Chamber Chief David Hartnett on Atlanta’s Economic Engine

David Hartnett, the new chief economic development officer for the Metro Atlanta Chamber, has lived in Atlanta since 1995. But he’s also been a resident of another realm that lies within the city limits: Startup World.

“My primary career has been built around medical devices,” Hartnett told Hypepotamus, “and most of my notoriety was around startups and exits. I’m very familiar with startup world.”

His role with one of those medtech companies, Given Imaging – makers of tiny, ingestible cameras to help diagnose stomach ailments – was actually the result of a previous economic development initiative by then-Gov. Roy Barnes. “The state goes out and tells everyone, and a bunch of executives, why Atlanta is so good. I happened to be one of those executives.” Before he knew it, Hartnett was Given’s executive vice president for North American operations. He raised $30 million in equity and helped take the company public in Oct. 2001. (Given has since been bought by Medtronic.) “It ended up being an amazing success for us.”

Now Atlanta’s startup world is humming with energy, and Hartnett is one of the reasons why. He brought that business experience to the MAC in 2006 to help shape its own economic development efforts to lure companies large and small to Atlanta.

His promotion is to a newly developed position within the Chamber. “Although David has already been instrumental in our strategic planning efforts, this new role will expand his leadership impact and build on his background of successful innovation and collaboration,” MAC CEO/president Hala Moddelmog said in a news release.metro-chamberHow did you view your role at the Metro Atlanta Chamber before this promotion?

I was very fortunate a decade ago to be brought to the MAC to be vice president of economic development, focusing on technology. At the end of the day our job then, and today, is jobs. Our key focus is on bringing jobs to Georgia, keeping them in Georgia and helping Georgia-based companies to grow.

How do we do that? It’s all about shining a light on Atlanta’s assets, and of course we have multiple categories of assets. The most well-known are transportation, cost of living, and quality of life.

What we’ve focused on for the past several years has not only been company acquisition or relocation/expansion, but talent relocation and retention. We’re doing a great job bringing companies to Atlanta. Now we need to make sure the talent is here and can maintain the growth expectations of those companies.

How has that search for talent impacted the other parts of your economic development agenda?

I call it the “Home Depot effect.” What I mean is, some very smart people decide where the next Home Depot is going to go, and what does Lowe’s do? They put one across the street. They allow Home Depot to do the due diligence, and that same example is occurring in Atlanta with corporate headquarters.

When an NCR does the due diligence of moving their company here after 100 years somewhere else, then you have First Data, then you have Mercedes-Benz. And then you have division headquarters like GE’s digital hub, and you have Honeywell. What all this does is get us on the short list. They say, “Atlanta is hot,” where before they may have never considered us. And the number one reason these companies have decided to come to Atlanta is the talent availability.

What items would you like to focus on in your new MAC role?

I believe there needs to be a targeted focus on the smart city. It’s important that we become one of the most well-recognized smart cities that is utilizing wireless and Internet of Things technology.

Also funding, and not just capital being invested in companies. It’s also finding that environment that allows the startups to be successful, such as the incubators, the accelerators, the co-working spaces. Also investment in university systems. It’s all about providing an environment that is conducive for companies to grow.

The final one is oftentimes the legislative component – making sure legislation is favorable for startups and scale-ups.

How do you see that legislative landscape shaping up over the next couple of years?

In the decade I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen such a cohesive effort between a mayor and a governor as we see it today. Our governor is by far the most successful and proactive as it relates to business recruitment that we’ve ever seen. He has empowered (Georgia Department of Economic Development commissioner) Chris Carr and then provided him with all the resources necessary to continue their success in maintaining the state as the number one place to do business for three years in a row.

Clearly the mayor has been 100 percent supportive of that effort. He is a nationally-known mayor and gets out in front of issues that ensure Atlanta is seen as a shining star city.

The future is unpredictable, but the positive momentum that the current governor and the current mayor have been responsible for should naturally flow into a new administration. They got the ball rolling. With the effort that went into that, we can only see it as continuing.