There’s only one way to look at transportation, says Chris Cummiskey, chief of the Georgia Economic Development Department. Does it help or hinder job creation?
On the positive side, he said, Hartsfield-Jackson and the Savannah-Brunswick ports help enormously when he tries to woo companies here.
On the negative side, well, you know. You live it everyday. Traffic congestion in metro Atlanta is a considerable hurdle to overcome when he talks with prospects. That’s why he thinks it’s critical for voters to approve next year’s transportation referendum on a 1 percent sales tax to fund about $8 billion in projects in metro Atlanta.
“Unemployment is too high in Georgia,” said Cummiskey, 36, who was named to his post by Gov. Nathan Deal six months ago. “The referendum has everything to do with economic development — gaining jobs. It’s integral to the economic future of Georgia.”
That future depends on how Georgia plays its cards in the increasingly competitive game of corporate recruitment, said Cummiskey, a UGA grad.
“It’s like college football recruiting. There’s bad-mouthing by others,” he said.
In addition to transportation, Cummiskey said Georgia is vulnerable to attacks over water and primary and secondary education. States like Tennessee and Alabama have been “closing the gap” with Georgia when it comes to luring jobs, he conceded. But he still thinks “we’re a leader.” (I have my doubts.)
To maintain and then widen the gap, he said, developing an effective recruitment strategy has become even more important. To do that, Cummiskey and the head of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Chris Clark, will hold strategy sessions with business and community leaders throughout the state starting next week. Created by Gov. Deal, the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative is charged with developing a game plan by the fall.
That includes making sure the state’s current focus for creating jobs coincides with our primary strengths. The state has been concentrating on five industries — advanced manufacturing (including aerospace and autos), agribusiness, energy, logistics and life sciences.
Should that list be changed or does it still make sense? The meetings will help answer that question, Cummiskey said.
During our interview, he was particularly bullish on trying to lure manufacturers of large equipment, given the rising cost of fuel that can make overseas sites less competitive. The wide variety of courses offered by Georgia’s technical colleges, combined with the state’s Quick Start program, which provides free worker training at new and expanding plants, helps when recruiting factories.
On the biotech front, Cummiskey cited the strength of our universities. But the state remains behind the curve when it comes to providing access to the venture capital needed to commercialize the ideas coming out of academia. In fact, he said, Georgia remains the only state that prohibits a portion of its employee pension funds to be used as venture capital.
“I personally think it needs to be changed,” he said.
So do I. It’s been talked about for years, but nothing seems to happen in the Legislature. So we lose promising businesses to other states. Given our abnormally high jobless rate, isn’t it about time to change that?
- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat
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