American cities like Richmond are ripe for positive growth as long as their leaders capitalize on public-private partnerships, attract foreign investors, embrace the city’s diversity and work together, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young said Monday before hundreds of community members at Lavonya DeJean Middle School.
For Richmond, the nonprofit that sponsored the free event, said about 450 people attended a dinner, speech and Q&A session with Young, a civil rights leader who was a trusted aide of Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta’s mayor from 1981-89 and ambassador to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter.
After being introduced by Kyra Worthy, For Richmond’s executive director, Young’s charm took over. Using his experiences as Atlanta’s major and world travels, he expressed that all parties in Richmond must work together — its elected officials, government, citizens, and businesses — to realize the city’s potential.
“This is a great time to be alive,” Young said. “This is a great place to live. You can’t do it with government money. It’s got to be public-private partnership. You can’t do it white, or black, or brown. It’s got to be rainbows. It’s got to gay and straight.”
Young recounted how as Atlanta’s mayor, Georgia’s LGBT population fled the rural areas for his city and fueled the city’s downtown revitalization. He also recalled how low-income youths perfecting hip hop began making money selling to the white suburban kids in Omaha.
Though hip hop culture and LGBT lifestyles were not widely accepted at the time, Young said he saw them as assets to Atlanta’s growth.
“Everything you consider a problem in this city, flip it and flip your attitude toward it,” Young said.
Young also shared examples of how foreign investors helped to revitalize Atlanta during his term. Global investors are sitting on trillions of dollars of “scared money,” he said, and don’t know where to put it. But a diverse city that is open and honest in its dealings with businesses can become attractive investments, particularly in the U.S., Young said.
As Atlanta’s mayor, Young went searching for foreign investment after attending World Bank meetings and got a sense that “the people with money were filled with anxiety, they did not know what to do with it.”
He told investors their money would be just as safe in Atlanta and more profitable than sitting in a bank.
“In fact, the Dutch were the first ones to take me up on it,” he said.
The Dutch invested about $1.5 billion in Atlanta hotels, an office complex, and bought and expanded two of the city’s largest malls. It generated thousands of jobs for local residents, Young said. But the success of such investments requires honesty and diligence by a city’s staff and elected leaders, Young said.
Young said his city had to do three things to attract investors: Make certain the investment was safe, honest and efficient.
“If we told them if you come here we can get your building up and running in a year, we had to deliver,” he said.
He added, “Remember, be honest. You can make more money honestly in a growing economy than you can steal in a dying economy. It’s not morality, it’s economics. If you want more money, create an honest environment…if you say you’re going to do something on time, do it on time.”
But it starts by people within a city like Richmond working together, according to Young.
While online news articles and social media sites spread word of doom and gloom from around the world, Young said, the technology should not leave us cynical but rather help us to grasp the world in ways that benefit our communities.
“Look at the people around this room: this is the way the world looks,” Young said. “And you are the access to the market of the future if you open your doors and share your wisdom, your sensitivity, your values, your sense of freedom and opportunity with all the people God put on this spot on Earth.”
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