Economic Diversity, State Leadership: A Recipe for Georgia’s Success

By Kelly McCutchen 

KELLY McCUTCHEN President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

KELLY McCUTCHEN
President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Many older Georgians recall our economic leadership in what were called the “Four Ps” – peanuts, poultry, pine trees and pecans. These were solid building blocks of the Georgia economy decades ago, and we can be proud that Georgia still leads in these areas.

Over the years, Georgia became home to worldwide industry-leading businesses like Delta, UPS, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Aflac, Gulfstream, AGCO, Shaw Industries, Mohawk Industries, Newell Rubbermaid, Flowers Industries and many others.

Moving into the 21st-century economy, Georgia added highly innovative communities of industry to the state. The state has become a leader in health care information technology, financial technology, information security, video game development, interactive marketing, logistics, communications and television and film production.

Among our accomplishments:

  • Georgia has become the nation’s health IT capital.
  • The state’s financial technology networks handle an astounding 75 percent of the nation’s payment-card transactions.
  • The rapidly growing Georgia film industry produces the most-watched drama series in basic cable history (and the No. 1 show on television with the coveted 18- to- 49-year-old demographic), “The Walking Dead.”

These successes are neither luck nor happenstance. Georgia’s latest wave of industry leadership is a result of the hard work of highly innovative, entrepreneurial and wonderfully creative people who took advantage of Georgia’s favorable business climate, higher education systems, airports and workforce.

Even better news is that as these creative communities in Georgia make their mark as worldwide industry leaders, they are attracting startups and firms from other states that hope to benefit from the specialized workforces and business-to-business opportunities we have to offer.

For those of us in the public policy world, these are all very encouraging developments. They demonstrate the future of business development emerging from low-regulation, low-tax policies that allow businesses to focus on their core business, rather than seeking permission from government before making a move.

While it is true that the pace and volume of innovation and economic diversification at these technology-driven firms make it harder for Georgia’s elected officials to keep up, there is encouraging news on this front, too. The state’s leadership is on board.

Gov. Nathan Deal has consistently sought to sell Georgia as a business-friendly environment with light-touch regulation and a welcoming attitude from government. He has worked closely with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to build support for the deepening of the harbor in Savannah, home of the largest and fastest-growing port in North America. Our congressional delegation is showing a real interest in the new technology-driven economy as well.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia has formed the Senate Payments Innovation Caucus, which will focus on educating his fellow senators and their staff on the growing financial technology sector, including issues of data security, consumer protection, innovation and lower-income consumers’ access to electronic financial services. This follows a similar, bipartisan effort in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Republican Lynn Westmoreland and Democrat David Scott, both of Georgia.

Fostering a welcoming business climate and keeping Washington regulators at bay while Georgia companies innovate their way to greater international leadership roles is exactly the right formula for economic growth.

There’s no denying Georgia still has public policy challenges; specifically, an education system and employment rate that both need improvement. A growing, more diverse economy can only help.

Georgians are justifiably proud of our leading and growing role in all these industries: our agricultural base, our Fortune 500 stars and our new technology sectors. We should be equally proud of the bipartisan efforts put forth to keep them – and the state’s economy – growing.

Kelly McCutchen is president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.