Jobs & Economic Development Drive Michelle Nunn – In Her Own Words

Clark Byron

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Georgia CEO has been privileged to correspond with our state’s candidates for Governor and Senator. There is no question that this November’s election is pivotal for the entire nation. This year, Georgia voters will play an especially significant role in the future of the nation as well as the state.

This is the second of a planned series of interviews with the four candidates. These are the ones we need to know the most about. Georgia CEO’s unwavering commitment to excellence in journalism includes the responsibility to foster an informed electorate. All four of the candidates in this series were asked exactly the same questions and their candid responses are here, verbatim, complete and unedited. With so many important issues facing the American people, knowing where our candidates stand on key issues has never been more important.

The interview: 

(Georgia CEO) Georgia was named CNBC’s 2014 “America’s Top State for Business.” It was also listed as number 1 in Site Selection Magazine’s “Top Ten Competitive States (for business) 2013.” Some say that Georgia gives away too much to attract business and spends too little on other needs like education. What are your thoughts on the Cost v. Benefit of the State’s expenditures on economic development?  

(Michelle Nunn) Georgia’s economic development policies have been essential in attracting businesses to our state and encouraging economic growth. But choosing between necessities like education and business development shouldn’t be an either or scenario — without a well-educated and healthy workforce, businesses will have trouble expanding, and without proper roads and infrastructure, companies will struggle to sell their goods and access markets.  

We need leaders that are willing to make difficult choices on behalf of our nation and engage in the kind of long-term strategic thinking that balances competing priorities in a way that makes the most sense for our nation and our communities. 

Everywhere I go across the state, I witness entrepreneurs and business leaders taking risks and putting everything on the line to establish and grow their businesses, create jobs and grow our economy. Georgia families need them to succeed in order to create well-paying jobs and to secure our economic future. But Washington’s dysfunction is creating uncertainty, costing Georgians jobs and inhibiting economic growth.  It’s clear that Georgians deserve more than what we are getting from Washington.

(Georgia CEO) How would you balance other responsibilities such as education, Medicaid, infrastructure, transit, etc., with Georgia’s strong focus on investment in business and job development?

(Michelle Nunn) Education, healthcare, infrastructure and transit are all necessary for promoting a strong economy here in Georgia and across the nation. We can’t create jobs without investing in infrastructure and ensuring that all Georgians have access to high quality education and healthcare. 

Getting people to their jobs and our goods to market in a speedy and effective way enables us to compete in a global economy. Our declining infrastructure not only hinders our growth, but costs Georgians jobs. China spends three times more on infrastructure than we do and Europe spends twice as much. Yet we continue to undervalue infrastructure, inhibiting our ability to compete globally. We cannot afford to ignore these pressing needs and must make smarter investments in infrastructure that will establish a strong economic foundation for our country. 

High quality education is one of the smartest investments our country can make. We need to make college more affordable, expand technical education and pre-k, and invest in STEM education. A strong education system will ensure that Georgia’s students and businesses remain competitive in a 21st century economy. 

As for healthcare, by not expanding Medicaid, Georgians are sending their tax dollars to Washington but getting nothing in return and will lose out on $33.7 billion in federal funding from 2013 to 2022. For every $1 a state invests in Medicaid expansion, $13.31 in federal funds will flow into the state. Given these numbers, I don’t see how Georgia can afford not to expand Medicaid as it will increase access to healthcare, improve hospitals, and boost the state’s economy. 

(Georgia CEO) Georgia’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation. Considering all the accolades of being business friendly, what must be done to bring real job growth to Georgia?  

(Michelle Nunn) Everywhere I go, the first thing people talk to me about is jobs. Although we have made progress since the Recession in helping Georgians return to work and creating new economic opportunities, Georgia’s unemployment rate still lags behind other states. To create jobs, we need to reduce the tax and regulatory burden on businesses, invest in human capital and infrastructure, and cut the debt while providing certainty to businesses.

Congress must pass comprehensive tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate to spur job creation and establishes a tax code that is simple, fair and fuels economic growth. America’s corporate tax rate is the highest in the world – which hamstrings our businesses and entrepreneurs.  We must also reduce the regulatory burden on self-employed workers and small businesses that are often overwhelmed by complicated regulations. Congress should regularly review our regulatory processes to include assessing the ‘need’ and determining costs vs. benefits. 

We need to continue building human capital. Standards like Common Core are helping give our kids – our future workforce – the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy and become meaningful contributors to our communities and nation. Education – including technical education and job training – is one of the best investments we can make in our future economic prosperity.  And Georgians know how important it is to pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill backed by the Chamber of Commerce and the Farm Bureau. 

Businesses across Georgia know that we need to invest smarter in R&D and infrastructure that will help ensure a strong economy, foster innovation and provide expanded opportunities for the future generations. America needs competitive energy policies to make the United States more energy independent and secure while creating high paying jobs. This means building the Keystone Pipeline and investing in renewable energy. 

Georgia’s agricultural industry is among the most important to our economy, with 42,000 farms covering nearly a third of the state.  Now that the Farm Bill is finally law, we need to build on that progress with a continued focus on agricultural research and innovation. This means expanding public-private partnerships between farmers and universities that strengthen our rural communities and increase production. Congress must also protect the crop insurance programs that help so many farmers in Georgia stay on land their families have owned for generations and ensure that these farms continue to be strong economic drivers of our state’s economy. 

Lastly, we need to provide certainty to businesses that are consistently constrained by political leaders more interested in scoring political points than solving problems. That means getting back to passing annual budgets, reining in spending to cut the debt, and ending the cycle of infighting, delay and shutdowns that hurt Georgia businesses. Consistently operating without proper budgets is simply bad governing and makes Congress poor stewards of hardworking Americans’ tax dollars. I believe we need a “No Budget, No Pay” law, because if Congress can’t do its job and pass a budget, it shouldn’t get paid. And neither should the President. 

(Georgia CEO) What is your plan to make Georgia even more competitive in the business site selection marketplace? 

(Michelle Nunn) Our state is home to some of the nation’s most successful businesses and our companies are at the forefront of innovation and ensuring that all Georgians benefit from a strong economy. It’s time to provide certainty to businesses that are hamstrung by political leaders too consumed with winning partisan battles to solve our nation’s pressing challenges. 

American businesses are taxed at the highest rate in the world.  Not only does our outdated policy prevent almost $2 trillion from being brought back to the U.S., but it hurts small businesses that are unable to take advantage of expensive planning measures to reduce their tax burdens.  Congress must pass comprehensive revenue neutral tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate and promotes economic growth. A lower corporate tax rate would enable businesses to better compete in the global economy by ensuring taxes on overseas income match those of other countries. U.S. businesses must be taxed fairly in a way that benefits our economy and puts that money to work here in Georgia.

We also need better, simpler and fewer federal regulations. All too often regulations are created and implemented without a proper assessment of their impact on jobs and businesses.  We must make sure that we only implement the regulations that are truly necessary and do not put an unfair burden on businesses. All regulations must have clear goals and be continually reassessed, and Congress must play a principal role in simplifying regulatory processes. 

Trade agreements that provide new markets for American products and services and create new jobs here in the U.S. will help grow Georgia businesses and the economy. We should be partners as well as competitors with other nations and challenge any trade barriers that unfairly disadvantage workers, farmers or businesses. As an economic hub in the southeast, home to Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s busiest airport, and the Savannah Port, one of the largest ports in the country, Georgia has many advantages that help our state expand its products into new markets. Washington must create the conditions for businesses to be successful in new markets. 

And we need to continue investment in our state’s infrastructure, especially the Savannah Port, to grow our exports and increase access to new markets. The ability to move goods to market quickly and efficiently will make our state even more effective for new businesses. 

(Georgia CEO) Our members, business owners throughout Georgia, consistently name education and workforce development as one of their top challenges to growth. What can be done to better equip our workforce for the jobs of today and tomorrow? 

(Michelle Nunn) Our nation’s economy is largely driven by our ability to develop innovative products and services. To continue spurring economic growth and creating jobs, we must make STEM education a national priority. Smart investments to train tomorrow’s innovators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will help our nation develop the technological advances necessary for remaining competitive in a 21st century global economy. 

We need to make college more affordable, close the skills-gap, and upgrade our workforce so that businesses have the workers they need and more Georgians can benefit from higher paying jobs. 

A college degree is a great investment, but the skyrocketing cost of higher education means the average family and student have to take on thousands of dollars in debt just to build their future. I support preserving low cost loans for students and expanding Pell grants. At the same time we must encourage colleges and universities to keep tuition costs down by tying some federal support to schools’ ability to keep costs low. 

Closing the skills gap requires expanding technical education. A traditional four-year college isn’t for everyone, and career and technical education programs are critical to building a workforce that can compete in the global marketplace. Georgia's Quickstart program is a model for technical education that other states can follow. I will work hard to preserve the federal support that allows for Quickstart’s success, and ensure other states can benefit as well. 

(Georgia CEO) Another top challenge for business owners is health insurance reform. What role do you see for business owners as health care and insurance regulations play out? 

(Michelle Nunn) I’ve been CEO of a $30-million dollar organization with 130 employees, and I know how hard it is to make payroll, pay for health care coverage, and cut spending while still growing an organization.  Our leaders must partner with the business community to fix the Affordable Care Act. We must work together to build on the aspects of the law that are working and collaborate on ways to change the things that aren’t. It’s time for both sides to work together to improve access and affordability for Georgians. 

The goal of the law was to lower costs and increase choice, but too many Georgians are facing higher costs or fewer choices.  People in southwest Georgia are paying some of the highest premiums in the nation. That’s why I support creating a new tier of more affordable plans, expanding tax credits available to help make coverage affordable to small businesses and reversing the cuts facing our hospitals. 

But unlike the folks on the other side – Georgia families don’t think we should let insurance companies deny care based on preexisting conditions or force young adults looking for a job off their parents plans, or let families go bankrupt due to catastrophic illness. 

This is what we need to build upon to ensure that all Georgians have access to quality and affordable healthcare. 

(Georgia CEO) How do your views on economic growth differ from those of David Perdue? 

(Michelle Nunn) Economic growth begins with responsible governing. Washington’s dysfunction is creating uncertainty that hurts Georgia businesses. Economists estimate that, since 2009, the budget uncertainty in Washington has raised the borrowing costs for businesses and lowered economic growth – costing our economy $150 billion and 900,000 jobs. In Georgia alone, the shutdown likely cost the state hundreds of millions in growth and delayed $60 million in small business loans. 

It’s absurd that shutting down the government has become the favored bargaining chip of certain Washington politicians.  It’s time we sent leaders to Washington who will stop the uncertainty by putting an end to shutdowns and self-inflicted crises.  

Unfortunately, David has shown throughout this campaign that he would bring more of this dysfunction and gridlock to Washington. 

David endorsed the government shutdown; opposed the bi-partisan Farm Bill; and opposes Common Core - an effort championed by the Chamber and folks like Sonny Perdue and Jeb Bush. And he was a harsh critic of the bi-partisan immigration reform proposal supported by farmers and business people across our state. 

We’ve seen the results of this kind of attitude.  Leaders who are unwilling to work together will continue to hurt economic development and inhibit long-term growth.

I want all Georgians to succeed. This means pursuing pragmatic solutions that create quality jobs, enabling Georgians to provide for their families and invest in their communities. Georgia and our nation are better off when businesses, individuals and communities succeed together.