Research the concept of the aerotropolis, an economic district with a globally connected airport at its center, and the same names tend to pop up.
In the U.S., it’s Memphis, Detroit, Dulles and Dallas, all of which have embraced efforts to position their airport areas as destinations in their own right.
Head over to Europe, and it’s Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and Frankfurt International Airport in Germany.
But one Atlanta economic developer believes Gatwick Airport, the London airport left behind by Delta Air Lines Inc., should be a name heeded by boosters of Atlanta’s ongoing airport-area development efforts.
Al Nash, executive director of Progress Partners of North Fulton Atlanta, an economic development initiative of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, visited the United Kingdom in 2011 to learn how the area between London and Brighton packaged its assets to establish itself as an airport-anchored business hub.
The Gatwick Diamond offered lessons for bringing communities into collaboration instead of competition, Mr. Nash said at the quarterly meeting of the Atlanta Airport Area Task Force March 1.
At the meeting’s end, the task force unveiled brochures for its new working brand, the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, the banner for a number of stakeholders pushing a centralized vision for the airport region that will knit together disparate counties and cities.
That’s exactly what the airport area needs: an organization to tell its cohesive story, including facts and figures like population, schools, existing investors and available land, Mr. Nash told Global Atlanta.
“You’ve got to have a catalyst that can go pool all those assets,” he said, noting that Progress Partners played that role in a deal that landed a General Motors technology innovation center in Roswell, which will eventually bring nearly 1,400 jobs.
When eyeing new locations, companies use real-estate brokers to find places with access to transportation, work force and affordable land, among other assets. While the needs may vary among companies, they all want the process to go as quickly as possible, and they don’t want to have to go to 10 different communities to see what each can offer in the way of incentives, Mr. Nash said.
“In Corporate America, time is money, and they want to be able to move. They can’t wait. Every day they wait is costing them money,” he said.
If the Atlanta airport area makes its case well, it could compete with other regional economic partnerships like Progress Partners and Partnership Gwinnett when big projects come to town, he added.
Organizers of the Gatwick Diamond realized in 2003 that competition for projects in the United Kingdom would continue to be fierce, especially around airports. So they brought together local governments – six district and borough councils as well as two county councils who shared the funding responsibilities with the airport. They then hired an executive director to steer day-to-day operations.
Now, they market the region together. According to its website, the area has a gross domestic product of 13 billion British pounds ($19.6 billion), driven by key outposts of service providers like KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as advanced manufacturers like Ceres Power and Thales UK. Global giants ExxonMobil, Nestle and Unilever – all from different countries – have their U.K. operations in the area.
Gatwick Airport itself is aiming to invest 1 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) into capital improvements over five years beginning in 2014. Atlanta’s airport spent $1.4 billion on the new international terminal it opened in May 2012.
Read more on the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance’s plan to seek corporate participation.
For more information on the Gatwick Diamond, visit www.gatwickdiamond.co.uk
For more on Progress Partners of North Fulton Atlanta, visit www.progresspartnersatlanta.com.