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Ga. Chamber chief: Education a top concern for future Ga. business

In terms of attracting major employers and convincing local companies to expand, Georgia has started to pull ahead of others in the southeast, Georgia Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark told the Peachtree City Rotary Club Thursday.

In the last 15 months, Georgia has had about 1,200 corporate locations or expansions, including the Pinewood Atlanta Studios project that is nearing completion in Fayetteville, said Clark, who is a Peachtree City resident and former CEO of the Fayette County Development Authority.

The state last fall was also selected as the number-one state with the best business climate as judged by “Site Selection” magazine, Clark noted.

“It’s a pretty big deal for us to get that,” Clark said, adding that a number of business sectors are growing ranging from heavy equipment, auto and aviation manufacturing to construction and professional services. Even the textile industry, once thought to be lost for good, is making a comeback in the state, he noted.

Pinewood will be a big deal because of the role it will play in Georgia’s $6 billion a year film industry, since the studios’ permanent presence will provide stable jobs, Clark said.

Georgia is already in the top five states in the U.S. in TV and film productions, and the plan is to crack into the top three in the next four or five years, Clark said.

The state’s excellent business climate is a result of policies the state had adopted along with transportation infrastructure such as Hartsfield Jackson Airport, Clark said, adding there is still work to be done. He pointed to a survey of Georgia Chamber members that targeted K-12 education as one of the state’s biggest future concerns.

“Here in Peachtree City and Fayette County we have a great school system,” Clark said. “I have been in schools all over the state every week and I can tell you, not all our kids are getting the same benefits our students are getting here. There are two tiers of graduates: ones who will succeed and ones who don’t have the access or the opportunity to succeed.”

Also on the topic of education, Clark said the chamber was glad to see the legislature abandon a bill this week that targeted elimination of the Common Core education program in state schools. Clark said Common Core is not a “federal takeover” of the school system as its opponents have argued.

The Common Core standards address math and reading with a goal of insuring, for example, that every second grader can add and subtract up to 20, Clark explained.
“It doesn’t say you have to read ‘Mein Kampf’ or anything we don’t want them to read,” Clark said.

Clark said another big issue facing the state is transportation, particularly since the transportation sales tax didn’t pass in metro Atlanta last year. The region’s deteriorating infrastructure needs to be adressed and there will be much time spent looking to see what local and state governments can do to address the problem, along with the private sector, Clark said.

There also has been much talk politically of a lack of federal funding to deepen the Port of Savannah, but the Chamber is confident the funding will come, as the state has already committed its share of the project, Clark said. The catch is that the federal water bill must pass for that to happen, he explained.

“We are the only port with permits ready to go,” Clark said.

The Georgia legislature this year has worked on updating economic development incentives including tax breaks for the digital media industry and even for food banks which play a critical role in the state, Clark said.

The Chamber is ramping up a buy local program aimed at bringing awareness to companies that produce goods here so local and state governments can make an effort to include them in purchasing, Clark said. Government officials and other businesses are being challenged to switch just 2 percent of their purchasing power to local companies.

If that happened in the manufacturing sector alone, it would add a $750 million investment to the state, Clark said, pointing out a local school board in middle Georgia that bought its buses from out of state instead of purchasing them from the Blue Bird bus company located here.

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