Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs and Issues Breakfast” Attendees Hear Governor Deal, Lt. Governor Cagle, Speaker Ralston Address Successes, Visions and Challenges
By John Tabellione of the Augusta CEO
Over 2,000 state and local Chamber of Commerce members, public officials and other attendees at the 2018 Georgia Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues Breakfast” heard Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston repeat the mantra that Georgia has the No. 1 business climate in the U.S. for the fifth consecutive time. Yet, each cautioned that the 2018 General Assembly opening this week has its work cut out for them during what will eventually become an historic election year.
In fact, Georgia Chamber of Commerce CEO, Chris Clark, in his remarks prior to the introduction of the state’s highest elected officials, set the tone when he emphasized that everyone needs to listen to one another: Republican with Democrat; rural communities with big cities; and, smaller companies with large corporations. Clark said he wants Deal’s legacy to continue, naturally, however, the Georgia Chamber has exacted a prosperity agenda for all Georgia called “Eight Priorities for 2018.” Key points include:
Build and maintain a modern infrastructure system
Bolster economic mobility and diverse thriving communities
Develop Georgia as a talent epicenter
Enhance Georgia’s international standing as hub for global commerce/agriculture
Ensure all Georgia communities have access to quality health care
Commit to creating and implementing a plan for rural renaissance
Support Georgia’s creative economy for start-up innovation/small business success
Prioritize the immediate improvement of Georgia’s legal and business climate
Clark acknowledged that one legislative assembly session alone might not be able to accomplish all of these priorities. So, he exhorted his plea for success: “We must rise above politics.”
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce was recently selected as the No. 1 in the country.
Governor Deal’s Remarks
The Governor, in preparation for his upcoming eighth state of the state address, said he would use the following measuring stick: “Are we better off than we were seven years ago?” Deal answered his own question with a resounding, “I believe the answer is ‘Yes!’”
He backed up his claim with a few examples: unemployment in 2011 was 10.4% versus 4.3% currently. In Georgia 4.5 million people are employed, the highest total in state history, and the state is one of only five in the country with a job growth rate higher than the national average. These statistics are calculated on a larger base now that Georgia has grown from the 10thlargest state to 8th place. Finally, the state’s “rainy day budget” stands at a lofty $2.3 billion, which, in turn, earns the state’s AAA bond rating.
With regard to Amazon’s HQ2 headquarters search, Deal emphasized not to change what initially put Atlanta in the map and in the running for this huge business endeavor. “Don’t waste time trying to figure what Amazon wants us to do.” If Georgia makes the short list, then the Governor said he would call a special session of the Assembly to address relevant issues.
Given Georgia’s envious position as best place for business for five years in a row, Deal wants to continue the trend with new generations of projects to follow in the wake of the Cyber Security Center in Augusta, and the state’s status as the No. 1 place for feature film production.
The Savannah River Port’s ongoing expansion is the largest infrastructure project in the Southeast, and Deal has pledged the state’s share in order to expedite progress. Another transportation issue he has recommended is to expand the landing strips of 11 regional airports, nine of which are in rural counties, as the best way to improve rural economies because companies see having airstrips capable of handling corporate jets as a competitive advantage.
Lt. Governor Casey Cagle
The Lt. Governor stated that Deal’s eight-year legacy is very encouraging for the future. As a key advocate for education reform in Georgia, Cagle said, “I see a clear pathway where I will fight to give opportunities to all students in college or career academies. Education is the great equalizer,” he added. Cagle’s also wants to improve high school graduation rates because every dropout costs the state $127 thousand over a lifetime.
Expanding broadband into rural areas is another key element that can help reduce health care costs and improve healthcare via the internet. “We need a state strategy for healthcare reform,” noted Cagle. “We had 1,400 cases of overdoses in Georgia last year, and we have 180,000 people addicted. These people need treatment and recovery help.”
Speaker of the House David Ralston
Speaker Ralston echoed earlier comments that the “economic outlook for Georgia has never been more optimistic. Georgia is open for business. We’ve had unprecedented interest by companies coming to Georgia.” Referring to the crowds handled by MARTA at the College Football Championship recently, he noted that our transit system serviced “20 times—not 20%—20 times more passengers.” Perhaps, mused Ralston, the state government may need to have a role in mass transit in consideration of upcoming Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four events over the next couple of years. “The ROI would include economic benefit, resolve congestion issues, and add to quality of life.”
Ralston also referenced that rural areas might benefit from state involvement in transit.
He concluded, saying, “A good state takes care for the least among us.” With regard to the adoption bill, he said, “It’s time to do the right thing and get a clean bill to Governor Deal as soon as possible. May God bless them, our state, and the United States of America.”
Earlier at the breakfast meeting, following Chamber President and CEO, Chris Clark’s welcoming remarks, 2017 Chair William Linginfelter, Area Executive President, Georgia and South Carolina Regions Bank, turned the gavel over to incoming Chair, Kessel Stelling, Chairman, CEO, Synovus Bank.