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Clinton Urges Community Investments

May 11, 1999

ATLANTA (AP) _ With 15 corporate chiefs in tow, President Clinton toured an inner-city market Tuesday in an effort to encourage investment in America’s stubborn pockets of poverty.

``Our economy is now in the best shape it’s been in at least a generation; some people think it’s the best economy America’s ever had,″ the president said. But he said there still are ailing areas where ``there’s been almost no new investment, almost no new businesses, almost no new jobs.″

Clinton announced he will take business chief executives and members of Congress on a tour of depressed areas at the beginning of July. They will visit Appalachia, Indian reservations, the Mississippi Delta and struggling cities, such as Gary, Ind., Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo said.

After a White House greeting, Clinton loaded corporate executives onto Air Force One and flew them to Atlanta. The executives, accustomed to their own corporate jets, marveled at the furnishings on the president’s plane, with its large bedroom, shower, conference room, private office, mini-hospital and dozens of telephones.

The visit returned Clinton’s attention to domestic problems after a heavy focus on the air war against Yugoslavia.

The CEOs accompanying Clinton Tuesday came from Citigroup, Bell South, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Goldman Sachs, Aetna, AT&T Wireless, Rite Aid, New York Life, BET, AFLAC, United Bank of Philadelphia, BankBoston, Bankers Trust and Sloan Financial Group.

Arriving here, the corporate chiefs climbed into vans and followed Clinton’s limousine to the Sweet Auburn Curb Street Market, a 76-year-old municipal market in a mostly black neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr. lived.

They were greeted by produce vendors, bakers and butchers offering salted pigs’ tails, oxtails and goat meat along with more traditional goods. ``You guys see the cows’ feet and pig ears back there?″ Clinton asked, recalling a time when Russian President Boris Yeltsin tried to persuade him to eat a roasted pig’s ear.

Shop owner Sonya Jones got Clinton to try her sweet-potato cheesecake. ``This is my cheesecake lady, who destroyed my diet today,″ he remarked later, introducing Jones at a roundtable discussion.

Clinton’s visit was intended to highlight his ``new markets initiative″ of proposed tax incentives and loan guarantees designed to attract venture capital to areas in need of economic stimulus.

``America is very good at creating jobs,″ he said. But he said there are problems with ``places that have been down for a long time ... and getting that economic opportunity there and bringing people into the circle of success.″

``And if we can’t do it now when the economy’s good,″ he said, ``we’ll never get around to doing it.″

The market, operating since 1923, fell on hard times earlier this decade. In 1992, Atlanta city officials began a $4.9 million restoration, and today the market boasts 24 businesses, eight of which receive direct federal empowerment-zone assistance.

In turn, businesses within the market have begun hiring nearby residents and they receive tax credits for creating those jobs. At least $8.3 million in federal money has gone into the market since it was refurbished.

Still, vendors said times are hard.

``I can’t say definitely we’re going to survive,″ said Sandy Song, 29, whose family has sold produce since 1976. ``Right now we’re struggling to survive.″ She said business was better when there was a food stamp office in the market.

``Business could be better,″ said flower merchant Dwight McCrary.

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