Georgia Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues Breakfast” Draws Over 2,000 Business Leaders to World Congress Center
Thursday, January 14th, 2016
An agenda featuring Georgia’s senior government officials—U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker Dennis Ralston—drew over 2,000 business and community leaders to the annual Georgia Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues Breakfast on Tuesday.
Senator Isakson highlighted the accomplishments of the Senate and House of Representatives over recent months and the past year that will benefit the Georgia economy. A budget omnibus bill—the first in seven years—headed the list of achievements along with a comprehensive transportation bill, as well as tax reform in the mode of $675 billion in delayed taxes. Isakson thanked fellow Senator David Perdue for his efforts and the entire Georgia Congressional delegation of both parties for their collaboration on these items.
In other issues of interest to Chamber members, Isakson stated he has fought for fair and equal treatment for business owners, and to limit the pervasiveness of labor by the federal government, citing his opposition to both “micro” unions and to the reduction of days required to decide union elections. As a past president of the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce, and as a former board member of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Senator Isakson said he understands the needs of businesses, and asked the attendees to “be a partner with the government.”
At the conclusion of his presentation, Isakson also emphatically declared, “The security of the United States is the challenge of the 21st century. The solution is not containment and there can be no equivocation with terrorists.”
In a speech peppered with economic policy statistics, but minimal politics, Governor Deal was all business during his address to the convocation, emphasizing several times that Georgia has become, and intends to remain, the No. 1 state in which to do business.
He stated, “Since 2011, we have seen over 452,000 new private sector jobs in Georgia and our unemployment rate has declined by roughly half to 5.6 percent. The construction sector of our economy, which was one of the hardest hit sectors during the Great Recession, has rebounded and is now the third lowest unemployment rate in the country at 4 percent. In this first month of 2016 alone, there will be announcements of 3,134 additional new jobs coming to Georgia, representing almost $376 million of capital investment.”
Deal thanked and congratulated the Georgia Department of Economic Development for becoming the number one such agency in the country, according to the International Economic Development Council. The Governor added that over each of the past five years, the number of Fortune 500 companies in Georgia has increased, and Atlanta ranks in the top three cities in the U.S. for number of Fortune 500 headquarters. He referred to Georgia, not only as “The Silicon Valley of the South,” but, also, as “The Hollywood of the South,” since movie and TV productions generated a statewide economic impact of more than $6 billion last fiscal year.
Governor Deal also addressed Georgia’s transportation assets, which set the state apart as the economic leader in the Southeast. For example, the Georgia Ports Authority had a sixth consecutive record year handling 31.69 million tons, up 7.8 percent. As subsequent truck traffic increases in coastal Georgia, the Governor said that he and the Department of Public Safety are committed to providing additional enforcement efforts to improve the safety of Georgia citizens on the road.
Later, he alluded to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will create nearly 4,500 construction-related jobs, generating over $400 million in economic impact. Deal noted, “A truly robust workforce pipeline, however, does not start upon an employee’s entrance into the job market. I firmly believe that preparing our students for a life and career in the 21st century marketplace should not begin on their last day of high school. It should not begin on their first day of high school, nor on their last day of primary school.
“Preparing our students for the workforce or the college classroom should begin the moment they step foot into a Georgia school for the very first time. That’s why my administration has increased education spending every year that I have been in office. If my Amended Budget for this year is approved, we will have devoted over $100 million since FY2014 to ensure that every school system in Georgia is connected to the internet and at broadband speed so that students can learn from the most up-to-date delivery methods available.”
The Governor concluded by saying, “I want to assure you that my team and I will work even harder in the coming years to break the records we’ve already set.”
Lt. Governor Cagle picked up where the Governor left off on the subject of education, thanking him and the General Assembly for last year’s passage of Senate Bill #2, which offers 10th grade students the opportunity to take college level classes in order to be able to get a head start toward an associate degree or a certification. He spoke of an educational system that “holds schools accountable, allows local districts to decide how best to utilize resources, and rewards achievement,” a point later echoed later at the event by House Speaker David Ralston.
Cagle, a proponent of the state’s Charter school system, also praised Georgia’s technical academies. He then cited the German apprenticeship program that he’s studied as a model for Georgia to adopt in order to better compete in the global marketplace.
On the subject of transportation, the Lt. Governor noted, “The statewide strategic transportation fund is a comprehensive look into the allocation of funds and to projects that will not only make Georgia a safer place, but will also provide economic development through increased capacity on Georgia’s roadways. Focusing on the 10-year strategic plan to aid transportation will set a foundation for growth that will be used for generations to come.”
Both Cagle and Speaker Ralston, who subsequently spoke, commented on the plight of rural health care in Georgia, noting the closure of seven hospitals recently. Cagle stated the need to bring solutions to the problem by focusing on the essentials and requiring both business leaders and government authorities to commit to improvement in the delivery of health care. From a business perspective, Speaker Ralston emphasized that the cost of premiums is making it difficult for companies and employers to provide needed affordable health care.
Ralston set the stage for the upcoming session by reminding the audience of Georgia’s constitutional requirement for a balanced budget and noted that spending has been brought down to 2008 levels. However, the challenge lies in the fact that the state’s population has increased by a million residents since that time. In fact, he said, “In the last census year, we’ve had the fourth largest net gain in population of any state in the nation. The issues that we will focus on in this session will be very key to attract businesses and residents to Georgia.”
“We must ensure access to high quality public education and health care. We must and we will continue to budget and invest responsibly for the future. As you plan for the year for your families and your businesses, be assured that the General Assembly is devoted to making the best state in this nation for business even better for business.”
Earlier at the breakfast meeting, following Chamber President and CEO, Chris Clark’s welcoming remarks, 2015 Chair Paul Bowers, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Georgia Power, turned over the gavel to incoming Chair, Henry Linginfelter, Executive Vice President of AGL Resources. William Linginfelter, Area President, Regions Bank, will succeed his brother as Chair for 2017.