10 Things That Make Atlanta Great

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I’m not originally from Atlanta. I didn’t grow up here. I’m from the Philly area so I have a deep-seeded hatred for the Braves, Falcons and Hawks. But, like many Northeastern transplants, I now call Atlanta home.

And I have to say Atlanta is pretty awesome in many ways. That’s why I was a bit bummed when I read this recent Forbes article – Why You Should Travel to Atlanta This Winter. It was all about the chain hotels and football. It just made Atlanta seems so lame.

I started thinking about the things that make Atlanta great. Why would people want to travel or relocate here? So I put together this list of the ten things that make Atlanta a great city to live in and do business. Here we go…

1)   The Pay It Forward Mindset

There have been many successful Atlanta entrepreneurs in recent years. Rather than just cashing out and retiring to a private island, these people have chosen to give back to the community. David Cummings sold his company Pardot for almost $100 million in 2012. He then took the money and founded the Atlanta Tech Village, a co-working space for entrepreneurs. Since it opened, there have been many successes to come out of the Tech Village including companies like CalendlySalesLoft and Terminus. We’ve seen other successful entrepreneurs follow the Cummings model. ScoutMob founder, Michael Tavani, opened Switchyards, a co-working space focused on consumers apps. Alan Nance, founder of WhatCounts, opened TechSquare Labs on the Georgia Tech campus. It’s great to see these successful entrepreneurs helping the next generation. That’s a big reason why Atlanta is has been called one of the emerging “Tech Meccas” in the US.

2) The Diversity of Opportunities

From a career perspective, Atlanta gives you a lot of options. You can work at a big blue-chip company like Coke, Delta or Home Depot. You can work in media at Turner or Cox. You can work in tech for leaders like SecureWorks, ADP or Global Payments. And there’s no shortage of startups in town looking for good talent. In my case, I’ve had amazing opportunities to build my career from a mid-level manager to a C-level executive, jumping from big companies like Cox Automotive to high growth startups like QASymphony and Parkmobile. I don’t think that would have been possible in a lot of other markets.

3)   The Food

I have to admit that I am a total food snob. I lived in NYC for ten years and have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world. I was even able to score a coveted reservation at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Napa. So, it’s fair to say that food plays a very important role in my life. While Atlanta is no New York, the restaurant scene here is pretty awesome. You have some elite chefs like Ford Fry, Linton Hopkins, Kevin Gillespie, Kevin Rathbun, Hugh Acheson, Steven Satterfield and Ryan Smith, just to name a few. Plus, you have the amazing Buford Highway experience where you can get authentic Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese food. My personal Buford Highway favorites are Bobo Garden, Com and Sushi House Hayakawa. Check out the Eater for a good list of the essential Atlanta restaurants. Whether you want fine dining or ethnic cuisine, Atlanta has you covered.

4)   The Airport

I know, everyone complains about the Atlanta airport. But I have to tell you, it’s actually great. Sure, it’s the busiest airport in the world so of course there will be issues from time-to-time. But, having lived in NYC for many years and dealing with the cluster-f@&k of LGA, EWR and JFK, I can confidently say that the Atlanta airport actually does a pretty good job of getting people around the world.

5)   Beer

Who would have ever thought that Atlanta would become beer heaven? But, that’s what has happened in town. This city is beer crazy. Even Publix dedicates what appears to be 70% of their beer fridge to local microbrews. Of course, the founding father of the Atlanta beer scene is Sweetwater and if you haven’t checked out their tasting room, you are missing out. Beyond Sweetwater, there are plenty of other options around town – Red HareTerrapinWild HavenJekyllOrpheusRed BrickReformationMonday Night BrewingSecond Self and more. And you can’t forget Creature Comforts up in Athens with their hard-to-find Tropicalia brew. If you love beer, Atlanta is the place to be.

6)   The Great Outdoors

Having lived in the concrete jungle of New York City for many years, I really appreciate Atlanta’s access to nature. Atlanta is still a city of trees that provide much needed shade during our brutal summers. All around town you’ll find large, beautiful green spaces like Piedmont ParkGrant Park, Inman Park and Candler Park where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life. But that’s only the beginning. A short drive out of the city and you can hike beautiful trails or paddle down the Chattahoochee River. You’re also very close to some beautiful lakes and mountains around Georgia. So, if you like getting outside, there is no shortage of options in the Atlanta area.

7)   The Beltline Project

Traffic in Atlanta is awful and only getting worse. That’s just a fact of life. And we’re a terrible city for walking and biking. You basically take your life into your own hands if you try to ride a bike to work on the busy city roads. Even if there is a bike lane, it’s either too small or the cars don’t pay attention to it. That’s what makes the Beltline Project so significant. Finally, there is a path that connects the different neighborhoods in the city, away from the congested and dangerous roads. Every morning you see people walking or biking to work on the Beltline. And on weekends people will take a nice walk from Piedmont Park to grab lunch in Inman Park. That’s something that was unimaginable just a few years ago.

8) Revitalization

One of the coolest things I’ve seen happen in Atlanta in recent years is the revitalization of old neighborhoods and buildings. Ponce City Market opened last year in the dilapidated Sears & Roebuck building and has become one of the hot spots in town with boutique shops, restaurants and a rooftop that has a bar, mini-golf and carnival games. Krog Street Market has a similar vibe to Ponce City Market, situated in an old warehouse downtown with an extensive gourmet food court that includes Hop City where you can get flights of beer to go along with your quinoa bowl. And of course, the entire Westside Provisions has become a top destination with many of the best restaurants in town including Bacchanalia, JCT Kitchen and The Optimist. More recently they’ve added some fun bars to the area with Ormsby’s and Little Trouble. It’s great to see these previously run-down areas turn into something special.

9)   The Center for Puppetry Arts

Who would think to create a museum dedicated to puppets? It probably seemed like a crazy idea many years ago. That is, until Jim Henson decided to donate his entire puppet collection to the museum. Now the Center for Puppetry Arts stands as a shrine to Henson and his work on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Having grown up with those shows, I absolutely love going to this museum and seeing the original Kermit, Ernie, Bert, Oscar and Cookie Monster. The center also puts on puppetry performances that are great entertainment for the whole family. The Center for Puppetry Arts is truly an “only in Atlanta” experience.

10)   Atlanta United

Atlanta is a city of transplants. There aren’t many people who are actually from Atlanta (or as they call themselves – ATLiens). The transplants all tend to keep their original team affiliations. I’m a perfect example. I root for all Philly teams – Eagles, Sixers, Phillies and Flyers. So, people really aren’t that passionate about the Atlanta sports teams. Even when the teams are winning, they have trouble selling out the stadiums. But, most people in Atlanta didn’t grow up rooting for a soccer team. Major League Soccer is a relatively new thing in the US. Plus, Atlanta is a big soccer town with hundreds of youth club teams all around town. If you’ve ever been to the Metro Park field on a weekend, you know what I’m talking about. That’s why Atlanta United has taken the city by storm. The transplants, like me, finally have an Atlanta team they can get behind. And the United games are insane. There’s not an empty seat in the stadium and people stand and cheer for the entire game. I’m glad that I finally have an Atlanta team I can root for.

So, that’s my list of what makes Atlanta great.  I think I did much better than that Forbes article. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter at @jeffperkins8.

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