MEET PAT WILSON, COMMISSIONER, GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (GDEcD)
By André Gallant
Although Commissioner Pat Wilson accepted his current role at GDEcD in November 2016, he is no stranger to the work. Wilson first joined the Department in 2010 as Deputy Commissioner for Global Commerce. A year later, he became Chief Operating Officer, managing daily operations and serving as the Department’s legislative liaison. A native of Franklin Springs, in Franklin County, Wilson is a graduate of the University of Georgia.
Looking back over your career in government, when did your interest in economic development begin?
I’ve always been interested in economic development to some extent, but just didn’t know it. Growing up in a small town, you see the direct impact of company closures and job losses on a very human level. But economic development as a career path never occurred to me until a conversation with former Governor Sonny Perdue. We had just finished his last legislative session and were discussing my future – and it was he who suggested I move into economic development. He talked to me about how transformational economic development can be for small towns and rural Georgia. That resonated. I had been lobbying for public policy for years in both Washington and under the Gold Dome… Governor Perdue thought I would do a great job selling something I love: Georgia.
There has not been a single day I have questioned that career change, and I am honored that Governor Deal has allowed me the opportunity to continue down this path – and has been so supportive of growing jobs in Georgia.
What are the most striking ways the business landscape has changed over the course of your professional life?
When you are talking about the business landscape as a long-term, big picture in Georgia, Governors and General Assemblies, regardless of the party in charge, have a long history in this state of being pro-business. Governor Deal and his team have only worked to bolster that reputation, which led to being named the No. 1 state in the nation to do business for the last four years [by Site Selection magazine]. When looking at our competitor states, it is striking in the fact that Georgia has been so historically consistent.
I believe the most striking changes in the business landscape in Georgia have come from the post-recession growth — companies focusing on and investing funds into R&D and innovation.
I believe the most striking changes in the business landscape in Georgia have come from the post-recession growth — companies focusing on and investing funds into R&D and innovation. This has spurred a rebirth of advanced manufacturing and advanced distribution jobs across the state and created another major growth sector for the state in innovation-related jobs. From the vibrant rebirth of the flooring industry in northwest Georgia, to the high-tech automotive industry in northeast and west Georgia, to innovations in food processing and distribution, to the growth of FinTech (financial technology), cyber security and advanced computing-related jobs — all of these are directly related to a larger change in the emphasis companies place on innovation, being competitive and positioning themselves for prosperity over the next 20 to 30 years.
Looking forward to the next 10 and 20 years, what is your biggest hope for economic development for Georgia? Is there an industry or type of business you’d like to see boom in the state that isn’t currently dominant here?
My hope is that we continue to diversify, leveraging assets such as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Ports of Savannah and Brunswick, our interstate system and unrivaled transportation network, as well as the academic assets produced by our technical colleges and universities, to continue job growth across industries.
I would love to see strengthening job growth in rural Georgia. Governor Deal tasked this department with strategically and aggressively pursuing opportunities to grow jobs and investment specifically in that region of the state; all our divisions have been working to find growth opportunities in rural communities.
Over the years that I have worked in economic development, we have had some great and impactful wins. That being said, consistency in job growth is our goal, and we are committed to pursuing that objective.
When not in the office working to strengthen business in the state, how do you spend your free time?
Free time? I have a 10-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl, so I try my best to devote my time outside of this office to my family and being a dad… baseball, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, art lessons… whatever is needed. If I am in this country, I am committed to not missing a game, practice or performance.