With about 85 to 90 percent of businesses in Hall County considered small businesses, according to Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce President Kit Dunlap, a group of Hall business leaders spoke Tuesday, Aug. 14 about what owners can expect from the current economic and political climate in coming years.
A major focus of the panel at Featherbone Communiversity was access to resources — health care, infrastructure such as broadband and quality employees.
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who co-owns Milton Martin Honda in Gainesville, said 100 of Georgia’s 159 counties are rural areas, and people in those counties, many of them neighbors of Hall, should have access to the same resources, particularly internet and health care, available to businesses in more urban areas.
“If those folks don’t have broadband, they’re typically not eligible for all these good-paying tech jobs that are coming to Georgia. ... These children in high school are going and sitting outside McDonald’s so they can get on the Wi-Fi and do their homework,” Miller said.
Carol Burrell, president and CEO of the Northeast Georgia Health System and the chamber’s board chair, said the health system works closely with rural health care providers, particularly north of Gainesville, to assess their needs. She said NGHS treats out-of-county patients who may not have access to health care or may not want to see providers closer to them.
“As our services have escalated and elevated in a good way, people are coming here. ... A patient may have pneumonia and while that’s bad, it can be treated in a lower-cost, less acute setting,” she said.
NGHS purchased Chestatee Regional Hospital in Dahlonega on July 31, then sold the property to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and is leasing it back, according to NGHS spokesman Sean Couch.
Brett Fowler, vice president of Turner Wood & Smith, an insurance agency in Gainesville, said businesses should be working with their employees on more cost-effective health care options, which can be beneficial for both employees and their companies.
“Having things done in an outpatient facility when it’s the right timing can be a large cost savings ... anything you can continue to do to educate employees in the right direction is going to help lower health care costs overall,” he said.
Panelists also discussed how to find qualified employees, a concern Dunlap said the chamber hears often. Burrell said NGHS is investing in a graduate medical education program, which will begin taking applications in September with inaugural classes matched in spring 2019. Physicians are likely to stay in the area where they do residencies, Burrell said.
Perry Barnett, certified public accountant and partner with Rushton in Gainesville and the chamber board’s immediate past chair, said companies should look at work-based leaning programs that help students gain experience working for a local business. Business owners would be surprised by what students are capable of, and businesses benefit, too, he said.
“Students that are coming out now, they’re doing great, they’re well-organized. We’re also doing them a service,” he said.
Barnett said various factors like the economy or political climate can affect how businesses operate, but businesses can still thrive under changing circumstances.
“Business, just like life, just keeps changing, whether it’s taxes, whether it’s financing, whether it’s the business landscape. We think Hall County is just uniquely situated with its geographic and a lot of its skill sets that are here,” he said.