Pillars for the New Georgia Economy
by Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO
As we live through the impact of COVID-19 and the resulting recession, we are constantly searching for the basis of a more resilient recovery. Every economist will tell you that successful markets around the world have traditionally, and must continue, to focus on three key factors to reduce poverty, grow the economy and build a more resilient foundation on which to stand and fight future threats. These key factors are investment, innovation, and infrastructure.
First, we need targeted investment from the public and private sector. That means venture funding that goes to minority start-ups as well as rural small businesses. We should target rural and underserved communities to address housing, skills gaps and access to capital. There is no one-size-fits-all model to help our companies and communities prosper, but targeted efforts like the rural hospital tax credit and minority lending programs are great examples. At the same time, businesses must reinvest in their companies and communities too. And, we must also address the inequity of foundational giving to rural communities.
Second, a new priority on developing the New Georgia Economy through innovation must be cultivated within our communities, schools, and universities. In 2019, before COVID hit, the state of Georgia fell within the 25 lower-ranking states in every category measured by Bloomberg’s United States Innovation Index. Our state ranks 25th in diversity of economic innovation, 27th in STEM graduates and 32nd in both patent development and R&D intensity. These numbers clearly show a need for improvement. At the state level, we should fully fund the Georgia Research Alliance, invest in incentives and strategies that grow clusters of knowledge workers and prioritize STEAM in our schools and colleges. Locally, communities should create their own venture funds, maker spaces, incubators and focus on creating the next generation of entrepreneurs. Our goal should be to create an ecosystem that prizes and rewards innovative new ideas, products, companies, and social solutions.
Finally, local, state, and federal leaders must invest significantly in infrastructure improvements and must work with private organizations to expand technology resources to all our underserved communities. From public transit, roads, bridges and rail which are essential to supply-chain and logistics industries to working with partners already making solid investments in broadband expansion like AT&T, Kinetic by Windstream, Verizon and our EMCs; public and private firms alike have a role to play in the expansion of critical infrastructure. The Georgia Freight and Logistics Commission will be kicking off a series of meetings at the end of August, focused on the critical infrastructure needs for transportation and developing a recommendation for long-term funding that will be crucial to Georgia’s economic growth, and the livelihoods of all hardworking citizens in our state. The Georgia Chamber will support the Commission’s leadership in presenting a solid funding plan to the General Assembly at the 2021 session. We must also improve our healthcare infrastructure, finish Plant Vogtle to further diversify our energy mix and get serious about land and water conservation.
In each in of these areas – investment, innovation, and infrastructure, more is needed and at a faster rate than economists were predicting before COVID-19 invaded the market. We need more time, more focus, more energy, more investment, and significantly more resources than ever before. From Atlanta to Valdosta and Columbus to Savannah, Georgia must realize the potential that exists to bring our state together, raise the tide for all and overcome this pandemic to build a stronger, more capable environment in the New Georgia Economy.