Georgia's lack of investment in transportation infrastructure is making the state less attractive to industry, the president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce told local business leaders Friday.
"Other states have passed us," said Chris Clark, new president and CEO of the chamber. "Other states are winning the site selection wars and winning those expansion opportunities because they have
Clark told business leaders gathered at the Chattahoochee Country Club for the chamber's "Power Lunch" that the state is "hundreds of billions of dollars" behind in spending for "simple maintenance" of roads and bridges.
The Georgia Chamber is looking to change that, Clark said, with a campaign in support of the vote for the regional special purpose local option sales tax for transportation, the fate of which voters will decide in a referendum next summer.
"We fight, I think, most of the taxes that go on down at the Capitol," Clark said. "But when you look at the numbers, we don't have much of a choice. This is the vehicle to do it."
The organization has hired a number of political consultants to help spread the message across the state and is offering to help raise money for local chambers of commerce that want to campaign in favor of the transportation sales tax.
But if the local chambers aren't looking for help, Clark said the Georgia Chamber isn't going to push the issue.
"If your region doesn't want to do it — you don't have the support here for it from the business community — we'll invest our money and our time in another part of the state," Clark said. "Because there are regions that do have great (transportation project) lists who are going to make a difference in their economy; they're going to become more competitive and they're already working with us on helping them pass it in their region."
Still, Clark's statements came with a warning that if the local business community did not stand in support of the transportation sales tax, it would fail.
The Georgia Chamber is taking a more proactive approach to policy decisions in the state, Clark told the group.
"We know we have a role to play in being proactive in policy," he said. "We know we need to step up our game and be more aggressive on advocacy."
The organization has created its own political action committee with which to raise and donate funds for political causes and candidates.
Clark encouraged local business leaders to also be partners with government and promised help for anyone who asked.
"When this state works best is when the business community is sitting down at the table with the governor, sitting at the table with the members of the General Assembly and sitting at the table with our congressional delegation," Clark said.
"And that's what we're going to do. We're going to represent you with them and be their partner as we go forward."