By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, January 11, 2013
Several new initiatives will be part of the 2013 work plan for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which will hold its annual meeting on Jan. 15 at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Those initiatives will help continue the recent success that the Georgia Chamber has enjoyed in getting its legislative agenda passed.
In 2012, the Georgia Chamber had the “best legislative session we’ve had in 20 years,” said Chris Clark, president of the organization.
“We’ve got a tough act to follow,” said Stephen Green, who will chair the Georgia Chamber in 2013. “It was probably the most pro-business session in recent history.”
The Georgia Chamber also is looking ahead to 2015 when it will celebrate its 100th anniversary — already lining up an impressive list of leaders for the organization.
Following Green as chairman will be Ernest Greer, the second African-American to chair the business organization. Greer is the managing shareholder of the Atlanta office of law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP.
And for the centennial year, the chair of the Georgia Chamber will be Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power Co.
They will lead an organization that is launching several new initiatives in 2013.
Those initiatives include:
An unprecedented relationship with local chambers and Georgia’s small businesses;
A new Center of Competitiveness, which will focus on four key areas — doing research and gathering data to help the Chamber formulate its policies;
Becoming part of the State Chambers Policy Center — a national organization of state chambers working together; and
Reinvesting in the Georgia Initiatives Campaign to help the Chamber become a more proactive organization.
Green is a Savannah-based real estate executive who is also chairman of First Chatham Bank as well as president and CEO of the economic development firm Morris Manning Martin Green Consulting Group LLC.
But Green is probably best known for his work with the Georgia Ports Authority, having served as its chairman and currently serving as its vice chair and heading its committee to deepen the port.
Deepening the port will continue to be one of the Georgia Chamber’s priorities, and the organization will be working with Gov. Nathan Deal to help secure federal and state support for the project.
“I don’t think we could have asked for more support from the governor and the General Assembly, and of course the mayor of Atlanta,” Green said.
Both Green and Clark don’t expect to see major business legislation during the 2013 General Assembly.
“I think this session will be a little more focused on the budget and finances,” Clark said. “We want to take the legislation that was passed last year, get it implemented and make sure we do it right.”
Clark does expect that there will be some “cleanup” of the tax reform and immigration legislation that has already passed.
The Georgia Chamber also will work to make sure to protect the Transportation Investment Act. Three of Georgia’s 12 planning regions passed the 1 percent sales tax for transportation investments, making them eligible to get a larger share of state funds.
“We don’t believe it should be repealed or changed,” Clark said. “Let’s let those three regions show how it can work. I think that will bring other regions on board.”
Meanwhile, the Georgia Chamber is coming off its best membership campaign ever — raising a record of $2.2 million in 2012, surpassing its previous record of$2.1 million in 2011.
At the same time, it recently launched its second five-year Georgia Initiatives Campaign, which has an $8 million goal.
“We have reached about half of that,” Green said.
That will help cover the costs of the new Center of Competitiveness, which is being chaired by Deloitte’s Ed Heys, who was the 2012 chair of the Georgia Chamber.
The four areas that the Center will focus on with in-depth research are innovation and technology; business climate; economic growth; and workforce preparedness and education.
The Georgia Chamber also has joined forces with other state chambers to share best practices with the creation of the State Chambers Policy Center. So far, 22 state chambers have joined the group and another 20 have pledged to come on board.
“We are all working on a lot of the same issues but we haven’t been coordinating our work,” Clark said, adding that some of the issues where state chambers can help each other are with immigration reform and changes in health care.
The Georgia Chamber already is adopting an idea that has taken hold with several other state chambers — offering membership to small businesses that are members of their local chambers.
It is reaching out to all 182 local chambers in the state and offering any of their members with fewer than 10 employees an opportunity to join its Small Business Alliance at no cost. As members of that alliance, those small businesses will be offered a range of services offered by the Georgia Chamber.
“We want to build better relationships with local chambers,” Clark said. “We are complementary organizations. We are not in competition with them. And if we are going to do anything significant in education, we’ve got to work with the local chambers.”
The Georgia Chamber currently has 3,000 members across the state. It has entered into agreements with nearly 40 local chambers to offer Georgia Chamber membership benefits to their small-business members.
“It will probably take us all of 2013 to sign up the local chambers,” Clark said. But at the end of the year, Clark said the new program could lead to the Georgia Chamber’s membership swelling to 10,000 members.
Although it does not plan to have a significant legislative agenda in 2013, it is quite possible that the Georgia Chamber will be asked to weigh in on whether it would support increasing the bonding capacity of the Georgia World Congress Center to $300 million to allow the development of a new $1 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium.
Green said the state chamber will wait for legislation to be introduced before taking a position, but he would expect that the business organization would support the effort.
“It is not inappropriate for an authority to have its bonding capacity reviewed from time to time with inflation and as costs continue to increase,” Green said. “I think we would be supportive of the efforts to bring a new stadium and have the economic vitality that would follow.”