On Jan. 29, I did something for the first time in my life — I attended a political protest.
Along with thousands of other metro Atlantans, I stood outside of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to protest the Trump administration’s executive order impacting refugees and immigrants from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa. I attended the event both to register my opposition to the executive order and to affirm my support for the values that have defined the growth and progress of metro Atlanta over the past century.
Atlanta owes its blessed position as the capital of the New South to two factors: having the greatest airport in the world and a reputation for being a beacon of civil rights and inclusiveness. Both were threatened by the Trump administration’s executive order.
A successful airport is both a function of infrastructure and civic planning, something within Atlanta’s control that we’ve done well, and market forces — is a city a place people want to fly in and out of, or not?
Airports in northern Kentucky and Memphis once were thriving hubs, yet due to changes in demand and market forces no longer are. A thriving airport, and the economic activity it generates, is a privilege, not a right. By increasing restrictions and increasing uncertainty on who’s allowed to come to the United States, and hence fly into the Atlanta airport, you’re negatively impacting the economy and business environment here.
As for civil rights, there’s a reason why metro Atlanta, and particularly our part of the region, has thriving businesses and high home values in a way that other communities in the state and South do not. We’ve created an open, inclusive environment that people want to move to where others have not. In the 21st century, attractive places will attract people of all races, ethnicities and religions, and places that attract people of all races, ethnicities and religions become more attractive. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Whether it’s German-owned Mercedes Benz moving its North American headquarters to Sandy Springs, or a new restaurant concept like the Halal Guys opening its doors on Buford Highway in Chamblee, you never know where the next great business opportunity will come from, but there’s a good chance it’ll come from abroad.
While I earn my living as an investment manager and business writer, this isn’t just a business view for me; it’s also personal. My business partner happens to be an immigrant. His father was a technology executive in Mexico, and business took their family to Florida. They lived here for years on a green card before becoming citizens, and it’s thanks to their desire to move to the United States and our attitudes towards outsiders that I now have a paycheck. Last week, the Brookhaven City Council appointed Michael Diaz, a native of Colombia who is a Brookhaven resident and involved community member, to the Brookhaven Planning Commission. While my family has been in the United States for generations, we can trace our heritage to both Ireland and China, a combination that’s possible here in the United States in a way it isn’t in most countries.
Diversity, openness and inclusiveness is our strength, both economically and culturally. We can either accept that, and all of the opportunities and challenges that go along with it, or we can reject it and accept the certain stagnation that accompanies it.
Conor Sen is a portfolio manager for New River Investments, a columnist for Bloomberg View and a member of the Brookhaven Planning Commission. He resides in Brookhaven with his wife and daughter.