with the incredible architecture of our buildings, and we want people to experience that in addition to the beautiful art inside.”

Since the museum’s expansion in 2005, the High has added nearly 7,000 works to its vast collection, which today numbers over 16,000 pieces. The reinstallation will highlight iconic masterpieces, as well as artwork never before seen at the High, including a piece by Kara Walker and paintings and sculptures from the 2017 Souls Grown Deep Foundation acquisition of folk and self-taught art. Part of this effort is to help the museum connect with all members of Atlanta’s highly diverse community.

“We’ve undergone a significant evolution in the past few years, one that has caused us to re­define our business model,” Suffolk said. “While we have always had a strong reputation for delivering extraordinary exhibitions, we wished to move away from providing just that one primary gateway for people to connect with the museum. Instead, our focus is on building multiple gateways for people to connect. In other words, we’ve changed our programming in an intentional effort to become a stronger magnet for every segment of the Atlanta community. Our efforts have been affirming. When it comes to demographics by ethnicity, we’ve more than tripled the level of non-white participation from 15 percent to 50 percent. In a city made up of 51 percent people of color, that’s a direct reflection of the population we serve.”

It’s clear to us that the High Museum is truly dedicated to reflecting the diversity of its community and providing a variety of experiences and educational opportunities to visitors from all walks of life, encouraging them to engage with the world of art in whatever way is most meaningful to them.

“2019 is going to be a very exciting year for us,” Suffolk told us with a smile. We can’t wait to see what the High has in store for Atlanta!

For more information on the High Museum of Art, visit


Educating Atlanta’s Future Leaders

By contributing writer Kelly Bolhofner
August 2018 – 2 min. read

Atlanta has always been known for its innovative growth (most recently in the fintech industry), quality universities and corporate infrastructure. While the city is home to several post-secondary schools, it has not always had strong K-12 programs to prepare its students to attend those universities. With a goal of providing the city with a solid foundation of future leaders, early educators and innovators started independent schools they hoped would inspire creativity and a strong desire for learning. Today, Atlanta boasts 135 of the 869 private schools in Georgia (15.5 percent), with 30,685 of the total 155,925 students statewide attending private schools (19.6 percent).   

The cost of a private education in Atlanta averages $12,253 for elementary and $16,555 for high school, compared to the national average of $10,413. While this is comparable to the cost of a post-secondary education, recently state lawmakers have been looking at legislation that will shift money from public education over to private education, allowing more students to access the benefits of an independent school experience.



House Bill 664 will change the way parents use their 529 savings plans, letting them apply it to secondary education as well as post-secondary schooling. House Bill 217 is a tax credit voucher program that will raise the annual limit on tax credits for student scholarship organizations. Another bill that was voted on and lost but could come up again in revised form is House Bill 482, which is essentially an expanded voucher program.

Focus: Atlanta sat down with Keith Evans, president of the Westminster Schools, earlier this year to talk about the kind of education students can expect to receive from Westminster. “We attract students who want to blend intellectual, athletic and artistic talent with a desire to serve a purpose larger than themselves and make an impact on the world,” Evans told Focus:. “That has been our mission and our calling card from the beginning. If you look around Atlanta, there’s a lot of Westminster DNA in both the historical growth of the city as well as the interesting things that are happening today.” He added that “Westminster has fully launched a number of innovative, educational experiences for our students. Prominent among these is a three-week program called Jan Term; all of our Upper School students participate. ” The school also offers a summer program called Running Through History, which allows students to run cross-country through Europe while learning the history of World War II.  

Stuart Gulley, president of Woodward Academy, shared with Focus: the things that set Woodward apart from other schools. “We are the oldest and the largest independent school in the continental U.S.,” he said. He pointed out that the school values diversity: “We have a deep respect for difference. That’s reflected in every difference imaginable, not just race, ethnicity or religion.” While offering the same co-curricular opportunities as other private schools, Woodward Academy faces challenges with the current traffic and infrastructure. Efforts of the new Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance in creating a seamlessly connected “airport city” will hopefully help to mitigate those issues.

Private education offers students a chance to learn in more creative ways and teachers a chance to teach using their own styles. Parents are more engaged and involved in the students’ education, and graduation rates are significantly higher. Both Westminster and Woodward have an acceptance rate of about 25 percent, keeping the average class size to about 16 students with a 7:1 student-to-teacher ratio. This provides an opportunity for more one-on-one teaching.  

As Evans told Focus:, “The City of Atlanta itself and the metro area have about as wide a range of educational options as you can imagine. What distinguishes Atlanta in terms of educational choices is that the schools here tend to be focused on their unique mission and philosophy and serving a particular kind of student. Schools in Atlanta have done a good job of defining their purpose: what place they want to occupy in the ecosystem and who they’re here to serve.”

Atlanta has come a long way from its early days and today boasts not only some of the finest private schools but also 98 public learning sites, two single-sex institutions and 17 charter schools that are improving under the current leadership. With so many top-quality choices, Atlanta is leading the charge in educating the next generation of innovators and leaders.

For more information on our interviewees, visit their websites:
Westminster Schools:
Woodward Academy:

The Economy of Beer in Georgia

July 2018 — In September 2017, Senate Bill 85 went into effect, finally allowing Georgia breweries to sell beer directly to consumers in taprooms. In addition, the bill did away with mandatory tours and allowed the sale of beer to-go and food on-premise. Thanks to the new laws, SweetWater Brewing recently announced plans to turn its taproom on Ottley Drive into a restaurant and bar. But SweetWater isn’t the only brewery excited about the bill. Another wave of craft breweries has opened across the region to take advantage of the new law’s economic impact.

In 2011, the entire state of Georgia counted only 21 craft breweries. Today, that number has more than doubled, reaching more than 53 statewide. And it continues to grow, with numerous breweries slated to open in 2018. In 2016, the annual economic impact of beer for Georgia was estimated to be $8.5 billion, more than $1.6 billion of which was generated by craft beer. On a national level, breweries contributed about $68 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the Brewers Association.

Craft breweries might be small, but they clearly pack a large economic punch, especially in terms of injecting new energy and attracting business to struggling industrial districts. Breweries help to activate foot traffic, stimulate nightlife and spur economic development in their vicinity. In recognition of their impact, December’s sweeping tax reform included a provision that lowered the tax rate on beer produced in the U.S., particularly for small breweries.


In September 2017, Monday Night Brewing (MNB) opened its second facility, the Garage, along a recently completed section of the Atlanta BeltLine in the West End. This is a shining example of how craft breweries help to revitalize abandoned industrial properties and breathe new life into older communities. The Garage’s success has also helped to highlight the economic power of the BeltLine, as a once underinvested area of Atlanta is now seeing renewed investment interest from both home and abroad.

Jeff Heck, CEO of MNB, told Atlanta magazine back in March 2017, “A lot of what makes [craft] beer special is the community aspect, and the neighborhood has such a welcoming character that we feel we could grow with it and be part of an emerging area.”  

Following in MNB’s footsteps, New Realm Brewing opened along the BeltLine in early 2018, including a farm-to-table restaurant, rooftop patio and beer garden.

There’s no question Atlanta’s brewery game is strong and getting stronger. Since SB 85 went into effect in September, 13 new breweries have opened statewide, creating 250 jobs and generating more than $30 million in direct investment. Dozens of craft beverage facilities are in the works in the Atlanta Metro area, including Halfway Crooks Brewing and Blending, which is under construction in the Summerhill neighborhood of Downtown, and North Fulton’s first distillery, planned for historic downtown Roswell.

Atlanta is quickly solidifying its place as a southern mecca for craft beer, bringing positive growth and development to the region in the process. The beer aficionados at Focus: Atlanta think this is great news!


Move Over, Downtown!

June 2018 — Aerotropolis Atlanta may not be your top destination yet, but it has big plans on the horizon. Under the leadership of recently announced new Executive Director Shannon James, the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance is moving forward on its vision of becoming a premier location for economic investment one project at a time, leveraging its proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for commercial development and economic growth.

“The Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance’s initial strategy was to accelerate the area’s growth with landing the Porsche Experience Center,” James told Focus: Atlanta. “We’ve since matured and now welcome the ‘Airport City College Park’ and ‘Mountain View Clayton County’ mixed-use developments. Our hope is that these projects will serve as catalysts for more development in the region. This will result in more jobs, tax revenue for municipalities and diverse communities. We feel confident that our workforce and education development initiatives will assist in meeting the demands of future opportunities we hope to create through our efforts.”



Gerald McDowell, executive director of the Aerotropolis CIDs, told Focus: that the “recently completed Aerotropolis Master Plan will guide investment of 29 different projects in the Aerotropolis CIDs area through the year 2025, including redevelopment of corridors and transit studies. The completed projects will require a total investment of $120 to $150 million.”

Some of these projects are already in full swing. One of the most recently announced developments in the Aerotropolis is the 320-acre “Airport City College Park” project, a development envisioned as a mixed-use area consisting of class A office space hosting corporate headquarters, restaurant space, residential space and retail space, as well as various hotels. The $500 million project will develop 250 of the 320 acres, with the remainder of the land to house both the city’s nine-hole golf course and general green space. This project represents a major step in making the Aerotropolis vision a reality, with the potential to create thousands of jobs.

College Park intends for this project to attract more residents and businesses alike. In fact, the city has already signed an agreement with San Diego-based Cisterra Development for a 150,000-square-foot office building for $8.5 million. Development of Airport City College Park is expected to begin at the end of 2018 and will take between 7 and 10 years for completion.

Two industrial projects are slated to be developed near the airport, as well. Both developments would be located within Southside Industrial Park, an Opportunity Zone that is eligible for tax credits for creating jobs. Opportunity Zones give businesses a $3,500 tax credit for each new job that they create, which is a huge incentive for businesses coming to the Aerotropolis region. Invest Atlanta is currently considering a $23.67 million bond resolution to spearhead the project. If approved, the 200,000-square-foot and 135,000-square-foot buildings are expected to cost $13.1 million and $10.5 million, respectively. They are estimated to create a total of 125 jobs and pack an economic impact of $33.4 million.

The hospitality industry is especially expected to benefit from the growth within the Aerotropolis. Specifically, the presence of the Porsche Experience Center in Hapeville has sparked attention from Georgia tourists and airport passerbys alike. The upscale, 214-room Solis Two Porsche Drive hotel opened in 2017, and developers are now proposing a second hotel to attract millennials to the area. This new hotel would be a 179-room Tru by Hilton. The goal of this new hotel is to attract a younger crowd to the Porsche Experience Center with its relatively cheap nightly rates.

Local excitement is building over Aerotropolis Atlanta due to the potential it has to take advantage of its proximity to the airport and create a hub for business investment. Keep your eye out for a full chapter with detailed coverage on what is in the works for Aerotropolis Atlanta in our upcoming Focus: Atlanta 2019 publication.

For more information on Aerotropolis Atlanta, visit
Pre-order your copy of Focus: Atlanta 2019 here.