Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, right, stand Tuesday with Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Clark following the group’s Congressional Luncheon at the Macon Marriott City Center. Both candidates used the forum to explain their plans for Georgia’s economy. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Opinion: Tactics for keeping Ga.’s economy strong

Georgia works hard. Our state has a booming manufacturing sector with 6,500 firms calling Georgia home. The creative screens industry pumps $9 billion into the State’s economy and Georgia’s number-one industry, agriculture and forestry, adds $73.3 billion. Georgia’s ports have made the state a leader in infrastructure and access to global markets supports more than 369,000 jobs across the state providing $20.4 billion in income. Georgia now processes over 70 percent of U.S. financial transactions generating $72 billion in our economy. And Georgia small businesses and entrepreneurs number over 1 million and provide 1.5 million jobs and produce 89 percent of our exports.

It is evident our state has experienced great prosperity under the strong leadership of Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, Republican and Democratic legislators and constitutional officers. We must now ensure that newly elected officials, asking now for your vote, continue our growth and address issues that could prove problematic to economic mobility in the coming years.

The Georgia Chamber’s eight priorities reflect the eight issues that capitalize on our strengths while planning for the challenges of the future. Building and maintaining statewide infrastructure is critical as 1.5 million new people will be added to Georgia’s population by 2030. As the Savannah Harbor is deepened, more and more trucks will be added to our roads and more cargo will be shipped out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. We must have safe, consistent and modern infrastructure to support this growth. The strength of the ports will continue and enhance global access for numerous companies, especially those in our agriculture, manufacturing, and defense sectors.

Additionally, the Chamber supports strengthening the state’s innovation, entrepreneurship and small business ecosystem, including our creative industries. Georgia small businesses employ 44 percent of the workforce, so improving access to capital and mentorship through incubators and maker spaces will spur creative solutions. Prioritizing the improvement of Georgia’s legal and business climate will ensure the state remains competitive. This will be accomplished by launching a statewide business court and maintaining our AAA bond rating for future prosperity.

To support this growth, Georgia needs to develop as a talent epicenter by growing a diverse and highly skilled workforce. Talent is the defining factor driving where businesses choose to locate and expand, so connections between businesses, research universities and technical colleges are vital to ensure education is flexible and meaningful. Even so, young talent is attracted to welcoming and vibrant hometowns with amenities where people can live, work, play and pray. Leaders must prioritize building and bolstering economic mobility and diverse communities. Georgia’s rural communities must be supported to ensure rural economies offer the same opportunities as urban areas enjoy.

Ensuring all Georgians have access to quality healthcare is a critical priority moving forward to deliver a healthy, productive workforce. Since 2010, rural Georgia has lost eight hospitals. Leaders must examine opportunities to draw down federal dollars as well as reducing costs, improving outcomes and enhancing innovations in telemedicine and delivery models.

In the end we must be more than a state divided. We must realize that we are all Georgians. This equation requires compromise. It requires bipartisanship and a welcoming atmosphere that translates globally. Georgia is a global economic powerhouse because of strong and visionary leadership and because of the proven partnership between business and government. The Georgia Chamber has asked candidates to share how they would tackle these complex issues. You can see their responses and learn more about 8 for 18 at www.8for18.com. We must all work together to move past distractions to providing a higher quality of life for Georgians across the state.

Chris Clark is president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

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