Chris Clark is the President and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce
Not long after I joined the Georgia Chamber, a friend shared a wonderful book with me entitled Facts About Georgia: A State Rich in Resources and Opulent in Opportunities. Published by the Chamber nearly 100 years ago to attract business and investment to our state, it featured prominent businesses and robust communities as well as our desirable location, able workforce, abundant crops, enviable natural resources and high quality of life. It is hard to imagine who wouldn’t have wanted to come to Georgia after reading such an informative tome.
It’s hard to say if it was because of that wonderful book, a copy of which sits on my desk today, but we do know that in the hundred years that have passed, thousands of companies have built, expanded or located their businesses in our state. And, if we were going to write another book today, we could include that in the past year alone, we have been named the number one state for business by CNBC, the most competitive state in the nation by Site Selection magazine, and hit a record high in job creation. Those facts would certainly get any reader’s attention.
So what are the factors that have contributed to our past and current success? More importantly, how do we make sure that 100 years from now companies still choose Georgia?
Assets like location and natural resources are admittedly the result of good fortune. Others, such as our ready workforce, multi-modal transportation system, and pro-business environment are the result of hard work, determined leadership, and strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. These factors will also be critical to our success in the future, as despite our laudable progress, challenges still remain.
We know that we must continue to focus on improving public education. While we have seen improvement in key areas such as reading and math, high school graduation and college completion, our students still lag behind their peers both nationally and globally.
As more and more jobs will require education or training beyond high school, it is critical that we identify and implement reforms that will make a positive impact on results. We know that in some areas charter schools are an effective solution. In others, College and Career Academies have shown great promise. We need to continue to support the education community’s efforts to develop both new career path curriculum as well as curriculum designed to meet higher standards that will ensure that our students are learning what they need to be successful in college, technical college, or the workplace. And while there will never be “enough” money to fund public education, we must continue to examine how we can spend available funding most effectively.
This summer and fall, we have an opportunity before us to take some critical steps forward to address our transportation needs as the Joint Study Committee on Transportation Infrastructure Funding convenes to develop recommendations that will allow our state not only to meet immediate challenges, but plan for the future. Leaders in Washington, DC, have made it abundantly clear that states will be forced to rely more on themselves as the Federal Highway Trust Fund – which currently provides over 60% of Georgia’s transportation budget – is depleted. While the state Department of Transportation has done a tremendous job in recent years completing projects within both schedule and budget, without new sources of funding, new projects will become few and far between, not only impacting our traffic, but also our safety. Our Georgia Transportation Alliance, created four years ago to support the state’s economic development and job creation efforts will be working closely with the members of the study committee as it seeks a viable path forward towards future infrastructure improvement.
Finally, the albeit rightful concern over the potentially detrimental impacts of the federal Affordable Care Act has in some ways overshadowed an even larger health care challenge – our rural health care system. No community can attract business, or frankly survive, without access to quality health care. In the past two years, four rural hospitals have closed and three times that have cut services and are at risk of shutting their doors. To address this growing problem, Governor Deal created a special committee charged with identifying solutions that can save these hospitals and, in turn, the communities they serve. To assist in this process, our Chamber will continue to work with our local chamber partners who are experiencing these problems first hand to provide input and identify potential options.
Yes, these are big challenges, but we are building upon a strong foundation. Companies from across the nation and around the world continue to cast their vote of confidence in our ability to get the job done by choosing to locate, expand and create jobs in Georgia for good reason. We are still – and will always be – a state rich in resources and opulent in opportunities.