Eggs and Issues: Protecting what we've built today, preserving prosperity for tomorrow

January 12, 2016

Senator Isakson, Lt. Governor Cagle, Speaker Ralston, Members of the General Assembly, Chairman Lingenfelter, Former-Chairman Bowers, leaders of the Georgia Chamber and leaders of other Chambers throughout our State:

It’s always a pleasure to speak before this group of industry and community leaders from across our great state, but it’s a special honor to speak after Senator Isakson whose courageous leadership in Washington has helped Georgia become and remain the No. 1 state in which to do business.  He has aided in fending off the onerous proposed EPA rule that would redefine “tributaries” in the Clean Water Act in such a way that would harm those who operate in Georgia’s largest industry – agribusiness.  He was instrumental in getting the necessary federal authorizing legislation passed that would ensure the viability of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.  And he encouraged the recent passage of the long-term transportation bill, the first of its kind since 2005.  

As the most senior member and leader of our Congressional delegation, we can always call on Johnny when we’re in need.  Time and again he has come through for us, and I am sure his constituents will remember that this Fall and reciprocate that loyalty.  So I thank you, Johnny, for your service and continued leadership as we endeavor to keep Georgia No. 1 by further enriching our business-friendly climate and policies.

This morning, I want to talk to you about what we have built over the last five years by working together, and how we preserve and build on these successes.

Since 2011, we have seen over 452,000 new private sector jobs in Georgia and our unemployment rate has declined by roughly half to 5.6 percent.  The construction sector of our economy, which was one of the hardest hit sectors during the Great Recession, has rebounded and is now the third lowest unemployment rate in the country at 4 percent.

In this first month of 2016 alone, there will be announcements of 3,134 additional new jobs coming to Georgia, representing almost $376 million of capital investment.

I call your attention to the map on the screen. Each dot is color-coded to represent activities by one or more of the Department of Economic Development’s eight divisions.  This integrated approach, and working with local city and county Economic Development agencies, has helped produce the phenomenal growth of jobs in our state. This has been a major factor in achieving the designation for the third consecutive year of the best state in which to do business. 

Is it any wonder that in November of 2014, based on a survey of U.S. corporate executives, the International Economic Development Council named the Georgia Department of Economic Development the No. 1 economic development agency in the country?  

Please join me in thanking former Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey for his efforts in beginning this journey of excellence and current Commissioner Chris Carr who has continued and expanded on it and, especially, their hard working and often under-recognized team.

I thank you and your local partners throughout the state for your exceptional skills and dedication to bettering Georgia’s future.

The number of Fortune 500 companies that choose to call Georgia home has increased every year that I have been in office, and Atlanta ranks in the top three cities in the nation for number of Fortune 500 headquarters.  Since July 2014 alone, we have announced at least 15 corporate headquarter relocations to Georgia.  We’ve increased our Rainy Day Fund every year to ensure that our Triple-A bond rating is safe, all while lowering taxes on businesses and families.  This fund currently stands at more than $1.43 billion, an increase of 1,133.6 percent since FY 2010. 

We are now the Silicon Valley of the South, and after last year’s film and entertainment numbers, we might as well be called the Hollywood of the South, too. In fact, feature films and television productions generated a statewide economic impact of more than $6 billion during fiscal year 2015.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film and television industry is responsible for more than 79,000 jobs and roughly $4 billion in total wages in Georgia.  These are high-quality jobs, with an average salary of nearly $84,000, 75 percent higher than the average salary nationwide.  According to the local International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, Georgia residents on average make up 85 percent of the crew on television projects and features that shoot here, and out of the people that are brought in from other states, about 10 percent stay behind in Georgia.  There are nearly 3,000 motion picture and television industry businesses in Georgia, including 1,957 production-related companies, and more than 120 companies have come to our state since the film incentives were first passed. 

So let me state here and now that I am committed to protecting the film tax credits that make this type of blockbuster economic impact possible.  Why would anyone want to make changes to our current system which would only infringe on an industry that employs thousands of Georgians, brings new business to our state regularly and generates billions of dollars in our statewide economy?  We have found an incentives structure that works.  I see no need to alter or fix something that is not broken. 

On the contrary, we should aim to enhance our benefit from this growing industry.  That’s why I chose this venue last year to announce the creation of our new Georgia Film Academy.  Although literally thousands of people have entered the local crew base on productions in our state, we are still experiencing a crew shortage.  I’m happy to report that the Georgia Film Academy is now in the first few days of its inaugural semester and has begun to fast track students in the industry so that this shortage will be only a temporary concern.  In addition to growing the crew base, one of our primary goals is to grow our support service infrastructure so that productions and the businesses that they bring continue to choose Georgia over competing states.  If we maintain the incentives we have built thus far, we will enjoy many more billions in economic impact over the coming years. 

The exceptional number of new jobs in our state is directly linked to the transportation assets we maintain throughout Georgia.  These resources set our state apart and have made us the economic leader in the Southeast.  As is often said, Georgia said yes when some of our neighbors said no, and that has made all the difference.  Our willingness to accept game changing projects and see them through is why we continue to see more and more companies come to our communities, more job opportunities come to our families and more year-over-year increases in metrics that truly matter to the long-term success of this state and your businesses.

Metrics like the amount of goods constantly moving through our state to the coast and beyond.  Including both ports in Savannah and Brunswick, the Georgia Ports Authority experienced a sixth consecutive record year in FY 2015, with total tonnage reaching 31.69 million tons, up 7.8 percent, or 2.29 million tons, over the previous year.  With our recently announced inland Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County coming online in 2018, you’ll soon see even more containers coming through the ports for export to foreign markets.

To protect and enhance this invaluable asset to our state, I promised that I would not accept any more excuses or delays in the long overdue Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.  In FY 2015, I signed a $35 million bond package for the Savannah Harbor deepening project on top of the $50 million in bonds the prior year, bringing our total SHEP funding to the required state amount of roughly $266 million.  All of this was on top of the funding we put in place for the Jimmy DeLoach parkway leading to the ports.  Almost a year ago, we finally began this vital undertaking after the state fully committed all of its portion of the $706 million project. 

Now, I have had the honor of serving with the members of our Congressional delegation for years, and I am confident in their ability to ensure that the federal government keeps its end of the bargain by funding its $440 million portion of this project, which is the only missing piece in this long overdue undertaking.  It has only provided roughly $67 million for SHEP to date, and should it fail to allocate at least $90 million for the expansion in this next budget cycle, it could set the timetable for this project, which should have been completed years ago, back even further.  Georgia has not delayed in fulfilling its responsibilities. I’m confident that our congressional delegation will not allow the federal government to delay fulfilling its obligations either.

As we continue to expand our infrastructure assets like the Savannah Harbor, we must also further our efforts to keep those who travel our roadways safe.  As truck traffic increases in coastal Georgia because of SHEP, my office and the Department of Public Safety are committed to providing additional enforcement efforts in order to improve the safety of our citizens on the highway.  That’s why I devoted an extra $10 million last year to the expansion of DPS personnel and resources along key transportation corridors, including Interstates 16 and 95 that connect the ports with the rest of Georgia. 

In that same vein of strengthening our infrastructure and protecting those who utilize it, since the last time I came before you, we have successfully passed an historic transportation bill that paves the way forward in meeting the demands of both commuters and companies that operate in Georgia.  It will allow us to maintain our current roads and highways, improve our freight corridors and provide congestion relief for those who are tired of having to spend hours on the road getting to and from work when they could be spending that time with their families. 

These resources will be generated by those who use the roads and are not a result of an income tax increase.  Thanks to the bold action of the General Assembly, we have removed an impediment to proper road maintenance.  We can now not only build new highways, we can better maintain and improve the roads and bridges we have: something we could not adequately do prior to HB 170. 

In just a couple of hours from now, I will be joined by other state leaders, the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, the DOT Board and others at the Capitol for the unveiling of the most aggressive plan for the improvement of our transportation corridors since the first Interstate Highways came to our state.  I think that you will be pleased with what you see and hear.

We aren’t just improving our transportation infrastructure, though, we’re also strengthening our workforce infrastructure.  My administration has enacted policies designed to build a modern pool of job applicants and reinforce the technical college system which provides the workers of tomorrow with the in-demand skills that employers need to thrive in our modern economy.  In the past several years, we have increased the number of fields that qualify for the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant so that 140 programs and hundreds of individual courses now fall into the 11 grant categories.  This year, I am calling on the General Assembly and our higher education leaders to add another field to this important list: industrial maintenance.

We see signs of growth all around us, and with that growth comes a need for skilled laborers who preserve the buildings and structures we use every day.  One of the more prominent physical reminders of Georgia’s growing prosperity is the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is growing in size every day just across the way from where we now sit.  That project alone is generating more than $400 million in total statewide economic impact, including more than $160 million in personal income, and will create roughly 4,500 jobs over the course of its three-year construction period.

The promise of the stadium has already made Georgia a contender to host major sporting events, including a possible Super Bowl, a FIFA World Cup, a College Football National Championship, and an NCAA Men’s Final Four Tournament.  Combined, just these four events alone have a potential economic impact of hundreds of millions. So my goal as governor is to bring more investments of that nature and scale to Georgia and to ensure that we have enough skilled hands to bring them to completion and maintain their use over the course of generations.

This past year I signed into law bills that accelerated dual enrollment and our and “Move on When Ready” initiative.  Both pieces of legislation have now streamlined available options and removed barriers to those students who want to enter the workforce quicker and more prepared.  To our renowned Georgia Quick Start program, we also added the new WorkSmart program just a couple of months ago.  This work-based learning initiative has been designed to assist Georgia companies in developing and implementing customized training programs to meet their specific workforce needs so that we can avoid any skills gaps and remain the No. 1 state for business in the years to come.

A truly robust workforce pipeline, however, does not start upon an employee’s entrance into the job market.  It begins when a child enters a classroom for the first time.  That’s why my administration has increased education spending every year that I have been in office.  If my Amended Budget for this year is approved, we will have devoted over $100 million since FY2014 to ensure that every school system in Georgia is connected to the internet and at broadband speed so that students can learn from the most up-to-date delivery methods available.  As technology continues to revolutionize our economy, it only makes sense that our classrooms should benefit from these new tools for teaching as well. 

We’re building a workforce for today and tomorrow to preserve the prosperity business leaders like you and our principled, conservative policies have built this past half decade.  But if we seek to truly safeguard what we have earned and worked so hard to keep, we can no longer tolerate failure in our education system.  If we want to pass on something of value to our children and grandchildren, we should grant them the greatest inheritance we can afford them: a quality education that leads to success beyond the classroom.  If we want to remain No. 1, we need an education system that ultimately produces workers capable of doing the job and doing it well.

As we continue to improve our state, I look forward to the day when our economic development representatives who speak with out-of-state businesses aren’t asked the questions “What about your failing schools?  Where can our employees send their children to receive a quality education?  Where can we live and feel confident in knowing that our children won’t be forced to attend a failing school?”  Those haunting questions have cost Georgians jobs, opportunities, and worst of all, they have cost so many of our children a promising future. 

So I am asking all of you to get involved as we move closer to this year’s election when the people of Georgia will have their say on the Opportunity School District.  I firmly believe that preparing our students for a life and career in the 21st century marketplace should not begin on their last day of high school.  It should not begin on their first day of high school, nor their last day of primary school.  Preparing our students for the workforce or the college classroom should begin the moment they step foot into a Georgia school for the very first time.

If you believe as I do, if you recognize that we can and must do better for our children, if you want to make sure that the generations that follow us are prepared to step into jobs upon completion of their formal education, then join our efforts to improve our K-12 education system. 

As in so many areas of life, government can only do so much.  We need civic and business leaders like you to tell those in your community about the damage failing schools can cause.  We need you to ask questions, to demand accountability from those who mold a student’s mind, and to help us forge a better way for those 74,000 students trapped in chronically failing schools whose futures are determined not by merit, ability or determination, but rather by their zip code.  It’s a challenge that impacts all of us one way or another, and it’s one that we should gladly work together to overcome. 

And when we have found what works best for all students, no matter what lot in life they are given, let us do as we have done in other matters: preserve what is effective and efficient, address what is not, and continue to build on our successes.  In that way, we can provide stability for employer and employee alike, allow business to flourish with little bureaucratic intrusion, and protect the prosperity, the growing economic reach, and the bright promise that together we have built over these past five years. 

I’m reminded of the famed ad campaign “We Try Harder,” in which an auto rental company capitalized on its underdog status. Because they were only ranked No. 2, the company was motivated to “try harder. Or else.”

I want to assure you that my team and I will work even harder in the coming years to break the records we’ve already set. Not content to rest on our laurels, we will continue as ‘leader of the pack’ and build upon our successes. Our designation as a top-ranked state for business has bolstered our reputation globally. It’s also fueled our determination to do better and achieve more.  I urge you to continue along with me in this exciting venture. 

Now that I’ve finished addressing my issues, I trust that you have finished addressing your eggs. 

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