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Commentary: Use wise investments to bring our economy back to health
Doug Carter


Each Sunday through the beginning of the 2011 General Assembly, The Times is taking a look at some of the key issues that Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and state lawmakers will face.

Dec. 5: Val Perry, the executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association, the challenges that state leaders will face reaching a compromise on water. Read it here.

Dec. 12: Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield examines what the legislature can do to improve education. Read it here.

Last Sunday: Former DOT board member Mike Evans gives his thoughts on how transportation needs can be paid for. Read it here.

Today: Gainesville businessman Doug Carter, the incoming president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, suggests ways that state leaders can help jump-start the state’s economy.

Jan. 2: Former state Sen. Lee Hawkins gives advice to the many new faces in Atlanta on how they can quickly learn how to do their new jobs.

As a movie lover and a father of two teenagers, our family recently ventured out to the midnight showing of the new Harry Potter movie. I came away with several thoughts that night.

First, the next time I go to a midnight movie on a Thursday night, I need to load up on a few energy drinks to make it through the night. Secondly, I wish I had one of those magic wands from the movie to help shape up a few things in our local and state economy.

Alas, while no "magic" wand awaits our leaders as we enter 2011, I remain the eternal optimist that we will find answers to our challenges and make decisions which will move the state of Georgia on a continued path of recovery.

Without question, the economy was the topic first and foremost on everyone's minds over the past 12 months, as it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Gov.-elect Nathan Deal has made it very clear that the economy and job growth will be a major priority of his administration.

Here in Northeast Georgia and throughout the rest of our state and nation, our families, friends and neighbors have all felt the impact of the extended recession and are no doubt hoping for better days in the year ahead.

The good news is that our state will benefit from elected leadership that understands what is needed to strengthen our economy and ensure a better future.

On the top of everyone's list as the General Assembly convenes will be jobs, and an important component of that is competitiveness. Thanks to the work of the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, legislators will be greeted with recommendations for changes to the state's current tax structure early in the session.

Our hope should be that any modifications are made with an eye on ensuring Georgia's economic competitiveness and encouraging job creation within businesses of all sizes. There is no question that companies consider what their bottom line cost will be when making location, relocation or expansion decisions. Georgia must be able to make its case not only against domestic but also international competition.

The same argument applies for economic incentives. Other states have been much more aggressive on this front. While Georgia needs to protect its own interests when developing any incentive packages, we must also be able to compete. Developing programs such as those in Texas that provide more access to venture capital or in states like Alabama and North Carolina that exempt the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing are clear-cut ways we can make Georgia more attractive for both new and existing companies.

Our ability to provide qualified and well-trained workers will determine our state's current and future competitiveness. Today's jobs require skills and abilities much different than those of the past. Whether on a manufacturing line or in an office, employees need computer and other specialized training in order to do their jobs well.

This is why Georgia needs to continue to work towards excellence in education and to invest in programs like the HOPE scholarship and online learning that provide access to quality training and education.

You only need to look out your window here in Gainesville to understand the very real need for expanded water resources. Regardless of any decision rendered by Judge Paul Magnuson or resolution of the tri-state water wars, Georgia needs to identify new sources of water for the future.

Of the 4.6 million people projected to move to Georgia within the next 20 years, 40 percent will move to North Georgia, where water needs are the most acute. The Water Stewardship Act of 2010, passed last year, was one of the nation's most aggressive when it comes to conservation, but that will not be enough. The time has come to expand the state's surface water storage system, in particular, to identify new sources of funding that can provide for the construction of additional reservoirs.

And as all of those new people and companies are moving to Georgia, we must be sure they and the goods they manufacture or ship can safely travel from home to work and factory to store. The General Assembly passed a bill last year that will allow Georgians to vote in 2012 on a new regional funding mechanism dedicated to transportation infrastructure. Our regional leaders are working to identify what projects are most needed here at home and we should hope that process remains on track.

Finally - and perhaps selfishly as an owner of a local real estate firm - we need to be looking out for small business. The vast majority of businesses in Georgia have fewer than fifty employees and in the new economy, we can expect the number of small businesses to continue to grow. We need policies that encourage entrepreneurship, help business owners keep overhead costs low, and prevent the implementation of costly or time-consuming regulations. This will be critical to help these new companies prosper and allow them to do what is most important of all: create jobs.

Yes, this is a long list with some big items, but each and every one are important to our state's economic future. An environment that encourages job creation, a pipeline of quality employees, access to usable water and the ability to get from point A to point B are inherent to the success of any business and in turn our overall economy and quality of life.

We need to not only encourage our elected leaders to focus on these important issues, but offer our assistance and support as they make the tough decisions. As the incoming chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, I can assure leaders here in Northeast Georgia and throughout the state that our organization, on behalf of our members and the entire business community, stands at the ready to help develop solutions to these and other challenges that may come along as we work together to get our economy back on track.

Doug Carter is president of Don Carter Realty Co. in Gainesville and is chairman-elect of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

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