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Power Poll: Metro, state leaders on rebuilding economy

Atlanta, GA  |  May 15, 2020 6:00am  |  By Bert Roughton

Most metro Atlanta leaders believe it will take a year or more for Georgia’s economy to recover from the coronavirus crisis – once the pandemic fully recedes.

Moreover, more than 95 percent of those who responded to the Atlanta Power Poll survey said the pandemic has harmed their business or institution, with nearly 55 percent saying the damage has been significant.

The Atlanta Power Poll is part of a nationwide survey that asks community leaders for their opinions on important local issues. In Georgia, Power Poll appears exclusively on AJC.com and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The survey, taken between May 11 and May 14, surveyed more than 970 metro Atlanta business, political and civic leaders by email. The response rate was about 20%. The survey doesn’t have the precision of a scientific poll, but it nevertheless provides interesting insights into the thinking of metro leaders.

More than 85% of the people who responded said they believe Georgians are serious about precautions such as social distancing, washing hands and wearing face coverings. However, less than 9 percent said they believed people were taking them “very seriously.”

Julia Bernath, the Fulton County school board president, expressed concern that not enough people are taking the precautions to heart. “I fear that people in the ‘non-critical’ category in particular are not taking seriously their responsibility of using social distance, masks and gloves to help prevent further spread of the disease,” she said in written comments to Power Poll. “Until we have discovered a vaccine that will help stop/reduce/eliminate the virus, I think we still need to be very cautious about trying to go back to the way life was before the outbreak.

“I worry most for our children and the interruption that the pandemic has had on their education, but I believe that we are resilient, and I have already witnessed great work to help keep their education moving forward by parents, teachers and administrators.”

In other written comments, poll respondents suggested that effects of the pandemic are complex, and that it is likely to permanently alter the way people work.

Robert Balentine, the chairman of an Atlanta wealth management firm, warned that it was a mistake to assume the pandemic hit everyone the same.

“We are not in the same boat,” Balentine wrote. “Certain businesses like grocery stores, logistics companies, and pharmacies have prospered, while travel and hospitality have virtually stopped. American Express reported that travel and entertainment spending by cardholders fell 95% over the last few weeks, while Delta Air Lines expects revenue over the next quarter to be down 90%.

“The road to recovery will not be steady and uniform; there will likely be fits and starts, and certain industries will recover well before others,” he wrote. “One size doesn’t fit all; we are not in the same boat.”

Leslie Gordon, executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, said she was particularly concerned about the effects on cultural institutions that rely on audiences.

“Those of us in these professions are of course curious as to where this pandemic will lead,” she wrote. “Although this has offered us an unprecedented opportunity to reach new audiences through virtual offerings, nothing can substitute for that shared experience of being in the audience seeing a live play or watching an amazing artist in concert in person or viewing an original artwork or artifacts up close.

“We can only hope that testing happens, that everyone, no matter their income, gets the health care and help they need, and that, moving forward, our ‘new normal’ is better than the old one. We look forward to the time when we can once again gather in groups. Without fear.”

Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown expressed concerns about the effects on small business. “The economic impact of COVID-19 will last years, and the effect it will have on our small businesses in Georgia will last even longer if we don’t work together to support them during this time,” he wrote.

Yet, he believes that the experience people have gained by working remotely may actually have benefits. “The good that has come from this virus is that it’s dismantled our antiquated systems and has forced us to evolve,” he wrote. “Telework will become the future of our workforce, rent stabilization and landlords working to create pathways for tenants will/should become a normality, meeting community through digital measures is the future and there’s no turning back.

Mark Fogas, executive vice president of the marketing firm Epsilon, wrote that he wondered what will follow the pandemic. “While there can little doubt that the preventive actions taken by the American public have helped change the course of the virus’ spread, there is little clarity as to how cultural norms and the business environment will be permanently changed.

“At this point the only thing we can say with great confidence is that it will. There will be economic winners and losers in the ‘next normal,’ and it will require more time to understand how to best ensure Georgia’s economy is positioned to deliver wins.”

A.J. Robinson, the president of Central Atlanta Progress, cautioned it will take time to fully understand the implications.

“We are still in the very early days of calculating the effects of the pandemic on the economic wellbeing of Atlanta and Georgia. The ‘rear view’ mirror is still pretty crowded.”

Atlanta Power Poll highlights:

The May 11-14 survey went out to more than 970 metro Atlanta business, political and civic leaders by email. The response rate was about 20%.

More than 85% of the people who responded said they believe Georgians are serious about coronavirus-fighting precautions such as social distancing, washing hands frequently and wearing face coverings. However, less than 9 percent said they believed people were taking them “very seriously.”

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