For most of the past 25 years, the Sunbelt and Georgia have been the place for job growth and economic development. For four consecutive years during the mid-1990s, metro Atlanta led the nation in job growth, housing starts, in-migration and corporate relocations.
Many cities, regions and states often make the mistake of recruiting their “dream industries” when there is actually little or no chance of success. Georgia, metro Atlanta and several of our other population centers have developed infrastructure and “strong suits,” which should be the focus of our economic development policy for the remainder of this decade. Not all of these are “sexy” enterprises such as motion picture production or bio-medical research and development, but they are industries already here now and industries that can create more jobs tomorrow as our economy begins to rebound.
Logistics – moving things from here to there
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the ports of Savannah and Brunswick or any of the many trucking and distribution depots that ring the outer edges of many of our major cities are just some of the 120,000 jobs in Georgia that are part of the logistics industry—simply put, moving things from over here to over there.
Georgia’s geography on the eastern seaboard, Hartsfield, rail and interstate crossroads and junctions position us uniquely as a crossroads for the nation and the world. Significant investments in the ports of Brunswick and Savannah have long proven that the state can be a catalyst to job development if investment dollars are put where businesses want them as opposed to where we might want businesses to go. As proof this demand already exists here, the logistics industry increased employment in Georgia during this brutal recession by more than 20 percent.
Alternative energy expansion and development
The largest construction project in the history of Georgia will soon be under way with the $14 billion expansion of two new nuclear power generators and their related support, security, etc., at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, not far from Augusta. Those construction jobs are obvious, yet there are other potential opportunities nearby still unexplored.
In temporary storage facilities at Vogtle and across the river at the Savannah River Plant (SRP) sit tons of nuclear waste in temporary storage, previously destined for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, not far from Las Vegas, Nev. The Obama administration is shutting down Yucca and has withdrawn its request for licensure and approval. France derives nearly 80 percent of its electric power generation from nuclear power plants. Georgia is currently only 15-20 percent. France also recycles its nuclear waste in a secure facility near Normandy, all but eliminating the need for nuclear waste disposal. Georgia could similarly pilot the recycling of nuclear waste already onsite at Plant Vogtle and the SRP, creating thousands of new jobs in the process.
Each of Georgia’s many municipal and county landfills also automatically produces methane gas, which can be tapped to produce greener electricity, and will continue to do so for another 50-100 years. DeKalb County already operates a methane conversion plant, which now serves as Georgia Power’s primary source of “green energy” and which generates more than $1 million in revenue each year for the county. The facility paid off its own construction in just more than five years. Multiple Georgia counties already share landfills and could similarly convert their trash into cash, using these already proven technologies.
Headquarters & hospitality
Two long-established areas of leadership for metro Atlanta and our Georgia coast are headquarters operations, and hospitality and tourism. The latter is already starting to rebound. The former will continue to present renewed opportunity as domestic and international industries consolidate their regional national, international or North American HQ operations in lower-cost centers offering a higher quality of life. Gwinnett County most recently wooed two more Fortune 100 HQ and if you visit Savannah’s Historic District and view its significant influx of European tourists, you will be hard pressed to believe that city is even experiencing this recession.
Again, utilizing our state and local tax codes as well as publicizing these existing strengths, tourists and CEOs like lemmings will follow proven paths to success.
There always will be trailblazers, but most folks like to take the path of least resistance, and let someone else cut away the kudzu, vines and bureaucratic red tape…which some of our neighbors may not remember to have cleared away when the clouds part and the sunshine returns to the Sunbelt.
Bill Crane is a DeKalb County native and business owner, living in Scottdale, Georgia. He also serves as chief political analyst and commentator for 11Alive News and WSB Radio, News/Talk 750. Contact Bill Crane at Bill@dekalbchamp.com.