Union City, Georgia
Growing strong with a big heart
Business View Magazine interviews Sonja Fillingame, City Manager of Union City, Georgia, for our focus on Best Practices in U.S. Cities
In the southern part of Fulton County in the wonderful State of Georgia sits Union City – a welcoming community with a big heart. The name Union City is credited to the National Farmers Union who selected the area as an ideal location for their headquarters. Union President Charles Barrett, along with the city’s first Mayor Drewry Carmical, are recognized for their roles in establishing the town that was incorporated in 1908. Since then, the community has grown to a city of 21,000 residents, who enjoy the perks of small-town living without sacrificing the opportunities of a larger metropolis.
Residents and visitors to the city can enjoy the bloom of the dogwood trees, crepe myrtles, and Bradford pears, which provide a beautiful backdrop to the growing and evolving community. Located close to the city of Atlanta, Union City has all the benefits of a small town with the advantage of being situated in the Atlanta metropolitan area. City Manager, Sonja Fillingame, reflects, “Both the City Council and our employees have been unwavering in rebuilding, rebranding, and revitalizing Union City. We have had a lot of wins, a lot of businesses and new infrastructure coming in, but we are still a quaint community. We still maintain that hometown charm while pushing forward with economic development and innovation.”
With major employers such as Amazon, Coca Cola, Walmart Ecommerce, and ASOS investing in the city, employment opportunities are a draw for new residents. ASOS, a global online fashion and beauty retailer, employs over 1700 people in their Union City fulfillment center, making them a major contributor to the community’s workforce. Atlanta Metro Studios, whose redesign of a vacant mall property created one of the largest purpose-built film studios in North America, can be attributed as a catalyst to the burgeoning film industry in Union City. As a further benefit to the community, filming is done not only onsite but in other areas of the city as well. Fillingame reports, “We’re expecting the new employment centers to be a major attraction for new residents. We want them to live, work, and play in Union City. And of course, having access to employment is pivotal. Our population continues to grow. We are very fortunate, in part because of the investments the business community has made in Union City, and the investments the city has made in terms of public safety, economic development, parks and recreation programming, and capital improvement initiatives.”
The Atlanta Airport District Convention and Visitors Bureau is another contributor to Union City’s success. Fillingame shares, “They do a phenomenal job of promoting and marketing Union City, so that on the hotel and on the tourism side, we are viewed as a destination of choice. With an initiative to transform the areas on the south side of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance also supports Union City through a community-derived strategy to leverage the airport as a major asset to drive economic investment, job growth, and quality of life in the airport area.”
In September 2020, the citizens of Union City saw the completion of the Highway 29 Ballfields project. This 17-acre park consists of ball fields, a volleyball court, fitness stations, a ping pong table, and a giant outdoor chess board. There are also plans to add a skatepark in the future. Lonnie Ferguson, Union City Public Services Director, explains, “We want to maintain a quality of life for our residents. With this particular park we wanted to provide additional amenities. No matter what everyone’s goal or purpose is, we want to meet everybody’s needs.” Nearby is a state-of-the-art community center, known as The Gathering Place. This recently completed project offers the community a theatre, gymnasium, courtyard and boardroom, along with various multipurpose rooms. The facility provides programming for seniors and opportunities to gather and connect for all residents of Union City.
“We are dealing with COVID right now, but we are just so excited to have these new amenities for the community, to facilitate engagement and connection,” says Fillingame. “That is what we are all about, community connection. How we can best engage our communities so that we can have a strong fabric of connection.” In addition to these projects, there is a longer-range plan which includes ongoing work on a trail system which will connect all areas of the city, while at the same time creating more of a presence in the downtown corridor.
As Union City grows, there is a continuous effort to ensure infrastructure is sustainable, including the city’s transportation system. To manage congestion and protect air quality, the city is encouraging active transportation, creating a network of continuous bike and sidewalk routes. “The ultimate goal, even though the traffic will increase as the population increases, is to make sure we keep our infrastructure maintained, and at the same time protect the environment, “says Ferguson. An additional $23 million in city funding is available through TSPLOST – a special purpose, local option sales tax, which funds critical transportation projects like roads and bridges and active transportation. “That has been a great resource for us, and it helps our business community because when you make those types of investments in your community, it helps economic development in tandem,” Ferguson notes.
As the population continues to increase, the city is working with developers to ensure housing inventory is also growing. Several new residential subdivisions including Stonewall Station, Chatteron Springs, and Bentley Ridge developments are underway in Union City. Fillingame recounts, “Our strategy is to develop both high quality as well as a wide range of housing options. We want to attract future residents while simultaneously meeting the needs of our current population. Building permits are increasing at a fast pace and so too is our ability to create new opportunities for residents to call Union City “home”.”
Updated fiber services offer a great opportunity for residences and business to have high speed internet connections. Ideal for those who work from home. As development in the city progresses, many city staff are working remotely due to COVID. During the pandemic, Union City has focused on marketing strategies to reinforce community safety, including promotion of recommendations from the CDC and encouraging mask wearing. City services have also been streamlined to assist citizens in conducting business online as much as possible. During these unusual times, our Chamber of Commerce continues to provide support and assistance to local businesses. “The South Fulton Chamber of Commerce is instrumental in supporting our business community and they have been a long-standing partner in terms of the city’s success,” Fillingame shares.
While Union City continues to build a strong and connected city, they are looking to the future. “We are a vibrant community that’s made up of passionate residents whose values are based on family and the inclusion of all members of the community – the business community and all residents,” says Fillingame, “We value diversity and embrace different perspectives while building a welcoming community. Our top priorities are community investment, economic development, public safety, and innovation. Just really moving the needle of progress and success.” Union City’s commitment to investment in these areas suggests a strong and innovative city that will continue to thrive for generations. A growing community, with a big heart.
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AT A GLANCE
Union City, Georgia
What: Charming small city; population 21,000
Where: Southern part of Fulton County
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