Governor Deal Pushes Georgia to Improve Education and Infrastructure in 2015

Lucy Adams

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

CNBC named Georgia the top state in which to do business for 2014. Since 2007, Georgia has never ranked outside of the top 10 on CNBC’s list, jumping from eighth place in 2013 to first last year. CNBC judges states based on categories like cost of doing business, workforce, technology and innovation, education, infrastructure and others. This honor coincides with Site Selection magazine pushing Georgia to the top of their list of best states for business for two years running and Area Development magazine announcing Georgia as first on its list, as well.

Governor Nathan Deal plans to preserve the state’s standing with these media outlets and its status with business leaders in the nation and the world. After taking a moment to bask in the success of his administration, he’s getting back to work to ensure that complacency doesn’t mar the good things Georgia has going. With a keen eye, he has surveyed the key areas in which the State excels and the margins requiring attention. His 2015 State of the State address earlier this month outlined infrastructure and education concerns along with proposals for improvements.

As the manufacturing and technology industries expand in Georgia, the rise of the automotive industry shines a light on why both areas call for continuous tweaking. It accounts for a portion of the 93,000 jobs created over the last 12 months and the 319,000 jobs created in Georgia over the last five years. Kia led the way in terms of manufacturing, with suppliers coming on its heels. Porsche followed a few years later with the announcement to move its headquarters to the outskirts of Atlanta, and, most recently, Mercedes has committed to locating its U.S. headquarters in Georgia.

A reliable workforce with low turnover rates, the third lowest manufacturing unionism rate in the nation, customization of education programs to meet the needs of the industry, tax incentives, worldwide reach of the Georgia Department of Economic Development and access to distribution channels convenient to the Port of Brunswick and the east coast (from 2012 to 2013, automotive exports grew by 9.2 percent) contribute to Georgia’s appeal. Governor Deal attributes the growth in the automotive sector of the economy, which reported a 149 percent increase in investment and an 11 percent increase in jobs in 2014, to these unique characteristics of the state.

Infrastructure and education are critical to supporting this pace, not only for the auto industry, but for all industry and business. The Governor’s High Demand Career initiative already addresses teaching specific skills in engineering and precision manufacturing and the Go Build Georgia program promotes awareness among high school students of high quality jobs available to those who master trade skills. “Many of the companies that met with us during our Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative continue to express needs. Many say they want an employee to come to them not just with basic education, but also with some hands-on understanding of the skills they’re going to need if given a job,” says Governor Deal.

In 2015, Governor Deal plans to advance the cause for the expansion of apprenticeship programs. He says, “It is an important part of the ongoing evolution of education and the relationship of education to employment.” The Youth Apprenticeship Program is a cooperative partnership between schools, employers and students in which students receive a comprehensive academic education in conjunction with on-the-job skills training. Students graduate with a high school diploma, a professional portfolio, a post-secondary certificate or degree and certification in industry-recognized competencies.

Additionally, to meet the demands in the technology sector and to promote innovation, he plans for computer programming to be offered on a broader basis. “We’re working on making it a specific credit area of study in our high schools and then for the colleges and universities to acknowledge those credits as a part of the requirements they have for admission,” explains Gov. Deal. “If we are able to achieve this, which I believe we will, we may very well be leading the country in terms of emphasis on computer programming in our K through 12 system.”

Maintenance and development of transportation infrastructure will garner attention from the Governor’s office in 2015, too. “As a growing state,” he says, “we’re going to have demands for additions to that network.” For example, the deepening of the Savannah harbor is expected to result in a 50 percent increase in truck traffic to and from the Port of Savannah in the next 10 years. The governor continues, “We’ve worked so hard to get the money and approval to deepen the port. We would be foolish to not make preparations to handle any increased traffic that’s going to be associated with it.”

With the failure of voters to pass the one cent T-SPLOST in 2012, pending transportation projects had to be prioritized based on available funds. At the same time, revenue from gasoline sales is contracting. Gov. Deal alluded to the need to revisit and raise Georgia’s excise tax during his State of the State address. “The need to do something relates to the diminishing ability to depend on the current motor fuel tax as a significant and sufficient funding source for the kinds of needs we are going to encounter,” he says.

He believes it’s time to take a comprehensive look at how Georgia funds its transportation system with the expectation of increased usage and demand for usability. Considering ways for owners of hybrid and electric vehicles to help defray costs of maintaining the roads they use and cooperating with the trucking industry to resolve issues with refueling in Georgia are two other proposed routes to increasing the coffers devoted to transportation infrastructure.

Georgia enjoys a favorable business climate and future outlook. Governor Deal is pleased. The view from the top comes with exhilaration. Staying at number one, however, demands dedication to honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses and a viable plan for improvement.