I want to thank the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for once again inviting me to address this assembly of industry, state and community leaders to share with you just how we are moving Georgia forward and improving the prosperity of our citizens. I want to share with you our progress in terms of our state economy and highlight some important developments on the horizon for Georgia.
As our state’s population and industries have continued to grow these past several years, we’ve seen regular increases in state revenue. That is why my FY2018 budget will include a 3.6 percent increase over the amended FY2017 budget. Let me take a moment to point out to you, however, that according to the Office of Planning and Budget, 83 percent of our budget is growth-mandated and required spending. That leaves only 17 percent of our budget for discretionary spending – a difficult circumstance when one considers all the demands and desires of how that limited money should be spent.
And yet we have been able to budget our revenues so strategically and conservatively that our Revenue Shortfall Reserve, or Rainy Day Fund, has now exceeded $2 billion – a goal I had set for the end of my term in office. When I was first elected, our reserves stood at $116 million. Today, they are at approximately 2 billion, 33 million dollars. I believe that we will have a reserve of at least $2.5 billion by the time I leave office.
That is just one direct sign of the impact our policies are having. Another is the state of our employment numbers. I am proud to say that every year since I have been in office, Georgia’s unemployment rate has fallen. In January of 2011, it was a staggering 10.4 percent. Today, it stands at 5.3 percent. During that period, we have seen over 575,000 new, private sector jobs come to Georgia. 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?
Over the past six years, Georgia has been fortunate to have three exceptional heads of the Department of Economic Development: Chris Cummiskey, Chris Carr and now Pat Wilson. During that time, this agency was recognized as the No. 1 economic development department in the nation. Let’s give all of those talented and hardworking men and women a round of applause.
Thanks to their efforts, and those of so many others on the state and local level, our jobs numbers are not the only metrics we can use to gauge our success. A clear sign of any location’s quality is its level of desirability. For multiple years running, we have broken records in terms of tourism, film and television production, and trade. And this is just the beginning.
We’ll continue to see numbers like these as we further improve our transportation system. At last year’s Eggs and Issues, I previewed our unveiling of an $11 billion, 10-year transportation plan – the most aggressive of its kind since the first interstate highways came to Georgia. At that unveiling, I joined other state leaders, the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation and the DOT Board members in promising that this plan would be open and transparent. In keeping with that promise, I’d like to share with you where we are in the execution of this plan and the state of our ongoing transportation projects.
On the screens to either side, you will find both our 18-month transportation plan, with projects already underway, and our 10-year plan that will revolutionize the state of our current transportation system throughout Georgia.
As you know from the orange barrels and cones on our roadways, many improvements are already underway. Because of the General Assembly’s actions on my administration’s proposed transportation funding bill, we will be able to break ground on several projects much sooner than originally expected. Two such projects will begin in FY2018:
- The widening of I‑85 North from Hamilton Mill Road to SR 211. This particular project will result in a total of 13 additional lane miles with an expected reduction in delay of 56 percent for commuters.
- The widening of I‑16 from I‑516 to I‑95, which will result in 12 additional lane miles with an expected reduction in delay of 32 percent.
For further information on these projects and any others, ongoing or planned, you can always visit www.GAroads.org.
We have indeed come far in a very short amount of time. Within the past decade, we have become the 8th most populous state, growing by over 1.15 million citizens since 2006. Our growing population, robust economy and record-setting industries all set us apart from both our neighboring states and those farther away.
We have earned and maintained these distinctions because we realize that our economy is dynamic and requires that we be flexible and able to adapt when new opportunities present themselves. As we look to the future, we do so with the intention of finding better ways to serve our citizens and the generations that will follow them.
In a world where technology now drives almost every aspect of our lives, that means we must develop and maintain a workforce and the digital resources necessary to meet the ongoing demands of employers and combat those who would undermine the prosperity we have worked so hard to achieve.
In 2013, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Johnny Isakson, former Sen. Saxby Chambliss and the members of our Congressional delegation, the U.S. Army announced that it would build a new cyber command headquarters alongside the National Security Agency (NSA) facilities at Fort Gordon in Augusta. Less than two months ago, military officials broke ground on those future headquarters. Fort Gordon is already home to the Cyber Center of Excellence, a training facility for cyberspace operations. And soon, we will begin construction on another tool in our arsenal for security and economic development in the form of the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center.
This will be a state-owned facility designed to promote modernization in cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity in the public and private arenas.
The reality is cybersecurity is important because cybercrime is now bigger than the global black market in marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined. It speaks volumes that Georgia will be home to this center of innovation and cyber defense. This will be yet another star in our expanding constellation of excellence.
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.
Our K-12 education policies encourage such growth in high-demand fields, and our emphasis on STEM and computer coding in earlier grades provides the skills at a young age which the employers of today and tomorrow look for. I’d like to highlight two of the areas of innovation that are producing exceptional results and possibilities for the future. Our Move On When Ready and apprenticeship programs have shown tremendous growth since their creation. This past fall, we had almost 15,000 high school students enrolled in a Move On When Ready program – 2,000 more than the previous year. 157 Georgia companies are participating in our apprenticeship programs, serving over 6,000 active apprentices with 2,450 new participants this year alone – more than a 40 percent increase over the previous year.
With such opportunities to acquire firsthand experience in so many industries, these students will be better prepared for a future that is quickly approaching. Georgia has, and will continue to have, a robust workforce capable of meeting the challenges of today, tomorrow and beyond.
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.