MAKING GEORGIA AN ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE
Governor Nathan Deal Takes a Look at the State’s Successes and the Year Ahead
By Lori Johnston
In an exclusive interview with Engineering Georgia magazine, Governor Nathan Deal shares his perspective after more than seven years in office – and Georgians have a lot to be proud of.
Gov. Deal, whose second term comes to an end next year, may be most proud of Georgia’s consistent ranking as the top state in which to do business, pointing to its pro-jobs policies, conservative budgeting and the AAA bond rating from each of the three main credit-rating agencies for the 20th consecutive year. “As Georgia continues to be recognized as the No. 1 state for business, we will continue to draw new employers, new workers and those aspiring to find a job in the modern economy,” he says.
This year, more than 76,400 private sector jobs have been created, according to state data. Some positions attracted new residents to the state, which is now the 8th most populous in the nation, with more than 10.3 million residents.
“From the world’s busiest passenger airport – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – to a highly skilled workforce, to the nation’s fastest-growing port – the Port of Savannah – to a business environment that has been recognized by both publications and job creators, Georgia offers a wide range of assets to businesses of all sizes,” Gov. Deal says.
A CLEAR PATH
To meet the needs of its growing population, the state is spending more on transportation per capita than any other state in the nation by investing in highway and rail transportation projects to strengthen and expand its logistical network. Those investments include the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (House Bill 170), an $11 billion plan spanning 10 years, plus ongoing projects to improve cargo connections and more than 200 additional freight-supporting projects that the Georgia Department of Transportation will be working on in the next five to seven years. The projects hope to “transform our means of commuting and commerce,” Gov. Deal says.
Job creation and economic development have both been top priorities since he took office. “Our business-friendly climate fuels existing industries, as expansions by existing companies contributed to 58 percent of investments into the state last year,” he says. “We are also working to cultivate international connections to keep the state globally competitive and support investment from around the world.”
In fact, in 2016, direct foreign investment accounted for 21 percent of jobs created and 25 percent of total investment in the state. “When we visit foreign markets to seek new partnerships and have conversations with partners abroad, we find that international companies have similar interests to companies already located here, especially a skilled workforce, expansive transportation infrastructure and policies conducive to sustained growth,” he adds.
Manufacturing, technology, global commerce, international trade, cybersecurity and tourism are among top job growth sectors for the state. Agribusiness – still Georgia’s top industry – contributes about $74.3 billion to the state economy annually. Last year, the food processing industry experienced almost 120 percent growth.
“Technology-related industries and innovative companies are increasingly prominent in the state’s economic picture,” Gov. Deal says. “Georgia is truly solidifying its reputation as the ‘Silicon Valley of the South’ as more and more tech startups choose to host their operations here. In fact, both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Kauffman Foundation ranked Atlanta as a top destination for tech startups this year. Established tech firms are also choosing us again and again when it comes to expansions or relocations, and in the past year alone, technology-oriented companies including GE Digital, NCR, Anthem and Keysight Technologies announced plans to invest millions of dollars and create hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs in our state.”
Within the tech industry, FinTech (or financial technology) experienced 25 percent job growth over last year. Already, Georgia has more than 28,000 cybersecurity workers, with nearly half – almost 13,000 jobs – in the Augusta area, not including the people employed by the military.
“We understand that there is a global urgency to develop a cybersecurity workforce, with expected growth in that sector estimated to reach 20 percent during the next decade alone,” Gov. Deal says. Earlier this year, the state broke ground on the Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta, which will promote collaboration in cybersecurity technology for both private and public industries. “In conjunction with the Department of Defense and the NSA, this new resource will put Georgia at the pinnacle of efforts to enhance cybersecurity with an asset unlike any other in the country, and make Georgia the safest state to operate a technology business,” he adds.
Companies and corporate headquarters attract business travelers, while vacationers and the film scene contribute to the growing tourism sector, which Gov. Deal says provides sustained economic growth.
In 2016, the tourism industry supported 450,200 jobs and generated more than $3.1 billion in state and local revenues as visitors came from all over the world to explore Georgia’s coastline and mountains, cities and small towns. “Many visitors also came to see where their favorite movies and TV shows are filmed as our production industry continues to flourish,” he says. “Georgia’s film industry saw another record-breaking year and continues to grow.”
Since he took office, the film industry has grown from a $300 million industry to generating more than $9.5 billion in economic impact and employing more than 90,000 Georgians. In 2016, a record 320 feature films and television productions were shot in Georgia, bringing hundreds of new businesses to communities around the state.
“Our reach has never been greater,” he says. “This record-breaking tourism impact indicates that Georgia is a destination for global travelers and a variety of resources, including a business climate gaining a global reputation that has paved the way for a number of international businesses to locate their global or North American headquarters here.”
MOVING MORE GOODS
Other industries, including automotive manufacturing, logistics and distribution, enjoy Georgia’s status as a top national distribution hub, the Governor says. Suppliers can reach 80 percent of the nation’s population from Georgia in just a two-day truck drive or a two-hour flight. The Port of Savannah set a record, first in May and then in August, for the largest cargo vessel ever to call at an East Coast port.
The port system is “one of the crown jewels for our economic development,” Gov. Deal says. “We are currently on track to meet our goals on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which is set to have a completion date of 2021, and we expect these new, larger vessels to be the norm as Savannah and Georgia have become gateways to the Americas.”
In the northwestern part of the state, the Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County is set to open in 2018, which the Governor says will increase on-terminal rail capacity and connection infrastructure to enable Georgia products to reach well into the Mid-American Arc and cargo to reach into the heartland more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever. The inland port is expected to reduce Atlanta truck traffic by 40,000 miles annually by creating an intermodal option to and from the deepwater Port of Savannah. In fact, each container moved by rail to the Appalachian Regional Port is expected to offset 355 truck miles on Georgia highways.
“Investing in the long-term economic future of our state means investing in our most valuable natural resource: our people,” Gov. Deal says. “While economic incentives are important, we’ve been able to obtain and maintain our ranking as the top state for business because of our workforce. Early on, we recognized that the classroom to career pipeline should be a top priority and education acts as a tool of economic development and leads to new jobs, a better quality of life and a stronger society.”
The Georgia Lottery has raised more than $19 billion for educational programs since the creation of the HOPE Scholarship in 1993. The funding has helped more than 1.8 million students attend college and offered access to Pre-K programs for more than 1.4 million four-year-olds.
The HOPE scholarship program, which remains one of the nation’s most generous merit-based, higher education scholarship and grant programs, is the foundation that offers each child in Georgia the opportunity to attain a quality education from start to finish. HOPE provides greater accessibility to the state’s research institutions, colleges and technical schools, which is also tied to economic development. Research and development efforts in the statewide network of two- and four-year colleges and universities support the industries of today and tomorrow. “The university and technical college systems and the HOPE scholarship and grant connected to them, respectively, are prime examples of the resources that attract job creators,” he says.
Other key programs include:
- The HOPE Career Grant, launched in 2017, which covers full tuition for students studying to enter high-demand fields. The grant has produced “exceptional results,” he says, with 88.4 percent of students finding job placement in their fields upon graduation and 99.2 percent overall finding job placement of some kind once they complete their programs. In 2018, the HOPE Career Grant will grow to include 17 categories with the addition of aviation, construction, logistics, automotive technology and electrical line work.
- The REACH scholarship program – Georgia’s first needs-based scholarship – has amounted to more than $7 million in scholarships since it began in 2012. It serves 100 school systems across the state and 1,225 scholars. By 2020, the state’s goal is to have all 181 school systems participating and more than 3,600 scholars served.
- Georgia Quick Start provides customized workforce training free-of-charge to qualified businesses in our state through classroom initiatives, mobile labs or on the plant floor.
“As the son and husband of schoolteachers, I understand that today’s students will comprise tomorrow’s workforce and under that assumption, we are strategically devoting resources all along the classroom to career pipeline,” Gov. Deal adds. “In the years since I took office, more than half of the funding in each state budget has been dedicated to education.”
The Fiscal Year 2018 budget provides $516 million in new funding for K-12 education, including more than $156.8 million for enrollment growth and training, along with $85.8 million to assist underserved school systems.
The State Board of Education’s new Chief Turnaround Officer, Eric Thomas, will implement a partnership-oriented approach and work with school systems to improve outcomes. A new Joint Study Committee will identify a process for establishing the Georgia Academic Leadership Academy, which will provide opportunities for principals and school leaders to update and expand their leadership knowledge and skills.
The academy will include stakeholders, including the Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, the Executive Director of the Professional Standards Commission and others to help determine what skills and resources are needed most in the classrooms of today and tomorrow. The scope of those opportunities can range from seminars and workshops to onsite technical assistance and any other resources that may assist in improving school ratings.
“Our investments are moving the needle in the right direction when it comes to the education of Georgia’s students for the jobs of today and the workforce needs of tomorrow,” he says.
Gov. Deal, who cannot run for a third term, says the state’s economic development accomplishments are the result of efforts by business leaders and economic development partners, and the cooperation of the General Assembly. Along with an abundance of educational resources, a strategic location, unparalleled connectivity and an innovative spirit, “we will continue to make Georgia an even better state for business and a top place to call home.”