This week’s column by PolicyBEST Executive Director Charlie Harper
Georgia has long been a rapidly growing state. We’ve been a “low cost” alternative for incoming businesses and citizens alike. Atlanta has grown based on our logistics industry with a world-class airport as its crown jewel. The “Capital of the South” made Atlanta the region’s banking center. Various regional headquarters and early fiber optic networks made us a telecom center. And the growth from all of this activity turned growth itself into a major industry.
Then, the financial collapse happened. While many of the big banks had already moved their headquarters, Georgia lost one quarter of our banks. Fuel prices crippled the airlines and many other shipping concerns. The growth stopped, and with it our real estate and construction-based industries were sent reeling. And for the first time in decades, Georgia saw real structural unemployment that lingered above the national average.
Governor Deal began his first term just as Georgia was discovering the magnitude of the financial collapse. During his tenure we’ve seen a Georgia emerge that is a bit different than the one we were going into the crash. We haven’t tried to get things back the way they were, as we can’t go back to the year 2000 if we wanted. We instead have reimagined Georgia’s workforce for the jobs we have, and those we want.
I had the privilege of hosting Governor Deal for a breakfast briefing last week while wearing my other hat as Executive Director of PolicyBEST. During the Governor’s remarks he addressed his approach on job creation. He began by starting out what jobs Georgia had but couldn’t fill. Even at the height of the recession with unemployment rates in some areas hitting 12%, some jobs went unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers.
The result was the creation of Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grants. There are now 11 areas eligible for students to receive 100% of tuition in a Georgia Technical College via a HOPE Grant, including fields such as Computer Technology, Health Science, Practical Nursing, and Precision Manufacturing.
Georgia is also expanding the awareness of our employment industry sectors and the opportunities they provide. The Governor cited several examples, from the Army’s Cyber Command headquarters locating at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, to the 30,000 employees of 225 Health IT companies based in Georgia, to the 40,000 employees of Georgia’s payment processing industry.
Three decades ago there barely was a credit card payment processing industry. Columbus’ CB&T bank began a subsidiary to handle payments of other banks and spun it off into a company called Total Systems in 1983. In 1996 Total Systems (now known as TSYS) looked at moving away from Columbus and Georgia because they needed 500 computer analysts per year, and the entire state was producing about 780 annually.
Governor Zell Miller stepped in with one of Georgia’s first workforce development programs known as ICAPP, which partnered with Columbus State University to train workers toward specific needs. Today, TSYS and Columbus State anchor a revived downtown Columbus, with many high tech jobs created, and many Georgians employed.
TSYS isn’t the only success story in this field for Georgia. Other companies that aren’t exactly household names such as Worldpay, First Data, Elavon, and InComm anchor this industry that has a distinct Georgia accent. Governor Deal reports that Georgia based credit card payment processors account for 70% of all US financial transactions, accounting for $85 Billion in annual transactions processed.
Georgia’s emerging film industry is another that is growing faster than our local employment base. As such, Movie Production Set Design was recently added as one of the fields eligible for a Workforce Development Grant. Georgia’s continued use of a generous film tax credit has spawned permanent studio infrastructure such as Pinewood Studios near Fayetteville and Tyler Perry’s new studio at Ft. McPherson.
With these investments comes the need for skilled workers. Many of these workers currently come to Georgia temporarily for projects. The goal is to train local Georgians to meet most production needs over time.
These are just a few examples of the activities that Georgia is investing in the skills of its citizens to better match them with the employers we have, as well as the employers we desire. And the results continue to show.
As the Governor ended his remarks last Wednesday he let us know he had to get to another appointment. InComm was announcing that it would create 275 additional jobs and invest $20 Million during 2016.
There’s just a couple of weeks left to shop for Christmas. If you need an excuse to use your credit cards, remember that each swipe leaves a cut for one of Georgia’s fastest growing tech industries.