Harnessing the Power of CEOs to Make Cities Thrive

Harnessing the Power of CEOs to Make Cities Thrive

By Sam Williams, Business City Partnerships //

Metro cities are the drivers of our nation’s economy and will contain 80% of the population by 2020.  They are complex geographic, social, political and economic regions.  With a multitude of local governments, issues such as infrastructure, healthcare and economic development frequently bog down in political standoffs.

In The CEO As Urban Statesman, Sam Williams uses case studies including participant interviews and research from five cities to argue that business leaders can and should contribute to their communities by using their business skills to help solve public-policy problems.  Leading cross-sector coalitions, focusing on tipping point critical issues, each city has tapped the leadership of business to compliment, not replace, the role of government.  Backed by professional staff or consultants these coalitions operated in public meetings recruiting leaders from different viewpoints around the table and determining the facts in a case study method.  They then debated a short list of alternatives and focused on most likely solutions driving for consensus and eventual action.  It works and Williams tells how with personal interviews and insight.

In Atlanta, CEOs Pete Correll, Tom Bell and Michael Russell headed a successful biracial cross-sector task force to rescue Atlanta’s safety-net hospital from impending financial collapse.  They gained political approval to convert the hospital from government control to a not-for-profit with a private board and raised $350 million for improvements making it a national success story.  In Oklahoma City, CEO Ray Ackerman and part-time Mayor Ron Norick led a decade long coalition to restore the city’s pride by convincing voters to pay for redeveloping downtown, creating a canal from a dry riverbed that spawned an entertainment district and rowing venue.  In Houston, former astronaut and entrepreneur Mae Jemison headed a multi-jurisdictional task force to create an economic recovery plan from Hurricane Ike and a blue print for future disaster response.  Salt Lake City, after their Olympics, was choking on traffic and business wanted to accelerate a twenty year plan to expand transit and roads.  Banker Scott Anderson and former legislator and then chamber executive Lane Beattie assembled a metro alliance to support a regional transportation plan and led the campaign to approve funding.  Today the Wasatch Valley transit and road improvements are almost complete.  John Turner, a Columbus, Georgia executive worked for fourteen years to create the longest urban whitewater course in the world on the stretch of the Chattahoochee River that runs through downtown by working with two states, two cities, environmental activists, funders  and regulators.  Columbus State University located a campus downtown, loft housing was built, restaurants and entertainment flourished and the city became a magnet for millennials.

These projects are quite different from one another, but they share common themes.  This book explores each case in detail, extracts their salient characteristics and provides a list of best practices for public and private sector leaders who are interested in improving quality of life and growing jobs in metro cities.  In addition to the book, Williams helped create over 15 such coalitions in metro Atlanta during his tenure as President of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and now urban strategy consultant and professor at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

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