2 min read March 2023 — Invest: spoke with Anna Roach, executive director and CEO at Atlanta Regional Commission, about an increased investment in transportation due to the recent bi-partisan infrastructure law, a new focus on broadband infrastructure as a core utility and the challenges in finding a developed workforce for construction of new projects.
What have been some key highlights for the commission over the last 12 months?
The bi-partisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act has been a focus for the Atlanta Regional Commission in 2022. This legislation represents a generational opportunity to invest in metro Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure. The law doubles investment in transportation infrastructure over the next five years and provides access to significant discretionary funding opportunities. The law also expands the definition of infrastructure to include expanding broadband access to help bridge the digital divide, addressing our changing climate, and investing in electric vehicles to reduce tailpipe exhaust and clean our air.
A major project funded through this new legislation is MARTA’s Five Point station improvement, which is critical for transforming downtown Atlanta. GDOT has significant investments in Metro Atlanta, and there are many projects of regional significance on the way. It means so much to our region that these projects succeed. The legislation serves as a call to action for our commission to take advantage of these opportunities. The ability to scale or advance projects is sped-up from its normal course. We want to be active leaders in making sure funding is available to fuel these investments.
ARC has embarked on a multi-faceted outreach plan to inform and advise our elected officials, planners, and other stakeholders to make the most of the law. This includes a Regional Infrastructure Consortium, made up of experts from across metro Atlanta in the areas of transportation, water, energy, and broadband. This consortium is designed to prioritize regional projects that have the best possibility of being funded.
How are rising rates and inflation impacting your priorities?
We are keeping a close eye on inflation so we can get ahead of the major challenges in the construction sectors. If we are not careful, inflation could erode the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Bids for construction are sometimes coming in at double or triple what they would a few years ago.
We do not have the workforce necessary to even meet the construction industry’s current demand. We are making plans to ensure that there is a workforce available to execute the federal dollars that are coming our way.
The law also allows us to invest in projects that are not our traditional infrastructure projects. These are things like broadband infrastructure. Years ago, this would not be considered a fundamental utility, but now we need to provide it to everyone including those in lower income and rural communities. Broadband infrastructure projects will move forward regardless of inflation.
How are you developing workforce development programs and other methods of enhancing the workforce?
We are getting together the stakeholders necessary to have a conversation about this in 2023. We know that some of our programs are working while some of them are not. We need to inventory these programs to find out what works. We are very focused on making sure that our investments are targeted to solutions that have the best opportunities for success. Our first order of business is to gauge what is out there and to find out how effective it is. From there, we can get creative in finding ways to expand our workforce. People are having fewer children, so we won’t have as much natural population growth going forward. If we have increasing workforce needs, how can we get them trained and into the right jobs? Some things such as virtual construction training can allow people to learn how to use machinery and other types of equipment and technologies. Training can happen in a different way, and it can be more efficiently done from across the state. We want to scale projects that are creative and help to expand the workforce. We have our work cut out for us.
How are you dealing with issues concerning gentrification and displacing residents?
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is committed to ensuring that there is adequate affordable housing. By prioritizing affordable housing, we are ensuring that we don’t displace communities and that residents have the opportunity to advance economically. ARC’s workforce efforts have been worthwhile, and we can work with local governments to explore solutions that best fit the needs of their community. There’s no one-size-fits all solution. Something that works in one part of our region may not necessarily work in another. But it’s clear that we need true policy changes, not just verbal promises.
What makes Atlanta a unique place to do business?
The Atlanta region is so successful in large part because of our diversity. Companies are looking for places where they can hire and attract diverse talent, and they are looking for places where diverse employees can live in thriving communities. We offer that here in Metro Atlanta. Affordability is another major attraction, although the costs of home ownership are rising. Our access to post-secondary education is also a huge asset because we have a talented workforce due to the number of high-quality colleges and universities in the region.
What is your outlook for the next few years?
We will begin to see an intentional focus on communities that have been underserved and underrepresented. The Federal Government is asking us to think about how we invest resources in the nation, and equity is a big focus there as well. They are requiring transportation agencies to ensure they are infusing equity into their thinking as it relates to transportation investments. There is a big focus on this, and it will help to provide greater opportunities for success in our under-invested communities. We are marching forward because we cannot get this wrong. We have the right mix of leadership and investments to transform Metro Atlanta.
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