Kemp takes aim at Georgia’s workforce housing

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

A flurry of new economic development projects promise to create tens of thousands of new jobs in Georgia over the next five years. Gov. Brian Kemp wants to make it easier to find these workers a place to live.

The Republican said Wednesday he would propose funding for more workforce housing, along with legislation to loosen local zoning restrictions. He used an address to hundreds of lawmakers and elected officials to pledge to “move the needle” on the shortage with help from the Legislature.

“If that collaboration doesn’t happen, you’re going to have a top-down approach to that versus a bottom-up,” he said at the Georgia Chamber’s Eggs & Issues breakfast. “I just personally think it would be better for us to work together.”

The announcement came the same day as solar panel giant Qcells confirmed it would expand its operations in Georgia with two new plants that would create roughly 2,500 new jobs. The $2.5 billion project will be the largest investment in clean energy manufacturing in U.S. history.

It’s one of a spree of firms that have picked Georgia for major projects in recent years, a list that includes the Rivian and Hyundai EV plants along with several electric vehicle battery manufacturers.

Each of the firms promise vast new investments – but they will also put new strain on the state’s infrastructure.

The specifics were not immediately clear, but Kemp disclosed that he would create a “local-state partnership” to help address workforce housing.

“I’ve been a local control governor. I understand that. But you can’t have our treasures and our input and our commitment to help you create jobs in your community but then not have places to live or be restricted,” Kemp said.

“We’ve dealt with that in places around the state,” the governor added, saying that he often hears complaints from company leaders who worry their employees “cannot live locally.”

“We want people to live in the community where they’re working. It cuts down on their logistics. It cuts down on our need for infrastructure. And it quite honestly makes for a better quality of life. I’m not saying we have all the answers, but we want to be at the table.”

He was echoed by Georgia Chamber chief executive Chris Clark, who said a major employer recently vented to him that “he can’t find anywhere” for potential staffers to live in Georgia.

Some leaders also worry other Georgia workers could be shut out of the new high-skilled, high-tech jobs because they don’t meet hiring requirements.

Incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones endorsed legislation that could begin to address that issue.

He backed a measure from state Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, to require the state to identify ways to reduce educational, experiential and training requirements for state government jobs.

The goal, according to a draft copy of the measure, would be to “reduce the number of positions for which a four-year college degree is required as a condition of employment.”

Kemp, for his part, urged lawmakers to “stay focused on kitchen-table issues.”

“You know, there’s a lot of people in the media writing about things that we need to do and things that are their priority,” Kemp said. “But just know that we’re going to keep our priorities that we heard on the campaign trail from our people.”