Georgia businesses cautious about apparent Biden win

How a Biden administration will deal with China -- as well as the coronavirus -- will have multi-billion dollar impacts in Georgia.. The  state's imports were pinched by the Trump tariff war. Then the global pandemic meant a temporary plunge in business coming through the ports.  BRANT SANDERLIN / AJC FILE PHOTO
How a Biden administration will deal with China -- as well as the coronavirus -- will have multi-billion dollar impacts in Georgia.. The state's imports were pinched by the Trump tariff war. Then the global pandemic meant a temporary plunge in business coming through the ports. BRANT SANDERLIN / AJC FILE PHOTO

Companies mum as Trump contests results; change in trade policies?

Some local business leaders Monday were cautiously hopeful that a Biden administration will be good for Georgia, sticking with the current policies that have pumped up profits and ratcheting back those that have hurt.

Other companies considered the divisive election and results that are still contentious and simply chose to stay mum.

On Saturday, with just a few votes to be counted, major media outlets declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. In response, President Donald Trump has made claims of fraud, so far without evidence, and said he will fight on through recounts and court challenges.

Biden’s apparent triumph sent thousands into the streets to celebrate in Atlanta and elsewhere, while spurring some counter-demonstrations too.

But business just wants stability, said Jason Moss, chief executive of the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance.

Businesses hate uncertainty and many manufacturers' plans have been on hold, said Jason Moss, chief executive of the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. (Courtesy of the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance)
Businesses hate uncertainty and many manufacturers' plans have been on hold, said Jason Moss, chief executive of the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. (Courtesy of the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance)

Credit: Contributed, Georgia Manufacturing Alliance

Credit: Contributed, Georgia Manufacturing Alliance

“Right now, for most of our companies, business is good and they’re making plans to increase staff and production,” he said. “But a lot of things are on pause until there is some certainty in the national leadership.”

While some sectors were hurt, some manufacturers benefited from Trump-triggered tension over trade, including tariff wars with China and other countries. For instance, jobs in metal-producing moved from overseas to Georgia, Moss said. “We would like to see those policies kept in place.”

However it might shake out for narrow sectors, a new regime for managing international trade could be good for business overall, said Raymond Hill, senior lecturer Emory’s Goizueta School of Business. “Biden said he would have less contentious trade policies and Georgia might benefit from that. The Port of Savannah would also benefit from smoother trade relations.”

Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia’s ports, account for 8% of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the state authority that manages them. Savannah this year leads the nation in the volume of exports.

Agriculture — Georgia’s largest sector — has paid a price for Trump’s trade battles.

When Trump raised tariffs on Chinese goods, China retaliated with fees on key crops like cotton and peanuts, causing sales and prices to crater for Georgia farmers. Farmers hope China will reciprocate if a Biden administration reverses Trump tariffs.

Whoever is president needs to think of the farmers, said Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer and president of American Farm Bureau, an association of farmers and ranchers. “We stand ready to work with our elected leaders to ensure farmers and ranchers regain their footing.”

Disaster relief, trade mitigation payments and other farm supports will account for more than one-third of farm income this year, according to a recent University of Missouri analysis.

White House immigration policy — which Biden has pledged to reverse — has also made it harder for Georgia farmers to find the seasonal labor they need.

Whoever is president, the priorities are job creation and prosperity, including support of small business, modernizing infrastructure and training workers, said Chris Clark, chief executive of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “There will be differences of opinion on how to best move forward, but we stand ready to help get things done.”

In a statement, Dave Williams, senior vice president at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said the organization was pleased with the record voter turnout, and praised the election as orderly and peaceful.

“This kind of ongoing civic engagement is critical regardless of political affiliation,” he said.

But with strong feelings on all sides — and with clients from various political persuasions — some companies contacted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution simply chose silence. Among those choosing not to comment were Coca-Cola, Equifax and Chick-fil-A.

Home Depot, the largest firm based in Georgia by revenue, is reporting its earnings next week and is therefore in its “quiet period” in which it makes no public comment, a spokeswoman said.

Not that the huge company could entirely escape controversy: Co-founder Bernie Marcus has been a vocal supporter of Trump, sparking both calls for a boycott of Home Depot and praise from the president’s supporters.

On Monday, a company spokeswoman said Marcus left the company more than 15 years ago and does not speak for the $112-billion-a-year retailer.

Among the large companies, Southern Company was something of an exception, issuing a statement that mentioned neither Biden nor Trump by name.

“Southern Company looks forward to working with the incoming administration, our public service commissions, the re-elected and newly-elected members of Congress and other state and local policymakers,” said spokesperson Schuyler Baehman.

--Matt Kempner contributed to this report.

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