Georgia Chamber of Commerce
Business leaders gather in Coweta
by SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
A large crowd of business leaders from Coweta and surrounding counties turned out Tuesday for the “regional power lunch” hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce at Newnan Country Club.
Georgia Chamber president and CEO Chris Clark spoke about the Georgia Chamber’s legislative and competitiveness priorities, and provided a wrap-up of the 2013 legislative session. He was introduced by local attorney, former state legislator and lobbyist Arthur “Skin” Edge.
“I think you are going to find this very, very informative,” Edge said.
The Georgia Chamber now represents nearly 20,000 companies, said Clark. Ninety-five percent of them have under 50 employees, and 95 percent are outside the Atlanta area.
“They like to say if you are not a member of your local chamber, you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he said.
Through its advocacy and lobbying, “we go out and look at issues and represent you as the business community,” he said. “We truly are trying to find the position on issues that best represents every business in the state of Georgia.”
Georgia currently has just under 10 million residents. “In the next 15 or 16 years we’re going to add another three million,” he said. The Atlanta region is expected to grow by 28 percent. With all those new people, we’ll need more jobs, more housing, and will have more traffic, he added.
As for economic development and jobs, “we are in a war, not just with every other state but with every other country,” Clark said.
Clark spoke about the Georgia Chamber’s major priorities in the future: lowering the state’s high school drop-out rate and improving education outcomes, “civil justice reform,” and the federal health care law.
“The business community has to engage in a proactive way” in education, Clark said. The Chamber is currently working with the state school superintendent’s office on “career clusters” that talk to high school sutdents about how their education can get them jobs.
A big reason students drop out of high school is “because they don’t see a path forward on what they can do.”
Additionally, the Chamber is working with human resource directors to “help write a new curriculum on 17 new career paths.”
The curriculums would only be implemented “where the business community says ‘we are going to need these skills,’” he said.
The career cluster idea is “only going to work if you guys get engaged” and support it, Clark said.
The legal climate can really affect economic development. “Alabama had a special session” to make some “tort reform” changes “because they had an aircraft manufacturer coming in,” Clark said.
“The Georgia Chamber has promoted legal and tort reform.” There were significant law changes several years ago, but “we have work that continues to be done.”
Georgia ranks 24th when it comes to a business-friendly legal climate, Clark said. “Thirty-three percent of you will have a tort case filed against you at some point, and you will start spending money” to defend against it. But only 2 percent will go to court, Clark said.
Major points of the civil justice agenda include “e-discovery,” the admissibility of seat belt evidence, and overall fairness.
Currently under state law, defendants in motor vehicle crash cases can’t mention whether or not the victim was wearing a seat belt or argue that the injuries suffered wouldn’t have been as bad if the victim had been wearing the seat belt.
As for the federal health care law, “It is going into effect. And everybody in here, in some way or the other is going to be impacted,” Clark said. They’re currently training their members to be ready to work with local chambers to “try and get them prepared.”
The health care law will include 18 new taxes to help pay for it, Clark said.
The Georgia Chamber is holding a forum on the law on June 19, and will be holding training webinars to “really give you an opportunity to dive deep on it and give you the best recommendations,” he said.