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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

GeorgiaForward comes to Atlanta

Amir Farokhi
  • GeorgiaForward
  • Amir Farokhi
For the last four years, GeorgiaForward, the nonprofit aimed at bridging the state's urban-rural divide and connecting its largest cities, has held its annual forum outside metro Atlanta.

This year, in what will be executive director Amir Farokhi's final summit as GeorgiaForward's executive director, the organization is gathering public officials, academics, nonprofits, and wonks from across the state in Midtown.

The two-day "Homegrown: Strengthening Georgia from Within" forum, which kicks off on Thursday at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, focuses on how the state can use its strengths and explore new ways to become more competitive and improve its quality of life. Worth noting: Former Mayor Shirley Franklin will be stopping by.

Along with presentations and keynotes from speakers including Kate Sofis, a micro-manufacturing guru, and Ronnie Chatterji, a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the forum will feature discussions and talks. Those will cover such issues as: improving children's health; using Georgia's natural resources to produce more energy; and boosting the local food movement. Panelists will also discuss how to boost civic engagement among Millennials, an age group that, according to GeorgiaForward's research, isn't nearly as engaged in their communities as other generations.

"There's a sense they're not connecting as much outside of social media," Farokhi says. "There are also concerns that this is a generation that hasn't had civics education as much."

In addition, graduates of Georgia Forward's Young GameChangers program will present their potential fixes for Americus and Sumter County. Starting late last year, the diverse group of young professionals spent six months brainstorming (PDF) how to help the southwest Georgia city and county boost its economy by attracting young people, entrepreneurs, and retirees - and set itself apart from other rural areas by finding its strengths.

"Now we're working with [local] leadership to find what has most legs," says Farokhi. "And find funding to bring them to life."

As Maria Saporta noted, Reed and Deal won't make an appearance due to conflicts in their schedules. It's surprising they wouldn't at least drop by, considering it's being held in Atlanta and the organization's very purpose is focused on building alliances - something the political odd couple has managed to do despite partisan differences.

"We always welcome the governor and the mayor," Farokhi said. "Their cooperation on a handful of issues sets the tone for what the rest of the state needs to be doing. We always welcome them."

Franklin and Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver will, however, sit down for a discussion on the forum's second day.

Following this weekend's conference, Farokhi will pass the baton to Howard Franklin, a political strategist and consultant, to take a job as chief operating officer with the National College Advising Corps. The North Carolina-based nonprofit (Farokhi will remain in Atlanta) places recent college graduates in underserved high schools as college advisers and, with the help of a $1 million Woodruff Foundation grant, plans to make Georgia one of its priority. He says GeorgiaForward will be in good hands and will continue trying to foster cooperation not just between Georgia's urban and rural areas, but also suburban areas as well.

"We've done a really good job creating an environment with nonprofits," he said. "Foundations and some political leaders have been engaged. We have more room to grow."

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