Today’s Courier Herald Column:
CNBC, the cable business news network, has released their annual ranking for “America’s Top States For Business”. In this assessment of best business climates, Georgia ranked a healthy 9th. Texas was ranked #1, with Virginia #3 and North Carolina #4 as the only other southern states in the top 10.
Other contiguous states which Georgia’s elected officials keep bending our laws to match theirs under the guise of “competitiveness” ranked as 16th (Tennessee), 29th (Florida), 32nd (South Carolina) and 38th (Alabama).
Perhaps one of the most interesting features of their study was the individual components of the rankings. Georgia was ranked #1 overall on workforce, defined as quality and availability of workers and state programs available to train workers. Factors included education level, number of available workers, and union membership.
On the surface it would appear that this contradicts messages being put out by “Go Build Georgia” highlighting shortages of Georgia workers but it does not. Georgia’s relatively high unemployment rate indicates we have an oversupply of workers relative to available jobs, and programs like Go Build Georgia are expanding training opportunities to get the right skills to people that need them for employers that will hire them.
Despite the “We can’t wait!” hysterics of the pro-TSPLOST campaigns, Georgia ranks 3rd in transportation and infrastructure. There are clearly needed improvements in Georgia’s transportation grid, especially in the metro Atlanta area. The high ranking indicates that the business community’s perception of Georgia’s overall road, rail, air, and port network work together well, as evidenced by the number of logistics jobs that continue to be generated within the state.
Several years ago when Mercedes-Benz was having quality issues with several of their cars, the CEO was asked to reflect on that as well as a consumer survey indicating automobile shoppers rated their cars among the highest in quality, despite actual metrics showing they had hit a rough patch. His answer was along the lines of “Think goodness we only have an actual problem with quality, as that is a problem we can troubleshoot and fix. Public perception is a much harder problem to resolve.”
Georgia’s transportation ranking demonstrates that among the business community and the financial press, Georgia does not have a perception of transportation problems. You can also bet that when firms are being recruited to Georgia, prospects are not shown the same dire warnings regarding traffic that the same Chambers of Commerce are using to scare voters into a 16% tax increase.
One may conclude that while all can acknowledge that there is clearly a need for improvement with regards to transportation infrastructure, there is also time to continue to work on a “Plan B” before the actual problem becomes a problem of perception.
Perhaps one of the more dire warning signs in the list includes Georgia’s rankings for Education (34th) and Quality of Life (36th). Georgia’s below average ranking on education will limit the quality of businesses and jobs that the state can attract. Cutting edge industries need a highly educated pool of workers to attract from. If not available locally via the state’s education system, then they must be willing to relocate here. A Quality of Life score in the bottom third of all states makes recruitment of top talent harder to do.
Georgia’s crime rate, access to health care, air and water quality, and local attractions were used to create the Quality of Life Ranking. While I’m sure many will argue that building a new Falcons stadium will increase our score because of local attractions, leaders probably should spend a bit more time studying rural health care delivery and urban crime rates.
Overall, Georgia is in good standing, and public policy should not be determined solely on one outside media ranking. That said, it gives us a decent snapshot of where our perception as a state stands with our peers.
As for our problems, those are perhaps a different matter. Solutions are even more difficult. But it does beg the question if we’re spending the right amount of time fixing the real problems with Georgia’s competitiveness, or the ones that we have created the perception of problems among ourselves.