WARM SPRINGS — Georgians who ponder the jobs of the future should see what’s bubbling up now in a place best known for its past.
It was here that Franklin D. Roosevelt died at his Little White House, having visited Warm Springs for two decades in the hopes of regaining the use of his legs. Today, this town of 425 souls, about two-thirds of the way from Atlanta to Columbus as the crow flies, is still host to a rehabilitation center that is under-used but first-rate. The aspiration is to build it into an invaluable resource for wounded soldiers — and a centerpiece of Georgia’s prowess and promise in bio-science.
The Georgia Warrior Alliance, a joint project of businesses and philanthropies focused on health care and veterans, brings wounded soldiers to the facilities at Warm Springs. Here, they can heal their bodies and, soon, learn work skills — from manufacturing and construction to golf course maintenance.
This is “the right thing to do” for our veterans, says an alliance co-founder, Ross Mason. It has the added potential to turn Georgia into a hub not only for the military but for research and treatment of trauma injuries.
Georgia, Mason says, has: the largest warrior-transition battalion in America at Fort Benning, just down the road from Warm Springs; the largest number of active-duty soldiers with spinal-cord injuries; and some of the nation’s largest facilities for treating burns and trauma brain injuries, both in Augusta.
Now, combine those needs and resources with the work being done at Emory, Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Morehouse and the medical college in Augusta. Those schools already are national leaders in such fields as biomedical engineering, orthotics and prosthetics, and tissue engineering.
Start by serving the needs of veterans, further develop our strengths, and Mason believes Georgia could draw the capital and the commercial and philanthropic resources to become to regenerative medicine what the Research Triangle is to pharmaceuticals and Silicon Valley is to computing. With the state’s economic future up in the air, success in this kind of venture will be crucial.
“What would Georgia look like if you removed Ted Turner, Robert Woodruff and Bernie Marcus” from our history, Mason asks. “We can see it in the rear-view mirror, but what we’re not doing is creating the next generation of innovators.”
Or, perhaps, we are creating the innovators but not yet finding ways to capitalize on their work.
The alliance already has other programs for veterans under way. Last year it staged six camps for 300 wounded soldiers and their families, and more are planned at Warm Springs and nearby Callaway Gardens. The idea, retired four-star Gen. Larry R. Ellis said at a ceremony last week marking the 67th anniversary of Roosevelt’s death, is to address what soldiers returning from combat call their top need: “A safe environment to decompress from the stresses of combat and re-engage with their families before re-entering society.”
About one in five Americans who commit suicide each year is a veteran, Ellis said, and the divorce rate for military families has reached 81 percent if a spouse has two deployments. In the case of three or more deployments, it’s 93 percent.
The alliance, with Georgia Tech, also is developing a web portal to help military families navigate the thousands of nonprofit resources available to them, including 24-hour counseling services. The portal also will offer links to job listings and online education courses: A critical issue as hundreds of thousands of veterans return home is preparing them for a still-sluggish job market.
To take the big next steps, however, the state needs to make some changes to public policy.
Eliminating or cutting the state income tax is one. The special council that studied tax reform two years ago found that the kind of entrepreneurs we need to attract are turned off by our 6 percent income tax rate, particularly when neighboring Florida and Tennessee have rates of zero. So far, that finding has gone nowhere in the Legislature.
Others are more technical. Mason pitches a statewide telemedicine network linking the state’s best health facilities with its poorest counties. Another need is business-friendly standards for licensing technology created in our universities, to ensure they make it to market rather than sitting on the shelf, unused.
Ross Mason is right: These are the right things to do — for soldiers, their families, and all Georgians.
– By Kyle Wingfield