While it is true northern capital investment stoked the economic fires of the southern economy, much of that investment was the result of a group of influential business and civic leaders actively pursuing new capital investment from the Georgia capital of Atlanta. A loosely formed group of Atlanta leaders in industry and business endorsed a vision of the south that moved from a pre- and post-Civil War agriculture base and shifted to a stable economy consisting of industry and service industries. The concept of the New South found a place in the Georgia capital city as the urban progressive oriented Democratic political party leaders sought to reframe the South as a place for investment. Northern investment in southern industry was a combination of less expensive labor, land acquisition costs, and increasing investment in infrastructure by southern legislatures. The New South vision was assisted by northern capital that sought respite from the increasing turmoil in labor and the rising costs associated with aging manufacturing plants in the North.
Other southern states did experience a boom from the transition from pure agriculture to a mixed economy with limited industrialization. Measuring how much or where northern capital investment made a significant difference is difficult because it is hard to discern the flow of capital and reason. Economists cite Alabama and Virginia for advancing a similar position as the visionaries in Georgia and experiencing a faster-paced economic spurt than other parts of the South. Though northern investment was available, without a champion leading the charge to secure funding sources outside of the South, much of the South remained married to the agricultural traditions that characterized the South from the first days of colonial expansion to the Americas. Atlanta, Georgia had a champion in Henry Grady, a businessman, political leader, and influential newspaper columnist.
The New South vision found a reputable and enthusiastic promoter in Henry Grady. Grady made frequent trips to the North to promote and sell the image to northern interests eager to expand into new markets for production. Grady was often criticized for his Atlanta-centric focus from smaller cities like Augusta, Macon, and Savannah who felt shorted by Grady's focus on Atlanta as the hub for all economic development in the South. Through his efforts, Atlanta became home to the Georgia Institute for Technology and introduced comprehensive vocational and engineering education in the Georgia capital. Grady laid the groundwork and as its chief spokesperson for the New South vision attracted millions of dollars in investment from northern interests.
However successful Grady and his supporters were in attracting investment to Atlanta was not shared outside of the capital city. Many agricultural interests felt the shift was too rapid. Rural towns held onto traditions that clashed with urbanization and progressive reform. The notion of a benevolent northern investor was repugnant to many who believed northerners were taking advantage of a region struggling to find an economic and political identity post Civil War and Reconstruction. It is also important to note that northern capital investments did little to foster racial equality and to improve the treatment of African Americans remaining in the south.
Many economists believe the vision for a New South ended when recession and depression crushed the American economy. Capital dried up and the South was left to continue its struggle to develop an industrial base.