We all know that Georgians have an incredible work ethic and want to work. As we continue to recover from this pandemic-induced recession, we are hearing from a growing chorus of small business owners, agricultural leaders, managers in retail, manufacturing and nearly every industry sector across the country concerned about the lack of available workforce.

In 2020, Georgia saw a record 40% annual increase in the number of economic development projects announced. Our economy has quickly rebounded thanks to a balanced pandemic strategy coupled with record-high consumer spending, including everything from cars to houses. Retailers cannot keep certain items in stock and factory orders are piling up. Because they cannot find labor, businesses are starting to turn down orders, raise prices, and some are even considering closing permanently. Many restaurants are only offering drive-through, pick-up service, not because of COVID, but because they cannot find enough workers to support full-scale operations.

Our job creators are doing their part. They are raising wages, offering incentives, competitive benefits, shift flexibility and work-from-home options when possible. In addition, job fairs are popping up on every corner. The truth is that there has never been a better time to enter the workforce than today. Employers are offering more to entry level employees than ever before.

Here, over 231,000 Georgians are on unemployment, but over the last 90 days, Georgia businesses have reported at least 406,000 job openings. Getting those men and women connected to employers and back to work is the first step. Second, we must address long term labor shortages in the agriculture, hospitality and high-tech sectors while helping our students prepare for a very different job market when they graduate. Compared to previous years for the same time, the current number of job postings is nearly double, proving that our conditions are unprecedented and require creative solutions.

In the short-term, we suggest that the state of Georgia:

  1. Suspend additional federal unemployment benefits and direct available funds to a statewide job signing bonus program or other back-to-work initiative that helps match jobs to job seekers. This will incentivize Georgians’ return-to-work efforts.
  2. Require unemployed Georgians to actively seek employment while drawing benefits.
  3. Redirect federal funds to support our technical colleges and universities in rapid re-training and certification programs that upskill our labor force for new economy jobs. Of course, we should allow these Georgians to continue collecting unemployment benefits as they re-train on a ramp-down timeline.
  4. Eliminate the outdated Federal Self Certification Declaration checklist for unemployment insurance and return to a robust qualification process.
  5. Utilize existing federal funds to improve the appeals process and address childcare benefit needs. This will clear out the backlogs in our Department of Labor so that more workers can exit the system and find meaningful work to support their families.

In the long-term, Georgia needs to aggressively pursue coordinated efforts that improve the talent pipeline, for example:

  1. Build on the momentum of Governor Kemp’s needs-based scholarships to help more first-generation, low-income students find career success.
  2. Develop a federal bipartisan solution to our existing H-1B, H-2A and H-2B worker visa programs that ensure Georgia companies and agricultural producers have the talent needed to meet growing demand.
  3. Support the work of the Georgia House of Representatives Maximizing Global Talent Study Committee which will examine current regulatory burdens as well as opportunities for upward mobility and prosperity.
  4. Finally, prepare our students to compete in the new economy by improving and coordinating our talent pipeline through a review of Georgia’s education delivery system that focuses on entrepreneurial training, upskilling, life-long learning, STEM and evolving 21st century skills.

The statewide business community is ready and willing to partner with government leaders, educators and every man and woman who wants to work. Undoubtedly, this will require one of the largest concerted efforts in our nation’s history as we work to overcome our setbacks and simultaneously plan for a more resilient future together. Let’s get to work, Georgia.

Georgia Chamber of Commerce

American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia
Georgia Agribusiness Council
Georgia Association of Convenience Stores
Georgia Association of Manufacturers
Georgia Chemistry Council
Georgia Construction Aggregate Association
Georgia Farm Bureau
Georgia Forestry Association
Georgia Highway Contractors Association
Georgia Mining Association
Georgia Paper & Forest Products Association
Georgia Poultry Federation
Georgia Transportation Alliance

Georgia On My Mind

By Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO  

We know we have it good in the Peach State and, when we work together, we accomplish great things. We celebrate our wins and lament our challenges, but we do this together as one statewide community. We travel from the mountains to the sea to catch up with friends and relatives. We have incredible companies making products we can appreciate and enjoy and farmers growing food to essentially feed the world. We have sports teams that either keep our hearts racing or break them in a moment’s notice, but we, as fans, remain eternally optimistic. We have an incredible economy with an affordable cost of living that attracts tens of thousands to move to our state each year and millions more to visit it.

Now, the entire world has Georgia on their Mind, too. They are all waiting on us to see which party will gain control of the U.S. Senate and the direction of the nation for years to come. This monumental election will conclude with the votes of hard-working citizens in the Peach State. And I, for one, am okay with that.

But while everyone is watching, whispering, even shouting, about us; here are a few thoughts to consider about these elections:

And while Georgia plays out this election on a national stage, there are a few more things that everyone should know about the Peach State:

In the coming months, we are going to move forward and tackle our issues as Georgians. We are going to have policy discussions about expanding our transportation infrastructure and improving rural broadband.  Our work on civil rights, equality and equity will continue with intensity and urgency. Our General Assembly will convene in January to further expand the economy and jumpstart the recovery. We will listen and follow the leadership of Governor Kemp and Dr. Toomey as we battle the next wave of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, social distancing and focusing on the health and safety of our employees, customers, and clients. Georgians will vote again, and we are committed to showing up, because we care about our future and each other. And if all this is not enough, the Georgia Chamber will spend 2021 listening to our local communities and collecting ideas about how to spur economic growth and mobility all over the state. We are going to lead a family discussion, together.

Georgia is always on my mind. I welcome the opportunity to show the world why we all chose to live, work, play and pray in this great state and why we are committed to building a reimagined New Georgia Economy.

The Future of Georgia Transportation

By Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO  

As the Georgia economy continues its recovery, we are seeing the return of the strength and importance of logistics and transportation. Moving manufactured goods, agriculture products and employees around town and around the world requires a visionary outlook. We must ensure that the actual wheels of free enterprise continue to roll and, in doing so, create quality jobs for Georgians. A long-term plan for funding of Georgia’s roads, bridges, railways, ports, and technology is essential to our recovery and strategically important for a more resilient future.

The Georgia General Assembly created the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) in 2010 and it has been resoundingly successful in funding over 1,000 projects for local communities throughout the state, with numerous projects currently under construction. From road widenings to public transportation operational funding, the TIA has enabled regions in Georgia to significantly propel local economic development efforts. Perhaps that’s why voters gave a resounding thumbs-up to extending the program for another 10 years in parts of the state. By a margin of nearly 2-1, voters in various counties throughout Georgia chose to collectively make another 10-year investment in local roads, bridges, intersections, streetscapes, airports, emergency vehicles, sidewalks, and freight and logistics needs. In 2015, Georgia General Assembly also enacted HB 170 which resulted in more than one-billion dollars of infrastructure improvements to our roads and bridges, helping to support economic growth and mobility through Atlanta and the state of Georgia.

These success stories are why the Georgia Chamber works closely with its affiliate, the Georgia Transportation Alliance (GTA), to be at the forefront of statewide, multi-modal transportation investment. GTA conducted polling earlier in 2020 that clearly demonstrated what the voters in Georgia have experienced - transportation investment works. Almost half of all Georgians believe that transportation infrastructure is the most important function of government, and 52% of Georgians shared that they would re-elect an official who votes to increase infrastructure investment that improves safety and creates long term job opportunities.

We know that infrastructure and access to supply chains are essential to raising the bar for jobs and employment opportunities in both urban and rural areas. Additional government resources are not only necessary, but critical, to effectively deliver this infrastructure where it is needed. The Georgia Freight and Logistics Commission has been conducting a series of meetings 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 ultimately to the livelihoods of all hardworking citizens in our state. The Chamber is dedicated to supporting the Commission’s leadership, under Senator Beach and Representative Tanner, in presenting a multi-year plan to the General Assembly during the upcoming legislative session.

Georgia must improve infrastructure and connectivity through public-private investment in broadband, highways, bridges, airports, rail, and transit to connect our communities. And our nation must pass a national infrastructure act to fund roads, bridges, rail, in-land ports, and ‘New Economy’ technologies. The statistics not only prove that these needs are imperative, but that Georgians also agree with it. Our recent, virtual Future of Freight and Logistics event hosted leaders from GDOT, the Port of Savannah and the Center for Innovation and Logistics, all of which highlighted the critical need for long-term investment.

Our state is one of the fastest-growing in the country and our ability and willingness to invest makes our economic recovery faster and, our future, stronger. As we move forward into 2021 and beyond, we challenge local and state leaders to engage in this vitally important conversation with an eye to innovation, safety, and growth. To learn more, please visit cantwaitforfreight.com.

Secure Your Vote, Georgia
By Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO  

2020 will go down in history as one of humanity’s most challenging moments in time. We started the year with a strong economy, and in the blink of an eye, we were crippled by a global pandemic. Needless to say, this year we have witnessed extreme highs and lows; yet, we are still here, still moving forward one step at a time, and still with one challenge before us as we usher in 2021. No, I am not talking about murder hornets or bubonic squirrels, though murder hornets are worrisome. I am speaking about the importance and sanctity of your right to vote.

I remember my Mom taking into the voting booth at the Irwin County Courthouse for the first time, pulling that curtain and lifting me up to see the names. We talked about those candidates running before we ever went in, and we still talk through the candidates today. Likewise, I have taken my son to vote for every election since he was born.

Voting, in and of itself, is a painless, simple, and easy task. But convincing every citizen of its importance is a bit more of a challenge. Voting is what fundamentally gives people true power. From opinion and ideal to purpose and action, voting allows every citizen to voice their own ideas, to be heard and have one’s rights represented among the leaders of this great nation. So, how do we get every citizen to invoke this right and do their part?

The Chamber has partnered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office to educate, inform, and prepare citizens for the upcoming election. Through a program called Secure the Vote, Secretary Raffensperger and his teams are developing resources and providing information to make it easier for every citizen to leverage their right to vote this season. Secure the Vote is highlighting registration deadlines and recruiting poll workers from low-risk population groups to keep the voting process safer this fall. A new voting system has been put in place to help ensure greater accuracy and broader reach for voters.

Information on the initiative’s website, securevotega.com, also includes the Secretary’s push for a more verifiable and auditable process offers FAQs related to the new voting system and provides an opportunity to engage the process and become a poll worker based on qualifications. Another push the Secretary’s office is making is to take advantage of early voting and absentee voting options. Due to the anticipated high volume turnout in this year’s national election, citizens are being encouraged to take advantage of early and absentee voting. And there are deadlines that you should know about with regard to these options. Early voting will occur between October 12 and October 30, 2020. Absentee ballots must be requested by October 30 which is the end of this month. Because of the global pandemic and need for social distancing, the Secretary expects more than one million voters to cast their vote via absentee ballot this year. So, get your ballot request in before the deadline and let your voice be heard through a safer and just as effective option. Citizens can learn more about these efforts at www.securevotega.com.

In addition to working with the Secretary of State’s office, the Georgia Chamber has also joined a coalition of business and civic leaders who recently launched Georgia Support the Vote. This nonpartisan, all-volunteer effort, co-chaired by Michelle Nunn and Eric Tanenblatt, is committed to making it easier and safer for Georgians to vote in November by informing, encouraging, and enabling their employees, suppliers, and customers. It is exclusively focused on Georgia and the unique election challenges we face this year due to the pandemic. More than 150 Georgia businesses have already signed on, representing more than 150,000 employees. For information on how you can sign-up and get involved in this effort, please visit www.gasupportthevote.org. The future of our state and our nation call for innovative leadership, inclusive mindsets, investments in infrastructure and connectivity that brings together urban and rural worlds and drives home an equal playing field for all. This year’s election will be pivotal and impactful to leading us all into a more resilient, reimagined New Georgia Economy. So, let us do our part and get out and vote, Georgia.

Building a Global Talent Pipeline

By Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO  

Even before COVID-19 hit our borders and changed virtually every business plan and legislative priority for 2020, the war for talent was being fought across every industry sector around the world.  Communities, states, and nations that want a prosperous future have prioritized issues ranging from reforming K-12 to developing innovative college programs like our NEXUS degrees; from increasing the number of high school career counselors to providing last-mile grants.  Leaders are building lifelong learning programs, reskilling displaced workers, and having honest discussions about the important role of legal immigration in order to win this war.

Consider the facts. Immigrants comprise nearly 10% of the state’s population. Roughly one in five self-employed business owners in Georgia is an immigrant and, in 2019, there was an 87% growth rate among Latina-owned start-ups in the state. One in seven immigrants represent Georgia’s labor force and nearly half of them are naturalized U.S. Citizens. The immigrant population also represents close to $20-billion in spending power for the state and generates right around $7-billion in federal, state, and local taxes.  Combine these stats with the fact that they hold more than one-third of the jobs in agriculture and over a quarter of the jobs in construction, it is very easy to see how critical their role is to our economic recovery, survival, and winning the war for talent. Political divisiveness has dominated this issue for years, preventing common sense solutions from being implemented. However, our state’s competitive advantage depends on our ability to shift this paradigm and leverage the strength of this significant resource in Georgia. So, how do we redirect and reform this issue? Where do we begin?

Talent – or education – is key. In 2020, the Georgia Chamber and the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce launched the Global Talent Initiative to take a deeper dive into barriers that currently exist for legal immigrants at the federal and state level. In partnering with entities around the state, through a data-driven approach, we have gained some insightful results. A recent poll revealed that two-thirds of voters support immigration reform and over 80% believe it is important to develop that reform at the state-level. These same voters deemed post-secondary education to be just as important as K-12 when it comes to improving educational outcomes and most agree that expanding access to in-state tuition for immigrants would help rural communities and positively impact earning potential. This ultimately translates into a stronger economy for all. Yet, only one-third of Georgia’s immigrants have a college-level degree or higher, and less than this have graduated from high-school, hampering the state’s ability to embrace the economic strength of its immigrant population. It is incumbent upon our state and federal leaders to consider strategic policy options that decrease the regulatory barriers, expand opportunity for legal immigrants, and maximize the potential for a more rapid recovery for our state.

Prioritizing visa applications for healthcare workers and other high-demand fields, like software developers and engineers, will allow Georgia to recruit the talent needed both now and in the future. Reforming licensure rules and regulations will open doorways for more qualified immigrants to readily engage the workforce rather than waiting on the sidelines as paperwork is processed. Increased access to higher education also offers a chance for new Georgians to build careers that translate into more prosperous communities across our state.

Immigration is an important part of our nation’s history and an essential part of our future. Voters, families, churches, and businesses all recognize its importance. Economic statistics demonstrate its value and COVID-19 has called us all to a common ground where we can look to new and innovative ways to reform, transform, and reimagine a New Georgia Economy, together.

The 2020 Census. Just Do It.

By Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO

When Nike launched its “Just Do It” campaign in 1988, no one had any idea what would become of such a simple phrase. In just 10 years, the company’s worldwide sales skyrocketed from $800-million to over $9-billion, annually. Three words was all it took to make the difference of a lifetime. I often think of what it might be like to make that sort of impact in my hometown of Fitzgerald, Georgia, and am reminded that 2020 is a Census year! Impact on an exponential level for local and rural communities across Georgia can be achieved if every resident will take 2-minutes to “just do it”. The Census is an opportunity for local governments and non-profits to ensure that our local tax dollars are returned via federal funding, for projects and essential infrastructure that can make the same difference that Nike did in ten years, especially in smaller communities where opportunity often lacks investment.

Based on Census counts the federal government will distribute more than $1.5 trillion. Due to an undercount in 2010, Georgia lost about $708 per citizen of our own taxes because the state receives funding according to each person counted. According to the George Washington Institute for Public Policy, for every citizen counted, the state of Georgia receives more than $2,300 per citizen from the federal government. This amounts to almost $24 billion in federal funds across 55 different programs. These 55 programs include funds for school lunches for students, financial aid to low-income students pursuing higher education (Pell grants), community development block grants that support local economic development projects and subsequent job growth, Medicaid and Peach Care for kids (CHIP) who need it most, and funds devoted to rural programs that help infuse the state’s largest industry of agriculture. These are our hard-earned dollars and when we do not get counted other states benefit from our labor.

The Census also delivers accurate statistics that guide research and government planning that can truly meet the needs of the residents each of our local governments serve. It is arguably more powerful than the vote, itself, in terms of the impact that a single citizen can have on the outcome of a community’s collective future. It is your right to live in this great state, your duty to vote and your responsibility to see that the appropriate funding and support are given to each of your respective communities.

COVID-19 has impacted all of us, shutting down businesses, putting hardworking Georgians in the unemployment line, wreaking havoc on our educational institutions, affecting the manner in which we interact and threatening the very essence of life and livelihood. The 2020 Census is probably the most critical step any one individual can take to helping themselves and everyone they care about move more swiftly through recovery and into a more resilient future. This count is critical for a New Georgia Economy where the foundation is firmer, pathways are clearer, opportunity is more ample and our state is a consistently stronger climate where we can live, work, pray and play together, rural, and urban alike.

Help bring critical funding to Georgia through the 2020 Census. Just Do it. For more information, go to census.georgia.gov.

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.

How Small Businesses Recover and Become More Resilient
by Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber President & CEO

Growing up in Fitzgerald, I witnessed the evolution of entrepreneurial spirit as small businesses would open, some close, and new small businesses would take their place. There is an economic cycle of 20-years that supply and demand generally drive.

When I was little, our downtown was where we went to get what we needed to live. We picked up medicine from the local drug store, did our banking, bought school clothes from one of two department stores, and grabbed our groceries at the Piggly Wiggly before we headed home.

Today, many of Georgia’s small towns have reinvented themselves into destinations because of the innovation and vision of small business leaders. People now come to downtowns to plug into the nearest coworking space and be surrounded by the energy of entrepreneurial activity. They may find a local hand-made jewelry shop in Thomasville or discover a new original eating spot in Blue Ridge that they can post about on social media. They dig the craft brewer down the street in Albany, take up a round of axe throwing in Marietta, learn how to blow glass, or craft something all their own in a trendy art shop where galleries have become hands-on activities.

Through these generational shifts, Georgia’s small business community has risen to become the single largest economic engine in the state. In fact, 99% of all Georgia businesses are small business. Unfortunately, this sector has also been the hardest hit in this global COVID-19 health crisis. According to multiple sources, 22% of Georgia’s small businesses will never reopen their doors. So, how do small businesses survive? What will it take for them to make it through recovery and into a more resilient position for the future?

Many small businesses have found ways to not just survive, but thrive, through these unprecedented economic times. The most common trend is adaptation. Small businesses surviving today have learned how to disrupt their own business model or reinvent themselves to meet the new demands that coronavirus has dictated. We ‘ve witnessed the resilient and creative adaptations of businesses to deliver supply where demand had aggressively grown. I am reminded of Pretoria Fields who switched from making beer to making hand sanitizer because hand washing, and disinfecting, became paramount to next-day survival. Okabashi shared in our Future of Minority Manufacturing program that they had found ways to supply comfortable footwear to the many health workers that were on their feet day and night taking care of patients in overcrowded hospitals. Companies and small businesses like these demonstrated adaptability and a reimagining of their business model to thrive. We need to continue to help them do the same.

Small businesses must also recognize that COVID-19 is not going anywhere. Planning for starts and stoppages in the economy is necessary. And taking proper health and safety precautions is critical to survival in today’s market. The Governor’s office recently announced its Georgia Safety Promise campaign for which the Georgia Chamber is a proud partner. We encourage all small businesses to sign-up and pledge your support for keeping Georgia safe and healthy through wearing a mask, disinfecting surfaces, maintaining social distancing protocols, and washing your hands. The Georgia Chamber also encourages small businesses to train their employees. Recently, we introduced a new program with The Levee Studios in Albany called Unified Standards. This program is designed to provide COVID-specific training to your employees on the government’s guidelines for business operations. It is 100% CARES-Act funding approved and will bolster consumer confidence for any business displaying the official Georgia Chamber Unified Standards-approved seal. Details for this program can be found at gachamber.com/covid19.

We must also look to the future of the entrepreneur pipeline. Georgia schools should introduce more programs to encourage a small business mentality through classes, studios, and extracurricular competitions. And Georgia colleges and universities should follow the lead of Georgia Tech and educate every student with the skills to create their own economic path forward. Inspiring a generation of entrepreneurs is the best down payment we can make on our economic future.

Finally, local, state, and national governments must work to ensure proper infrastructure and resources are available. Hardworking small business owners and employees need the right foundation and environment in which to survive and re-emerge into a new economy. Government leaders must continue to offer resources like the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Relief loans. Communities should look to improve their own entrepreneur ecosystems by fostering coworking locations, maker spaces and incubators. They should start their own venture capital and angel investment initiatives and invest in transportation infrastructure that will support the new supply chains that our small businesses require to create and flourish.

Business, non-profits, and government must work to build a statewide ecosystem that supports and addresses the unique challenges that minority start-ups face as well streamline government regulations, licensure and obstacles for any Georgian that has a dream. We all must help the small business community maintain its position for being a strong and dynamic economic force in the state. As we continue through the recovery process, we must keep the priority of health and safety as we adapt, reimagine, invest, and develop a more resilient environment to withstand the ever-changing demands of the New Georgia Economy.

Chambers: The Transcendent Voice of Business
By Peter Carter, Georgia Chamber Chairman

When I think of today’s economy- riddled with a global pandemic, a strained healthcare system, racial inequalities, rural economic disparity, and a fickle market – it is hard to image a Chamber of Commerce playing a meaningful role. Like so many institutions, Chambers are struggling to provide relevance and value in a fundamentally changed world.

Is there even a future for a traditional Chamber of Commerce? Pondering that question, I’m reminded that our experience goes back centuries, bringing connection, influence and impact to business communities around the world since the 1500s. Few modern institutions have demonstrated the resilience of Chambers in weathering global pandemics, seeking reform for incumbering taxation laws, surviving wars, fighting for women’s rights, civil rights and working tirelessly to foster business growth and job opportunities at every turn. So today we face an unprecedented challenge, but it is nothing new for Chambers of Commerce. Our mission to serve as the common voice for all businesses, small and large, will be more important now and in the years ahead than ever before.

That doesn’t mean things won’t change. In today’s business climate, the standard and comfortable ways of doing things must give way to new and innovative ideas. Leaders must recreate business models to be more versatile and resilient. Educational systems must rise to fill the gap where job opportunities and skill sets are mismatched. And government must change laws and think progressively about laying solid foundations that will cultivate a spirit of unity within our communities. In each of these areas, Chambers will serve as the voice for business and the resource business leaders rely on for information and guidance. Moving forward, Chambers have a critical role educating elected officials on the need for legislative action, fostering partnerships for growth, and unlocking opportunities that exist for development through collaboration and relationship building.

How will Chambers continue to be relevant in our fast-changing world?

Chambers are a conduit for information. Since the pandemic began, the Georgia Chamber has demonstrated its influence in communicating meaningful data on the virus. Its COVID-19 landing page has averaged 1,000 hits per day, with direct member touchpoints of nearly 10,000 and virtual roundtables and town halls being held two and three times weekly. And media impressions have exceeded 250 million.

Chambers are a voice for connection. Even in the age of social distancing, today, Chambers can still play a relevant role in business-to-business connection. That means fostering key partnerships in corporate generosity, working collaboratively with other Chambers, polling members on important issues, and constantly seeking input to drive meaningful programming. In Georgia’s case, Chambers provide a powerful connection between rural and urban communities. They are a voice for global connectivity and, in today’s economy, a force for economic mobility.

Chambers are a platform for leadership. Good leaders seek advice. They seek direction. Leaders in business, government, education, and local community can all be found sitting on a board, a council, or a committee within their local Chamber of Commerce. Chambers breed leadership because they have leadership and are the clear and steady voice for that leadership.

Chambers are an advocate for business. One of the most impressive functions of a Chamber is advocacy. Whether its liability protection, fair economic tax laws or, most recently, effective hate crimes legislation that has brought Georgia up from being one of the few to join the broader voice of many in saying we will stand for equality of opportunity for all Americans, Chambers are an advocate to ensure our state’s culture and climate remain number one for business.

The days of Chambers cutting ribbons and hosting business mixers are over.  Chambers of tomorrow will be global champions of the free market system. They will step forward in challenging times to offer fresh and compelling ideas, working across party lines to expand the economy for all.  Those Chambers will succeed in today’s world and will continue to generate the highest returns on investment for their members and communities.

So, as our economy continues to recover and businesses look for ways to innovate, I encourage you to join a greater voice than just your own. Look to your Chambers of Commerce and join a voice that transcends time with profound relevance for today.

What You Can Do As COVID-19 Continues
By Chris Clark, President & CEO, Georgia Chamber of Commerce

Political pundits and healthcare researchers can argue second wave or simply a continuation of the original COVID-19 pandemic. However, the fact remains that the virus which hit us so hard in the spring continues to be a potent force as we head into the summer months.

In recent weeks, media turned its attention to the important concerns of inequality and racism, but Georgians continue to deal with the day-to-day impacts of a recession and a spreading health threat.

Governor Kemp, Dr. Toomey and the state’s emergency response team have served us well, making tough calls, communicating consistently, and acting with transparency. They have listened and responded as great leaders do in difficult times.

The state of Georgia, in partnership with healthcare organizations and the Georgia National Guard, is continuing to expand testing and develop better treatment. The Georgia Department of Public Health continues to push education and the need for effective contact tracing protocols as it works with the education system and post-secondary institutions to plan and adapt for an uncertain future. But, as with most day-to-day challenges, Government can only do its part to protect, serve and foster a safe environment. Grand lockdown strategies are not reasonable for the long-term.  And, at some point, as we move into the second phase of this global health crisis, businesses and individuals must take greater responsibility. In order to flatten the curve, keep businesses open, and protect families, we must act with resolve.

So, what can we do? First, understand that knowledge is power, and we know much more about COVID-19 now than we did just a few months ago. We know that poorly ventilated areas and close contact spread the virus more rapidly than any other means.  We know that younger people are now seeing a spike and rural areas are starting to see additional cases.  We know that prolonged exposure is problematic. We know researchers are making progress on unraveling the virus. However, we also know that coordinated leadership, as witnessed in Albany, can turn the tide when we view the matter of global health as a non-partisan issue.

So how do individuals and businesses take greater responsibility? Here are a few simple ways in which we can do our part:

In the end, no matter our business model or industry sector, every business is now in the business of health and safety. We must all maintain vigilance and prioritize the wellness of clients, customers, and employees. So, let us all go forward to be good corporate stewards and citizens of the public trust. To learn more, go to gachamber.com.