Katie Kirkpatrick said she’s “humbled and excited and proud” to lead the Metro Atlanta Chamber, an organization that dates back to 1859.

The Buckhead resident started her new job as its president and CEO June 15 after being promoted from her role as chief policy officer. She replaced Hala Moddelmog, who stepped down after leading the organization for nearly six and a half years and was the chamber’s first female president and CEO.

The chamber positions metro Atlanta’s 29-county area, the country’s ninth largest market, as a top global region by concentrating on three key areas: economic development, public policy and promotion. As its new leader, Kirkpatrick already has the second focus are covered and setting her sights on the other two.

“We have three core areas: grow, advocate and promote,” she said. “Certainly, my (public policy) expertise and background will continue to drive and support the work of the organization. But more importantly, I’m looking forward to other areas such as economic development, ChooseATL (and) the Atlanta Sports Council and the great work they’re doing.”

Kirkpatrick spent 11 years with Gold Kist Inc., including serving as its director of environmental engineering, before coming to the chamber in 2007. She steps into her new role at a time when metro Atlanta is still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, the city was poised host the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and about 100,000 visitors, but in March it was cancelled, costing metro Atlanta at least $100 million in economic impact according to one estimate.

Since then countless other large-scale events such as conventions and concerts have been cancelled or postponed, and the economy has plummeted, with 2.7 million unemployment claims being processed by the Georgia Department of Labor in the past 14 weeks through June 24. As some of those events start to return, such as Atlanta Falcons home games, Kirkpatrick said the chamber will keep everyone’s health and safety as the top priority.

“It’s very important we balance that economic recovery,” she said. “It’s the most important thing we can be doing and not guessing when things should or could get back to normal.”

Kirkpatrick was asked what the chamber’s biggest challenges are as the city bounces back from the outbreak while trying to avoid a second wave.

“I think it’s important to look back at where we were in January and February,” she said. “We had historically low unemployment at the time, and we were in a war for talent for a high number of jobs in our market. Now, post-COVID, the real question I’m interested in answering is how do we lead in the face of new challenges put before us, brought on with (the pandemic) and the social justice issues?

“I know companies are having to work through the recession and bring back jobs and restore consumer confidence and employee confidence, Then the racial justice issues are there as well everything from health disparities and criminal justice.”

Kirkpatrick said the chamber can draw lessons from how it helped the city recover from the Great Recession.

“One of the things we can do, since we did it then, is invest in our talent. … Now we have to really invest in talent, innovation and research and development,” she said. “That’s the way we can make our community strong, and we need to manage diversity in our business sectors. If we do that, it will help us accelerate recovery. I think that’s the biggest near-term issue at the moment, how we accelerate growth and recovery.”

Speaking of talent, Kirkpatrick said she’s also gotten advice from Moddelmog and plans to continue to use ChooseATL, a campaign her predecessor oversaw the creation of, to attract top young professionals to the city and then retain them. The campaign has been focused on millennials, and Kirkpatrick plans to expand its reach to other age groups.

“She also focused on next-generation leadership and that’s something I’m a big believer in,” she said. “And when we think about racial inequality and social injustice, the millennials and Gen Z and even Gen X, we need to listen to those voices. I’m proud of the work we’ve done there. …

“Any good leader will tell you that you build a team that is world-class and professional, and I can tell you that’s one thing I learned from Hala: a great team that brings value and hard work every day. I’m going to continue with that passion, so we have a great staff to execute on our mission.”

Invesco President and CEO Marty Flanagan, the chamber’s 2020 board chair, said picking Kirkpatrick as Moddelmog’s successor was an easy decision.

“Our search committee set out to find a leader with roots in the business community and experience successfully navigating a changing environment. Katie fits the bill and more,” he said in a news release. “She … has been the architect of countless public policy successes that have driven the region forward.

“Katie has earned the respect of our business community and our partners in government and the nonprofit community. We know she will bring fresh energy as she guides the chamber to new heights and helps us navigate the region’s path to recovery.”

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