Top State Officials, Chamber Leaders Team Up to Champion Economic Priorities for All Georgians at “Eggs and Issues" Breakfast

John Tabellione

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Invoking references to the upcoming Super Bowl, the Atlanta United MLS Champions, the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry, and some inside baseball lingo, speakers at the 2019 Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs and Issues Breakfast” emphasized the need for teamwork and partnerships as the General Assembly convenes. 

Nearly 2,000 state and local Chamber of Commerce members, public officials, and others attended the annual event at the Georgia World Congress Center Wednesday to hear newly inaugurated Governor Brian Kemp, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, and House Speaker David Ralston present their near-term and long-term visions and plans. Conversely, outgoing Chamber Chair, Kessel Stelling, incoming Chair, Sonny Deriso, and Chamber President and CEO, Chris Clark, spoke of their formal agendas.  

Chamber Agenda and Legislative Priorities

Following a welcome speech by Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Synovus Bank Chairman and CEO Stelling cited the Chamber’s 90% success rate from its legislative agenda for 2018 and released the official list of 2019 Legislative Priorities. Stelling gave credit and thanks to former Governor Nathan Deal as a champion of business during his tenure during which Georgia was commended for having the best business climate in the U.S. over the past six years: “Thank Governor Deal for his commitment to economic advancement and the continued progress of our state.” 

Stelling anticipates continued prosperity for Georgia under Governor Kemp, as well. Prior to introducing Sonny Deriso as the incoming Chair, he recognized several state officials, members of the General Assembly in attendance, the breakfast sponsors, and above all, military personnel for their service to the country. 

Lastly, Stelling referenced the Chamber’s SMART Plan, designed to provide better health insurance throughout the state for small businesses. Another new initiative of the Chamber: encouraging entrepreneurship among teams of students to present their unique business solutions in a statewide competition culminating in a Georgia InVenture Prize.

Following Stelling, Chamber President/CEO, Chris Clark, attributed the successes of last year to the engagement and support of the membership; the partnership with local Chambers; and, the 104-year partnership the Chamber enjoys with the Georgia state government.

Clark spoke of the need to adapt to business community changes, such as the rapid acceleration of knowledge; the stress upon small businesses and educators to keep up with it; and, the necessity to formulate plans to adapt to a diverse world economy. He spoke of a 2019-2020 strategic plan embracing change and innovation in every economic sector across the state called “The New Georgia Economy.” He explained, “It will require us, as a Chamber, to be more aggressive in our policies and attitude. It will require us to fully embrace capitalism and free enterprise…it will require us to embrace disruption and innovation in everything that we do.” Clark added, “We believe we can have a rural renaissance. We believe there are opportunities for emerging city centers.”

The Chamber’s 2019 Rural Recommendations address a vast array of challenges facing rural Georgia communities and businesses. These recommendations stem from the Chamber’s Tifton office, also known as the Center for Rural Prosperity, which serves as a clearinghouse for rural Georgia data and best practices. 

Policy changes will have to include and address issues such as portable health benefits; greater connectivity, no matter where in Georgia, to link to the rest of the world; new systems of education; better health care delivery. “We also will require businesses to have to new sense of corporate citizenship,” said Clark. New partnerships and bipartisanship will also be keys to adapting successfully.

“In order to help us dive through all of these policies, the Georgia Chamber will focus on six critical pillars of this new economy of Georgia.” They include: big data; talent and leadership; innovation; global competition; more corporate and university led research and development; physical infrastructure. “We need to focus on this next generation of makers, doers, brokers and builders, and instill in them a sense of entrepreneurship and capitalism so they can transform our communities, transform our businesses, create the next great startups 

Governor Brian Kemp’s Remarks

Upon receiving a welcoming standing ovation as the new Governor, Kemp referenced his high school football coach’s motto: “It can be done,” which laid a foundation for him to grow, excel and prosper. In the case of Georgia, the Governor stated that, thanks to former Governors Perdue and Deal, the state economy weathered the recession and sits upon a strong foundation. Georgia has earned its reputation as having the best business climate for six consecutive years, resulting in its lowest unemployment rate since 2001, achieving the title “Hollywood of the South,” serving as a financial tech center, as well as being a leader in logistics, agriculture and aerospace.

“It is a great time to be a Georgian, but it is not time to grow complacent,” noted Kemp. “Let’s pick up a hammer and grab some nails. It is time to start building upon this solid foundation poured by those who came before us,” he added. An educated work force is critical to the future of the state. Therefore, he announced, “I will announce a historic and well-deserved pay raise for our educators.”

Classroom safety is critical to Kemp and in his budget he included $69 million one-time funds for school security grants so that all 2,294 public schools in the state will get $30 thousand to implement school security priorities to be determined at local levels. Mental health counselors are also included in Kemp’s plan, as well as addressing gang activity and organized crime with a gang task force within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

“I’m honored and humbled to serve as Georgia’s Governor. I certainly appreciate the challenges, as well as the opportunities that we have ahead of us, and after traveling to all 159 counties, I know that local chambers played a huge role in recruiting and retaining businesses in our communities and our great state. I look forward to working together for a safer, stronger, and more prosperous Georgia.”

Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan’s Remarks

As a former professional baseball player and small business entrepreneur, the Lt. Governor echoed Governor Kemp’s thanks to the Chamber and said he is “excited to join that sales team to tell the Georgia story all over the world.” He also thanked former Governor Deal and former Lt. Governor Cagle for their efforts and successes.

“Success on the field, most times, does not happen by accident,” said Duncan. “And that’s the picture of Georgia over the past few years. It took hard work, dedication and focus to create the current economic environment we have here in Georgia. Governor Deal and Lt. Governor Cagle have given it absolutely everything they’ve got, and they both should be proud of their success.”

Like Kemp, Duncan emphasized education and the need to reduce bureaucracy and to let teachers teach, and to reform and reduce outdated, disruptive standardized tests. He also encouraged parental/guardian involvement in a child’s education as the best indicator of a student’s potential educational success. It’s also cost-effective and efficient, he added.

On transportation issues, Duncan stated that the state not only has to keep its physical infrastructure shored up, but also has to emphasize the advantages of technology. Likewise, in the area of health care, technology, such as telehealth, can make Georgia a leader in that field. It will improve access in rural areas and improve efficiency in suburbia. He further stressed the need for real-time price transparency to health care consumers across the state. 

In short, the newly elected Lt. Governor wants Georgia to become the technology capital of the Southeast, and mentioned that needed capital investments for such innovation should come from venture capitalists and lenders located within the state.

Duncan also has coined a cornerstone concept he calls the “Four C’s” —Church, Charity, Corporations and Citizens—as having the ability to be more instrumental toward improving communities than the government can because of the talent, the resources, innovation, volunteerism and exit strategies that they bring to bear. 

He concluded, noting that he ended his baseball career as a “closer,” even though he was not the strongest, fastest pitcher. Rather, he attributed his ability to earn that special position due to his “desire to compete and desire to never give up.” He added, “Now I’m going to apply that very same competitive spirit to fight for 11 million Georgians every single morning I walk into my office in the Gold Dome. It’s an absolute honor to be the twelfth Lt. Governor of Georgia and I look forward to working with Governor Kemp, Speaker Ralston, and the rest of the state’s leaders, to not only lead our great state, but to lead an entire nation.”

 Speaker Ralston’s Remarks

Speaker David Ralston congratulated the new Governor and Lt. Governor, saying he looked forward to working with them and with his colleagues. He added that he appreciated the Chamber allowing the day’s platform to express his vision for Georgia’s future. 

From his perspective, when sitting in the Assembly, he notes how he faces 179 members arranged, not by geographic or political divisions or parameters, but interspersed, randomly, mirroring the states’ citizens they represent, as the state’s population grows more diverse, both in its people and its world economy. “I’m very fortunate to lead a House of Representatives that’s not only responsive to change, but embraces the opportunities that change presents.” He went on to say that, in preparation for the upcoming legislative session agenda, committees have already begun to address critical quality of life issues, such as school security, rural development, and transit.

In the area of transportation, focus will shift, according to Ralston, to freight logistics in support of the state’s ocean and inland ports in order to continue the expansion of the economy. “CSX and Norfolk Southern will be invaluable partners in this effort,” he said. 

As for health care, Ralston stated that a special committee on access to health care is addressing regulatory framework and will consider policy changes to make health care more affordable and accessible in every corner of Georgia. Mental health care is another aspect of this committee’s focus.

Ralston also referenced the Georgia entertainment industry, which employs over 200,000 Georgians and adds a $60 billion annual impact on the state’s economy. “The House working group on creative arts and entertainment will work to encourage the growth of these industries and creative economy. They will work to ensure that Georgia has a workforce ready for the jobs these industries are creating throughout our state, and they will identify ways to make certain that we meet every competitive challenge.”

“In my opinion, my perspectives show me that our best days are still ahead of us. If we need any better example of service and what it means to be a Georgian, we can look this morning to the farms of southwest Georgia that were devastated three months ago by an historic hurricane. Many lost everything and some are starting over. In the true spirit of this state they’re back at work and we should do no less. So, as long as I have the honor of serving as your speaker, we will never stop moving forward together as we pursue a brighter future that each and every Georgian deserves. Thank you. May God continue to bless the great state of 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.