Guest Editorial -2020: Global Trends Impacting Georgia

Walt Farrell

Published January 6, 2020
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Guest Editorial -2020: Global Trends Impacting Georgia
by Chris Clark, President & CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce

I remember December of 2009. I was Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and along with my peers, we were cutting hundreds of millions from our budgets as the Great Recession consumed us. Job losses surged, my 401K vanished, and the Tea Party was born. I was carrying a Blackberry and was very skeptical of the iPhone. I burned playlists on CDs, picked up movies at Blockbuster, and watched Parks and Recreation. My then three-year-old was a force of constant motion and chatter. Our favorite activity was playing football in our small foyer every evening.

Back then, the editors at the Harvard Business Review turned their attention to the coming decade with a few global trends to watch. They told us that support of globalization would wane, and today, we’re seeing that through Brexit and growing trade wars. We were warned to focus on the strains to our natural resources, and today, biodiversity and climate issues dominate our headlines. The editors tipped us off to the potential of attacks on free enterprise and capitalism because of the financial crisis. Those attacks now rage on the left and right and from movie and television screens. HBR noted a potential rise in big government but didn’t foresee the authoritarianism now sweeping the world. They said China and India would lead the rise of the Asian decade and their dominance is now so firmly rooted that soon China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. Lastly, we were told that innovation would drive the economy as never before, with much of the focus being on nanotechnology. Today, we’re more focused on a thousand innovations never imagined just 10 years ago.

Every business in Georgia was impacted by these global trends. Knowing what may happen helped corporate CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and government leaders prepare for a brighter future for our state, overcome risks, and capitalize on new opportunities. As we now face a more uncertain decade to come, the Georgia Chamber has been studying which global trends may impact our New Georgia Economy.

Rapid Urbanization and the Challenge of Rural Prosperity has been and will continue to be front and center. By 2030, over 2/3rd of the world’s population will live in cities. Atlanta and other global cities will continue to attract young workers, while rural areas will struggle to develop realistic growth strategies. In Georgia, there can be no competition between rural and urban, only the realization that both need to prosper for true economic success.

An additional 1.4 billion people globally (and 1.2 million more Georgians) will require a Growing Environmental Awareness as energy demands will increase by 40%, water usage by 30%, food production will need to grow by 50%, all while 52% of wildlife will be at risk of extinction. Supporting our farmers, conservation, building more solar and natural gas capacity, and being better environmental stewards are all critical.

We will also witness a revolution in Infrastructure Connectivity. Georgia must invest an additional $2.5 billion annually to keep pace with logistics, freight, and population growth, and we’ll need to connect all Georgia citizens to 5G and complete Plant Vogtle’s expansion. It is also critical that we expand our transit networks and support additional rail capacity.

Improving our infrastructure will also prepare us for Intense International Competition. Deeping the Port of Savannah and investing in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will position our businesses for success but only if we also maintain fair trade and a hospitable environment. Georgia should remain a welcoming prime destination for foreign direct investment, and in doing so, see significant growth in our 1 million international trade workforce.

Globally and locally, we will embrace The New Economy. Georgia must lead in the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, disruption, financial services, and autonomous vehicles, all which mean investing in research, development, and commercialization. We must rally around new industries like video gaming, film and content creation, biotech, and cyber security. Protecting and nurturing their investment will create quality jobs in every corner of our state.

Those new industries usually start as the dream of scrappy visionaries and the Peach State has a history of cultivating their hopes. To generate the next generation of innovation, we must commit to The Rise of Entrepreneurship. If we redouble our efforts and invest in minority and youth start-ups, cultivate more venture capital, and integrate entrepreneurial education into every level of our education pipeline, we will create a pipeline of long-term economic growth for rural and urban communities alike.

Starting your own business will also mitigate the 39 million low skill jobs that will be lost in the U.S. to automation. During this same period, we’ll see almost 1.5 million Baby Boomers retire creating a very different talent pool. We need new thinking to win the ongoing War for Talent and Creativity. Millennials and Zoomers will dominate politics and the workplace in 2020. To compete against Artificial Intelligence, they will require lifelong learning and new training delivery models. To prepare the Alpha Generation for an uncertain future, we’ll need to give them different skills: communication, collaboration, change management, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural intelligence.

Also, critical to securing a 21st Century world-class workforce is Intentional Inclusion and Empowerment. Hispanics will lead in new business creation and in population growth. African American start-ups will dominate Atlanta’s long-term economic success. Research shows that businesses that are purposely diverse are eight times more likely to have better financial outcomes. Multi-generational teams are three times more productive. We must also recognize the growing income disparity in our state and focus on moving Georgians from poverty to prosperity. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the middle class shrink from 61% to 50%, and today, almost 30% of all rural children live in poverty. These statistics also have political implications and are leading to growing Geopolitical Polarization. From Hong Kong to Spain, we will continue to see tribalism, populism, and general divisiveness, but our state motto – Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation – combined with a strong history of bipartisanship should serve us well in uncertain times.

Finally, we will see a full-fledged global Fight for Free Enterprise. Just as the Harvard article noted, the growing popularity of attacking business continues. We must do a better job of telling the story of all that business and corporate philanthropy have done for Georgia. We must educate the next generation of the benefits of starting your own business, creating jobs, and growing the economy instead of more radical social experiments and the demonization of success.
Despite the changing global tides, the Georgia Chamber is excited about the new decade, the promise of opportunities, and our ability to mitigate the known and unknown risks. We will fiercely advocate for job creation and capitalism. We will focus the most pressing needs of Atlanta while also working for rural prosperity. We will provide innovative solutions like our SMART Healthcare Plan to help small business, embrace new technologies, and serve as the bridge between government and business just as we’ve done for over 105 years.

About the author: Chris Clark has been the President & CEO of the Georgia Chamber since 2010. The Chamber is the largest business advocacy organization in the state and works with over 160 local and bi-national chambers to make Georgia the best place for quality job growth and prosperity.