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Guest column: Georgia has the makings of a prosperous, worldwide brand
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Centuries later, Charles Dickens’ line still sums up today: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

First, the worst.

Every morning, Georgians awake looking to see if good economic news has come with the sunrise. Individuals, families, businesses and our state government are scrambling to survive until that good news comes. My grandmother preached, "Honey, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger."

Yes, it is the worst of times, but as leaders, we cannot let the current circumstances kill our spirit. We will be stronger when we survive this economic chaos.

Now, the best.

Our first priority is to make the most of what we have while concentrating on our mission: "Creating a more educated Georgia." Every year, our students in the University System of Georgia get a better return on their education investment dollars. Even in horrible financial times, their diplomas are increasing in value.

Gen. George Marshall said that a leader is a person who exerts an influence that makes you want to do better than you thought you could. I believe one of our roles as leaders on the Board of Regents is to dispense, along with diplomas, hope of a brighter future for our citizens. Here’s an idea that is not "brand new," but it’s time we pour new energy into this effort.

California has Silicon Valley. North Carolina has The Research Triangle. Both brands are globally-renowned centers of innovation and prosperity. What does Georgia have? I suggest more, but we just haven’t developed our brand ... yet. Consider these incredible resources:

1. Two of the top public universities in the nation, Georgia Tech and The University of Georgia, plus other top-flight research institutions in the system, Georgia State University and the Medical College of Georgia.

2. Emory University

3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

4. The Georgia Research Alliance

5. The Fort McPherson initiative

6. Home of multiple Fortune 500 companies

7. The Woodruff Foundation and a host of visionary philanthropists

8. Hartsfield-Jackson International

9. Our geographic diversity and location

10. The unsinkable ingenuity of Georgians

When I’m interviewing candidates for employment, regardless of their ages, I always ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I’m looking for associates who want to keep growing. Viewed against most sovereign nations, the state of Georgia is a mere infant. So, we need to ask ourselves, "What does Georgia want to be when it grows up?"

In these uncertain financial times, we need to explore the opportunity for Georgia to brand itself as a bio-medical research Mecca. Examine the 10 advantages above. What better place is there than the University System of Georgia to initiate the brainstorming needed to capitalize on our strengths? And look at the "wow factor" of our potential partners, just around the corner. If we work together, imagine the possibilities.

If we had the benefits of a powerful brand like Silicon Valley or The Research Triangle working for us, consider the economic benefit not for just the landscape between Atlanta, Athens and Augusta, but all of Georgia. More and better-paying jobs are the stairs that will lead us out of this economic pit.

I am reminded of the construction worker who was being hurried by his supervisor. The bricklayer reminded his boss, "But Rome wasn’t built in a day." And the reply came, "Yeah, but I wasn’t the foreman on that job."

This idea to brand Georgia as a bio-medical research powerhouse won’t be built in a day, but we can be the foreman of this opportunity. And we should seize this moment — despite the economic situation, in fact precisely because of it — to create the brand and establish Georgia in the minds and wallets of businesses and investors.

That’s why we cannot be overwhelmed by the worst of times. We must get busy, today, stoking the fires of imagination so we can brand ourselves to the world and enjoy the benefits of a new prosperity.

Dink NeSmith is president of Community Newspapers Inc. in Athens and represents the 10th Congressional District on the state Board of Regents.

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