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Marietta Daily Journal

Atlanta Regional Commission CEO touts Cobb's role in "One Great Region"

By Jake Busch jbusch@mdjonline.comjbuschTrey Smith - Cobb ChamberCobb Chamber of Commerce Trey Smith Cobb Chamber of Commerce,

2023-03-13
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Atlanta Regional Commission CEO Anna Roach speaks at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s “Marquee Monday” at the Coca-Cola Roxy on Monday. Trey Smith - Cobb Chamber

CUMBERLAND — Cobb has a major role to play as a member of the metro Atlanta region, said Anna Roach, CEO of the Atlanta Regional Commission, at a Cobb Chamber event Monday.

She said issues such as water resource management, transportation and air quality exceed the capacities of local governments, using the example of the Atlanta Braves playing in Cobb to demonstrate that the region is interconnected to an extent that demands regional planning.

“We can’t enjoy that team without coming to Cobb, and so every single thing that you do, every decision that you make, every investment that you make here in Cobb affects the entire region,” Roach said. “The Atlanta Regional Commission is here to help make sure that those investments are made in such a way that they have the entire region, not just Cobb, in mind.”

‘One Great Region’

Roach focused her talk on the theme “One Great Region,” identifying ARC’s priorities while also noting challenges it is looking to tackle in the coming years.

One of those priorities is better mobility. Roach said each year, ARC is responsible for overseeing nearly $3 billion in federal and state funds as part of its regional mobility plan, including $191 million in Cobb.

Transportation projects in Cobb supported by ARC include the Barrett Parkway Reliever in the Kennesaw-Town Center area, the widening of Highway 92 and improved accessibility at CobbLinc stations.

Another part of ARC’s mobility plan includes the Livable Centers Initiative, aimed at making communities more walkable and vibrant, Roach said. She highlighted the more than $3 million in improvements to Franklin Gateway in Marietta as part of the initiative, which went toward landscaped medians and a wide sidewalk along the road.

“It’s made a huge difference in this fast-changing part of the community,” Roach said.

A current Livable Centers Initiative project in Cobb is the first phase of Rottenwood Creek Trail, which will connect Kennesaw State University’s Marietta campus to South Cobb Drive.

Part of ARC’s mobility priority is a transportation plan the group updates every five years. Roach said ARC will be coming to Cobb Chamber members to ask for input as it updates the plan this year. Their input is important in addition to that of leaders from the Cobb community on the ARC board, including Chairwoman Lisa Cupid and Austell Mayor Ollie Clemons.

ARC is also focused on addressing aging and health in its 20 counties.

Roach said ARC forecasts that one in four residents of the region will be 60 or older by 2050, and much of the work the ARC does involves assisting older residents to ensure they are better able to live independently.

In Cobb, this support is to the tune of $2.2 million annually for everything from meals and transportation to in-home and caregiver support services.

ARC’s third priority is supporting the workforce of the region through job placement programs and other opportunities to keep metro Atlanta competitive with comparable metro areas.

Confronting challenges

However, Roach noted, challenges such as rising housing costs, climate and environmental concerns, and equity demand that ARC continually adapt.

She said that in just seven years, the median home price in Cobb has jumped significantly, from $293,000 to $441,000. It’s difficult to stay competitive, Roach said, when people cannot afford to live in the region, especially as wages have failed to keep up with rising home prices.

ARC devised the Metro Atlanta Housing Strategy in response to the problem, through which ARC will aim to provide local communities with the tools needed to develop their own affordable housing programs, though Roach did not get into the specifics of what those tools would be.

She also identified equity as a broad problem to address. Roach said that more specifically, income inequality is a pressing issue in Atlanta, saying she reminds herself daily of a report from a few years ago that identified income inequality in the city as the highest in the U.S.

For Roach and ARC, equity means ensuring transportation is not only about good roads, but also about bringing people closer to good jobs and the places they may need to access quickly and efficiently, like hospitals.

She praised President Joe Biden’s administration for focusing on equity in grant applications for federal funding of various projects, and said equity is practical for ARC because funding could be contingent on communities committing to equity.

“There are grants coming out of the federal government like I’ve never seen before, but they’ve got some pretty rigid criteria for local communities to access those dollars,” Roach said. “You better believe that equity is one of those criteria, so if you are not infusing equity in your grant application to those federal agencies, it will go to the bottom of the pile.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and signed by Biden, is important to ARC’s work too, Roach said, as it is relevant to the projects that will be coming to Cobb.

On top of expanding high-capacity transit options and bringing new electric vehicle infrastructure to cities and counties, “it also redefines what we’ve traditionally thought about as infrastructure,” Roach said, such as broadband internet.

The vast majority of that federal funding, about 80%, will be decided by the population of different cities and counties, while 20% is discretionary. Thus, Roach said, ARC wants to work with its member counties to ensure grant applications align with the priorities in the bill to ensure the region gets the most out of the law that it can.

“We can only be successful if we continue to partner with the (community improvement districts), with our chambers, with our local governments and with the business community,” Roach said.

SelectCobb updates

SelectCobb, the county’s economic development arm, also provided a review of its successes in 2022 at Monday’s event.

Kevan Espy, the CEO of Cobb EMC and chair of the SelectCobb, said the group, responsible for recruiting and retaining companies to bring their business to the area, managed to recruit 13 new companies into Cobb, while retaining nine more for a total of 22 “wins” in 2022.

Those wins account for nearly 6,000 jobs and $2.25 billion in investment over the next decade, according to SelectCobb.

Brenda Rhodes is the founder and president of Simple Needs GA, a Marietta-based nonprofit that provides items to support homeless people as they find housing, such as furniture and other household necessities.

Rhodes said she was surprised by the growth projected by both Roach and Espy.

“I never expected that much growth, and it does make you worry about the roads and housing,” Rhodes said.

Specifically regarding Roach’s vision for the region over the next few decades, Rhodes said she was impressed by how far ahead ARC is looking.

“Their plan really seems to address the future,” Rhodes said. “A lot of places look forward to maybe five, 10 years, but they’re looking all the way to 2050, which is great.”

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