With upcoming elections and business issues on his mind, Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Monday shared his thoughts about what lies ahead for Georgia and its residents at the Gainesville Rotary Club’s meeting at First Baptist Church.
“You can just feel things getting better,” Kemp told more than 100 attendees. “We really feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”
With the state’s candidate qualifying period to close in early March, Kemp expressed gratitude to the General Assembly for changing the primary election schedule to coincide with the federal calendar as its first order of business during this year’s session. But now that the primary has been moved up to May 20, with absentee ballots to be mailed beginning in early April, Kemp wondered if Georgia voters were aware of how little time remained until election season.
“I don’t think that’s gotten on the radar screen of a lot of citizens,” he said.
Kemp explained the remainder of the new election calendar to attendees, pointing out the primary runoff period lasts nine weeks.
In the event runoffs are needed, “You will have nine weeks of hate mail ... you’ll have that to look forward to,” Kemp said, which drew uneasy laughter.
Kemp said general election runoffs would take place four weeks after Election Day, Nov. 4, for all statewide offices, if needed, while federal election runoffs wouldn’t take place until after the new year, a prospect he called “miserable.”
“Hopefully, we don’t have that scenario,” where campaigns are running during the holiday season, he added.
Asked whether the state would soon move to online voting, Kemp said the security and technology needed is about 10 to 15 years out.
“I don’t think we’re quite ready for online voting yet,” he added.
Many small business owners attended the meeting, and Kemp addressed many of their concerns about state regulations, economic development and other issues.
As a supporter of small businesses, Kemp said his focus as secretary of state remained on cutting red tape and expanding opportunities for growth.
The business license renewal season is now underway, Kemp said. After difficulties handling hundreds of thousands of corporate and small business renewals over the past two years as the state began requiring proof of residency papers, a transition he called “rough,” Kemp said he expected things to go much smoother this time around.
His office is already handling upward of 3,000 renewals per day, a higher-than-normal volume, and perhaps an indicator businesses are faring better.
Despite having cut his department’s personnel by more than 30 percent since 2008, Kemp said recent consolidations and reorganizations have cleared a backlog of renewal applications.
“That’s only going to get better over the next 12 months,” he added.
Kemp addressed two key initiatives the state has undertaken to lure industries to Georgia and help grow those already operating here.
The first is the Invest Georgia Exemption that allows entrepreneurs to raise capital from local investors, while promising to deposit that money with banks authorized to operate in Georgia, without some of the federal regulatory hurdles often associated with growing a startup.
“It’s another piece of the economic development puzzle,” Kemp said.
Small businesses often can’t rely on “friends and family money,” Kemp said, adding he hopes the exemption will help the state retain emerging industries.
“We’ve had an issue of losing some of those folks to other places,” such as San Francisco and Boston, Kemp said.
The second economic development initiative that has been a boon for the state involves tax credits for the movie industry. The credits are responsible for the shooting of a number of Hollywood flicks in the Peach State, including movies starring Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler. The state reports television networks, movie studios and independent filmmakers invested more than $3 billion in Georgia in 2012.
“The Georgia film tax credit has been phenomenal for the state,” Kemp said.
Kemp received mostly positive reviews from attendees, though some expressed cautious optimism about his remarks.
Larry Griffeth, owner of Light Sources Inc., a commercial photography business in Gainesville, said he appreciated that Kemp discussed efforts to fix some of the problems that have recently plagued the secretary of state’s office.
“Hopefully, the glitches are out of the system,” Griffeth added, referring to issues that had held up corporate tax returns in previous years.
Marsha Hopkins, a consultant and community volunteer, said she was impressed by the work done within Kemp’s office to manage budget cuts and develop more efficient ways to meet residents’ demands.
Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said she liked that Kemp addressed the upcoming election calendar, as well as incentives for businesses to prosper in Hall County.
Kemp, a Republican, parted with a hopeful outlook and a jab at the federal government.
“I’m very optimistic about the direction we’re heading ... despite what’s going on sometimes in Washington,” he said.