When it comes to business Atlanta has gone from nowhere to becoming The Big Peach
To me the word “terminus” means the end of the line. So, I was surprised to hear on a recent business trip to Atlanta that the US city was originally known by that name. Doesn’t sound too hopeful does it?
That was back in the 1800s when the Georgia General Assembly voted to build the Western and Atlantic Railroad to link the port of Savannah and the Midwest. After a brief period known as “Thrasherville” (I don’t like the sound of that much either) it finally became known as Atlanta in 1847.
Part of the interesting thing about travelling is getting the chance to think about how a place came to be - in a way that we perhaps don’t always do with our own local towns. A couple of things really struck home about Atlanta.
First, as is usually the way, it was a real practical reason that brought about its existence. People wanted to get about the Southern States and this place was geographically suited – including the fact that it’s exceptionally flat. There’s no river or other obvious landmark to make lots of people flock to this spot. It could be said to be a little featureless in the natural world sense, but seemingly a sensible place for railways to pass, meet and end. So, it seems, an enlightened political move turned an almost literally ‘nothing place’ into a town and then a city.
When meeting companies in Atlanta another theme kept arising. The city is generally seen to be ‘pro-business’. There was mention of decent tax breaks and incentives. But perhaps more interestingly, various people gave the comparison with other Southern States and how by the 1960s they were roughly the same size as Atlanta - but a couple of forward looking mayors took office and really pushed things on to attract investment. Combined with Atlanta becoming a major organising centre of the civil rights movement the political steps helped win the race to become the capital of the South - attracting many substantial businesses to set up HQs in the city at that time.
The city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, was elected in 1973 and politicians and business, together, tried to foster the motto "A City Too Busy to Hate."
So nowadays Atlanta is a major air transportation hub, with Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport claimed to be the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic. The Atlanta metropolitan area's economy is the tenth-largest in US, with thriving tech, University and healthcare sectors as well as being home to the likes of The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and UPS to name but a few. Not a problem free city, no doubt, but doing ok economically it seems.
Business and politics, combined with a welcoming approach to others and some forward-thinking, has served the city formerly known as Terminus and Thrasherville pretty well so far.
Unusually I didn't bump into as many proud members of the Scottish diaspora as one so often does in America, but in a State where civil rights and freedoms have been such a focal point it was fitting to find that Atlanta has its very own tribute to perhaps Scotland's best known egalitarian.
It takes the shape of a full size replica of the bard Robert Burns’ cottage in Alloway – built over 100 years ago by the Atlanta Burns Club.
Maybe there is something in nominative determinism after all…
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