Georgia Chamber Eggs and Issues: Government Leaders Optimistically Address Initiatives, State’s Future

John Tabellione

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Georgia’s top elected officials addressed their priorities and proposals to nearly 2,000 attendees at the Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues Breakfast,” on Tuesday. The meeting coincided with the 2017 state legislative session opening this week.  

2016 Chair Hank Linginfelter, Vice President, Distribution Operations, Southern Company Gas, turned over the gavel to incoming Chair, his brother, Bill Linginfelter, Area Executive President, Georgia and South Carolina Regions Bank.

In his opening remarks, 2017 Georgia Chamber Chairman Bill Linginfelter focused on “Georgia 2030”, the Chamber’s strategic plan to meet the next decade’s challenges. According to Linginfelter, his priority for the year ahead would be, “to continue to work with our elected leaders to protect the positive, pro-business reputation of Georgia.”

Georgia Chamber President and CEO, Chris Clark, welcomed the sellout crowd and emphasized his desire to share a few key components of the organization’s strategic plan, which is designed to strengthen and elevate Georgia’s role as a global business leader.

Clark indicated that the Chamber is already focused on the 2018 election. “We’re going to make sure that everyone running for office at any level understands the importance of Georgia’s prosperity, economic mobility, and the importance of continuing Governor Deal’s legacy of making Georgia the best place to do business,” said Clark.

He added that we need the talent and leadership pipeline to build a million jobs that will be vacated by retirees in the next ten years, and the half million jobs that will be created during that same time.

Clark also noted, “We are making a renewed commitment to rural Georgia this morning.” He elaborated, “For the first time in 102 years, the Georgia Chamber is going to open a regional office,” and then added, “We’re going to work with our south Georgia partners and later this year open an office in Tifton, Georgia, focused on rural economic prosperity.”

“We’re going to launch a new, long-term program to promote what we make, what we build, what we manage, and the very special places that we have in the state.” Clark then played a video describing that marketing effort titled, “Authentic Georgia.” 

Attendees at the 2017 Eggs & Issues Breakfast were also welcomed U.S Senator David Perdue via video address. Perdue elaborated on new opportunities to advance pro-business policies in our nation’s capital. Perdue told guests, “There is a sense of urgency in Washington to get things done and I’m excited to get to work.”

Governor Deal’s Assessment

Governor Deal highlighted the beneficial progress that Georgia has made over the past year and beyond, as well as the important developments on the horizon. Budget-wise. The FY2018 budget is 3.6 percent higher than the amended FY2017, but cautioned that 83 percent is growth-mandated and required spending, while only the remainder can be used for discretionary spending. 

Furthermore, the state’s Revenue Shortfall Reserve stands at $2.33 billion compared to when he was first elected, when reserves were at $116 million.  

Georgia’s current unemployment number is 5.3% versus the 2011 rate of 10.4% when Deal first took office, thanks to 575,000 new, private sector jobs. Deal stated, “Since last year when I spoke at this event, we have announced 417 economic development projects, representing $5.29 billion in investment. Is it any wonder why we have been named the No. 1 state in which to do business four years in a row?” 

As a few examples of successful business segments, Deal cited how Georgia has broken records in terms of tourism, film and television production, and trade for multiple years running, which all add to Georgia’s level of desirability. 

The Governor directed praise for much of these successes to the state Department of Economic Development, which itself has been recognized as the No. 1 economic development agency in U.S. 

Deal also referenced the $11 billion, 10-year transportation plan, which the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation and the DOT Board members promised would be open and transparent. He shared the status of the plan’s execution, which includes the widening of I‑85 North from Hamilton Mill Road to SR 211, and the widening of I‑16 from I‑516 to I‑95. The two projects are expected add dozens of additional lane miles and anticipated significant reductions in delays for commuters. 

As for future industry opportunities, Governor Deal mentioned, not only the importance of technology in private business, government, military and personal lives, but the need to secure that production and information against cybercrime, which has become a world-wide menace.

Fort Gordon in Augusta is home to the Army’s new cyber command headquarters, which has just broken ground, alongside the National Security Agency (NSA) facilities and the Cyber Center of Excellence, a training facility for cyberspace operations. 

Complementing the above-mentioned resources will be the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, a state-owned facility being designed to promote modernization in cyber security technology for both private and public industries. In conjunction with the Department of Defense and NSA, this invaluable resource will put Georgia at the pinnacle of efforts to enhance American cyber security in the public and private arenas. 

Deal noted, “We should also thank the universities and technical colleges that have partnered in this endeavor, providing the education and training that will provide Georgians with good-paying jobs in the digital era and keep us safe from cyber threats.”

In order to provide a well-trained, robust workforce to meet tomorrow’s demands, Deal stated that K-12 education policies must emphasize STEM and computer coding in earlier grades. He then pointed out two innovative programs in place: “Move On When Ready” and the state’s apprenticeship programs. The number of high school students enrolled in a “Move On When Ready” program grew by 2,000 more this past fall versus previous year, to a total of 15,000. 

In the apprenticeship programs, Georgia companies are serving over 6,000 active apprentices with 2,450 new participants this year, which represents over a 40 percent increase compared to last year. 

Deal ended, saying, “All of these advances have been made possible by the support of the business community in our state and the courage and action of the General Assembly. Let us continue to walk this road of success that we have traveled together. If we do, I can assure you that my report to you next year will be even more pleasing.”  

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, noted for his advocacy for better educational opportunities for all students, and himself an author of “Education Unleashed,” picked up where Deal left off on that theme. 

Cagle asked, “Don’t we all believe that our public schools should have no cracks for our students to fall through? It seems to me that Georgians should agree on this. We should lift the ceilings that are holding our children back, from achieving their dreams. And, it is incumbent upon us to give every opportunity for individuals to achieve a better life. My desire’s always been to bring excellence to education to every single student who wants it, because education is the great equalizer.” 

The Lt. Governor emphasized that education provides the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in life. He noted that education drives the economy because education has to align with the needs of industry. “Our students need individualized learning plans. Our schools operate best when they are accountable. Our communities must come together to create resource centers bringing families and businesses and partnerships to ensure that no child goes without food or clothes.” Cagle added, “Every high school student deserves the opportunity to earn a certification or an associate’s degree so that they can pursue a rewarding career.” He further noted, “The only way we can accomplish this task is to have one guiding principle: what is best for the students.”

Another major concern for Cagle is improving health care throughout all of Georgia, where 14 percent of the population has no access to good health resources and 25% live in poverty. For others the costs may too high or the choices are few.  

He also contended that it is critical to build a bridge to economic growth that provides jobs that all Georgians deserve.  

House Speaker David Ralston 

While House Speaker David Ralston said he is “struck by the success our state enjoys,” and recognizes that its finances being among the strongest in the U.S., he cautioned that the state can’t rest on its laurels. Ralston, newly re-elevated again to that position by his peers in the House this week, noted, “We must make hay while the sun shines.”

While touting the transportation progress being made under House Bill #170, he now maintains that it’s time to concentrate on transit in the state. “For our state to continue to lead the nation in transportation and logistics, we must do more to mitigate road congestion and move freight efficiently,” Ralston said. “We have a remarkable opportunity to use transit for both of these goals.”

He stated that a committee is overseeing House legislation to create the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, not to take over, but to understand how the state can partner with transit systems.

Like Lt. Governor Cagle, the House Speaker also bemoaned the state of health care in Georgia. He said, “We also need a spirit of cooperation when it comes to our health care situation. We have too many Georgians who are uninsured or who can’t afford health care. We have too many providers, particularly, rural hospitals and doctors, who can’t make ends meet. I want to thank this Chamber for presenting a list of recommended options to deal with our uninsured and underinsured citizens. I urge you to remain involved in the continuing discussion on quality, affordable health care in Georgia.”  

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.