When Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport was redesigned in the 1970s, planners utilized innovative leadership to bet jet aircraft would be the next big thing in transportation and therefore planned the runway for 8,200 feet the planes require.
At the time, popular propeller driven aircraft needed only 5,000 feet, and Norton said other cities like Birmingham laughed at Atlanta’s bold bet. Today, that bet has paid off on a grand scale.
“If you look at all the growth that has happened in North Georgia as a result of that airport, then you can see that there are really some things that helped innovate,” Norton told Rotarians at Coosa Country Club.
Norton used the example to paint a picture of how the Georgia Municipal Association helps city planners to encourage innovation and advocate for informed future decisions.
Founded in 1933, the GMA is a voluntary, nonprofit organization based in Atlanta that provides legislative advocacy, education, employee benefit and technical consulting services to its members.
The association services 517 cities statewide and 3,029 elected city officials. A training board of twelve districts helps to decide which education classes are a good for each city’s unique needs. During the past seven years, seven new cities have joined.
“There’s something going on in this state that says, ‘I want to be close to a government that’s close to me, and I want to be able to get someone and tell someone what’s going on and let them know what my business needs and my personal needs are,’” said Norton.
The GMA trains city officials on issues including city finance, budget, open meetings and municipal law, and the group hosts 6½ hour training sessions several times a year.
Lobbying is also a key focus of the organization. The GMA helps legislators break down city issues into particular points so they can understand how it will affect growth and the economy.
“If we can’t tell them how this impacts Broad Street or Fourth Street or a hospital or whoever, then we’re not doing our job,” said Norton. “You’re trying to make an impact so that they can make it local.”