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Local leaders weigh in on Obama speech
Schrader glad importance of higher education was highlighted
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As national pundits and media outlets spent Wednesday chewing over Tuesday night's State of the Union address, local leaders also reflected on the priorities set in the president's speech.

With many Americans viewing the economy as the key political issue, the president's plans for promoting job growth were of obvious interest to Northeast Georgians.

Two aspects of the economy highlighted in the president's speech were government regulations, which local business leaders say hurt the economy, and higher eduction, which college and university officials say will affect America's future economic growth.

One consistent obstacle for businesses has been burdensome regulations, said Frank Norton, president of the real estate firm The Norton Agency in Gainesville.

Too many "well-minded" regulations are compounding problems for business owners, who battle mountains of paperwork, Norton said.

Those regulations aren't just from the federal government, he said, but from state and local agencies, as well.

In the State of the Union speech, President Obama acknowledged some regulations are outdated and burdensome to businesses. However, rather than calling for a large-scale rollback of regulations, the president instead called for a policy of "smart" regulations.

"Smart is in the eye of the beholder," Norton said on Wednesday. "I think efficiency in regulation is very important."

Kit Dunlap, president of the Hall County Chamber of Commerce, said she agrees that regulations are a problem for economic growth. However, she expects effective regulatory reform to come from local and state government.

"I don't have much faith that Washington will do anything about (regulations)," said Dunlap on Wednesday.

While local business leaders may not be impressed with the president's current job proposals, officials from Northeast Georgia colleges and universities got a boost from the president's emphasis on higher education — even if it came with a criticism about cost.

In his speech, Obama said, "Higher education can't be a luxury — it's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."

Ed Schrader, president of Brenau University, said he's "encouraged" that the president highlighted the economic importance of higher education.

That comes weeks after Gov. Nathan Deal called for increased higher education funding to account for enrollment growth in Georgia's technical colleges and universities.

"We have a Republican governor and a Democratic president saying we need a better-trained work force (through higher education)," Schrader said.

However, the president's speech also took aim at the rising cost of tuition.

At one point in his speech, President Obama said, "If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down."

Mac McConnell, vice president for business and finance at North Georgia College & State University, said much of the recent increases in state university tuition has followed a decrease in taxpayer funding from the state and increases in enrollment.

"Tuition has had to go up to place enough teachers in the classroom," he said.

Still, McConnell describes North Georgia College as "cost conscious" with new economic realities. The college's looming merger with Gainesville State College will go even further in those efforts, he said.

 

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