Atlanta has become one of the most important cities in the world. Its airport is the busiest in the U.S. and serves destinations worldwide. As populations have migrated away from the Northeast, Georgia and surrounding states have picked up more people, and Atlanta serves as the region's hub for commerce and tourism. The fact that the Olympic Games have been in Atlanta recognizes the importance that the city plays, and the area's long history resonates well with residents and visitors alike.

Atlanta is a diverse city, and the businesses that call it home are equally diverse. You can find leaders in a large number of different industries, ranging from soft drinks and home-improvement supplies to package delivery and air-travel services. With demographic trends continuing in its favor, Atlanta has the potential to keep leading the nation higher in the years to come. Although up-and-coming new companies will play a vital role in the long-term success of Georgia's capital and the surrounding area, the four top local businesses will maintain their high-profile status atop the city's engines of commerce for years to come.

Purple lighted small fountains in front of a Ferris Wheel in a city park, with high buildings nearby.

Atlanta's Centennial Park. Image source: Getty Images.

Top Atlanta stocks


Market Cap

1-Year Return

Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)

$192 billion


Home Depot (NYSE:HD)

$218 billion


United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS)

$91 billion


Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL)

$38 billion


Source: Yahoo! Finance.

The real thing

Coca-Cola's history as a publicly traded stock dates back nearly a century, and the soft-drink giant has seen its market capitalization jump roughly 7,000 times over that span to become one of the largest companies in the U.S. economy. With a globally recognized brand, Coca-Cola has been a pioneer in the beverage industry, building the infrastructure that supports bottling, distribution, and production of its namesake cola and dozens of related products over the years. For more than half a century, Coca-Cola has taken part of its ample cash flow and returned it to shareholders in the form of steadily increasing dividend payments.

Coca-Cola has met with challenging times in recent years. Changing consumer preferences have led to sugary carbonated beverages becoming less popular, and some have targeted the products for taxation in support of public-health measures designed to discourage behavior that can lead to obesity. Coca-Cola has responded by emphasizing healthier alternatives like its bottled waters, juices, teas, and other still beverages, and the reception that its new strategy has gotten has been favorable. Nevertheless, Coca-Cola has further to go before it can sound an "all clear" on the threat to its core business.

Building a retail empire

Home Depot positioned itself at the center of the housing booms both in the early 2000s and over the past eight or nine years, and both times, it's successfully navigated turbulent industry waters to find success. During the original housing boom, Home Depot greatly appealed to homeowners who were fixing up homes to flip in a hot market, and a strong economy and ample access to credit gave customers plenty of ability to make expensive purchases. Even when the housing boom ended, Home Depot found ways to cater to customers, enabling those who were stuck in underwater mortgages to renovate their existing homes in lieu of moving into more attractive homes that were suddenly unavailable.

More recently, Home Depot has tapped into both the do-it-yourself market and the professional contractor market, with its Pro offerings giving industry specialists the goods and tools they need to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively. Impressive share-price advances have rewarded shareholders, and the company's inclusive culture has appealed to investors and shoppers alike.

Winning from e-commerce

The e-commerce revolution has changed the way people shop, and along the way, it has led to a transformation in the needs for delivery and logistical services. United Parcel Service (UPS) has been a giant in the delivery business for years, but only with the advent of online shopping did UPS really start to see the impressive growth that has vaulted its business higher in recent years. Online retail shipping volumes continues to rise, and UPS has thus far claimed at least its fair share of those gains.

Some long-term concerns worry UPS investors. The potential for e-commerce giants to bring shipping operations in-house is a possible threat, and if UPS isn't fortunate enough to become an acquisition target from a leading e-commerce retailer, then some fear it could get left behind. Yet barring a takeover, it'll take time for rivals to duplicate the network that UPS has created, and that should give the company an opportunity to defend its territory and fight back.

Left side of Delta airplane in an open-door hangar near dusk on a cloudy day.

Image source: Delta Air Lines.

Flying higher

Finally, the airline industry has bounced back in a major way. During the 2000s, airline bankruptcies were commonplace, and few carriers were profitable. Delta Air Lines was just one of many companies that resorted to bankruptcy protection in order to navigate the choppy air of managing fuel prices, labor costs, and fare wars among a huge number of industry players.

Yet Delta was among the carriers that figured out how to create new sources of revenue to help make airlines profitable again. Baggage fees have changed the way the industry does business, and the scaling down of free in-flight services combined with premium charges for everything from extra legroom in coach to headphones for entertainment systems has brought in plenty of sales for Delta. The company's merger with Northwest also played a role in the broader consolidation in the airline industry, which largely brought an end to fare wars and has made pricing discipline a lot easier to enforce. With a new fleet of efficient aircraft, relatively low fuel costs, and a strong global economy, Delta sees clear skies ahead.

Atlanta is a hub of Southern hospitality, and that welcome comes not just from its people, but also from its businesses. Giants like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, and Delta Air Lines have the ability to keep Atlanta growing well into the future.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.