Atlantans and Georgians could take some comfort over the Labor Day weekend in knowing that signs point to slow, yet ongoing, progress toward creating jobs and rebuilding our economy.
By the AJC Editorial Board
We’re resilient, resourceful, hard-working and patient. That was worth remembering as this great metro area, state and nation for the most part took a well-earned rest over Labor Day weekend.
It may sound like pablum, but we prefer to think of it as self-affirmation. And that’s important during times of heightened duress, such as we’re all still enduring as the economy continues to putter along. It’s climbing, yes, but moving in frustratingly low gear.
Toss in all of the noise and sharp partisan elbowing to be expected in an election year, and it’s especially refreshing to realize that there are yet encouraging signs visible for Georgians, and Atlantans.
True, 2012 remains a tough year even for those blessed enough to be employed somewhere. We’re working harder as a nation (and presumably as a region, too, since our work ethic’s second to none, in our humble opinion). Again extrapolating national stats, we’re likely taking less time off from work in the face of continual pressure to git ’er done at the office or on the factory floor.
Even so, count yourself lucky each time a paycheck lands your way if you’re among the estimated 4.3 million Georgians, or the 2.5 million Atlantans, still numbered among the ranks of workers according to the Georgia Department of Labor.
There are many amongst us who would no doubt eagerly trade places with job-holders. They’re among the 9.3 percent of Atlantans and Georgians alike who were counted among the unemployed in July.
Yet things are better than a year ago, economy-wise, as implausible as that may sound. Nearly 93,000 more Georgians are working now than in July 2011, when the state jobless rate stood at 10 percent.
These things should fuel a common belief that better days somehow lie ahead. That sort of optimism led our forebears through the Great Depression and other rocky times. We can likewise will, and work, our way through this downturn. Americans at our best remain a resourceful, innovative, even ingenious people.
Most of us know, or have learned the hard way since the Great Recession struck, how to stretch a dollar to meet needs. More importantly, the majority of us are willing to do what it takes to earn a dollar. That truism holds whether we’re workers, would-be employees or among those intrepid souls still willing to risk personal finances to launch a business that could, one day, grow enough to draw new employees into its ranks. Those are potent competitive advantages at America’s core, and they’ll continue to serve us well. That’s especially true in Atlanta, given our history of prosperity-producing innovation. History seems to be repeating itself, given results of the Global Entrepreneur Indicator survey released last month. The findings concluded that “Atlanta entrepreneurs are more optimistic than other regions in nearly every category surveyed.”
These are well-placed reasons for optimism as we all work to rebuild our economy and battered workforce. As U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis recently remarked about her own work, “Labor Day is and always will be every day.” That’s a sentiment likely shared among any job creator or other hard-working Georgian.
In the last year, we’ve made noteworthy progress on what promises to be a long journey back to prosperity. That’s worth celebration this Labor Day holiday. Let’s rest up, too, for there’s much work yet ahead.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board
Region has a toolkit to spur new growth
By Leah Ward Sears
The recent T-SPLOST failure has plunged many economic development groups into gloom. Without question, the referendum staked a major aspect of the region’s economic future on one roll of the electoral dice.
So, how wounded are we in the global battle for jobs, business recruitment and economic expansion? Fortunately, not as wounded as some think. Here’s why.
Transportation infrastructure — while important — is only one piece in a complex puzzle of factors that business executives analyze when choosing where to expand or relocate.
Besides infrastructure, they are equally concerned with labor costs and worker availability; access to customers and markets; a stable, business friendly environment; quality of life and quality of schools, including college and university research networks. A location must do well in all categories to remain viable, but it doesn’t have to be No. 1 in every area to win.
The metro region has most of these assets in abundance. So, in the post-T-SPLOST era, we must accentuate our positives and eliminate the negatives in our new business sales pitches. Assuming greater importance are Georgia’s already-attractive business support and incentive programs.
For example, Georgia’s Quick Start program is a national model for employee training and education that offers free training for businesses that establish a critical mass of jobs in the state. Quick Start played a major role in bringing Baxter International here due to its need for highly skilled, technically trained workers.
In the last legislative session, Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly strengthened the state’s system of jobs and investment tax credits, and new rules for pension investing in emerging businesses enhance already significant assets.
Many local governments augment these state incentives with economic development programs of their own. In the post-T-SPLOST era, state and local economic development agencies must coordinate even better to leverage these programs for maximum impact.
Critics point out that incentives are not a primary factor when companies expand. However, when all primary factors are equal among the places a business is considering, even minor operating cost differences between sites become significant. Over time, small expenditures add up.
Also, Georgia’s incentive programs focus on lowering front-end costs — the time when a company’s relocation or expansion expenses peak — so they help offset at a critical juncture the asset drain inherent in a move or expansion.
Without T-SPLOST, these programs represent government’s most effective investment in job creation and economic development.
Finally, we are not without infrastructure assets. We still have the world’s busiest airport and a port that is now a national priority when it comes to accommodating the new superfreighters that will soon pass through the modernized Panama Canal. Also, while the metro freeways are more clogged than we prefer, they still are highly efficient in helping companies that need to move goods up the Eastern Seaboard or to the Midwest.
So, while the damage of T-SPLOST’s failure is real and our competitors will gleefully discuss it in every new competitive situation, it simply means our remaining assets assume even greater importance in Georgia’s future business recruitment efforts. And as assets, they’re still pretty potent.
Attorney Leah Ward Sears is a retired chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
By pulling together, we’ll move ahead
By Robert Hughes
Given the heated political environment and the tenuous state of the economy, Labor Day has added significance this year. It’s sandwiched between the presidential conventions, where the question foremost in voters’ minds is, “Where are the jobs?”
On this we can all agree: America needs more, better paying and more secure jobs. That song is the same regardless of the choir. But the harmony ends when it comes to the particulars — how did we get to this place of persistent high unemployment and how do we get out? Instead of workable solutions and new ideas, we are treated to a constant refrain of grandstanding and finger-pointing. Politicians, as well as labor and management leaders, have perfected the art of war at the expense of job protection and creation and America’s success in a global economy.
The political conventions and Labor Day rallies are mini-combat training camps where rank-and-file members of the parties, unions and Big Business learn battle cries and tactics for fighting each other. The result will be even more polarization and gridlock in both government and industry, hampering economic growth and employment.
But if we can put aside our ideologies and rhetoric for just a moment, we can find cause for optimism in a tested solution. Just as our major source of conflict can be summed up in the word “jobs,” a solution can also be boiled down to one word: “collaboration.”
In the words of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt in a recent Harvard Business Review piece, collaboration consists of “engaging the entire workforce, from design to development to assembly” and “having the best people but also empowering them to execute.” In a collaborative environment, labor and management address problems as a team. Immelt believes collaboration (or “human innovation”) is critical to America’s ability to compete globally. At its once-struggling Louisville, Ky., refrigerator plant, for example, GE has managed to reduce the time required to produce units by 68 percent. This is among several improvements that have been realized by labor-management product teams that set goals and metrics and work together to achieve them.
In government, Federal Aviation Administration managers and air traffic controllers’ union representatives are working together to drive improvements in technological, procedural and operational areas. In one example, the Washington Air Route Traffic Center produced an airspace redesign plan that will save an estimated $19 million in annual fuel costs while reducing carbon emissions by more than 100,000 tons.
The collaboration process elicits the best ideas from every corner and every level of an organization. It’s not an easy solution; it requires widespread and long-term commitment, collaborative structured, proven processes, training, communication and leadership skill-building. But at its core, as GE’s Immelt tells us, labor-management relations based on honesty and mutual respect, and a recognition that both sides have an interest in the success of the enterprise, can lead to a competitive advantage.
We all agree on the problems — lack of job growth and security. And we know that our current culture of conflict is not working. Political, labor and management leaders should turn their energy from fighting against their fellow Americans to fighting for their fellow Americans. Collaboration can help put our country back to work.
Robert Hughes is founder of Overland Resource Group, a consultancy in Overland Park, Kan.