GeorgiaForward forum explores ways of how the state can strengthen itself

By Maria Saporta

The theme of the fourth annual GeorgiaForward forum is how can we control our own economic destiny by growing from within.

GeorgiaForward, a statewide grassroots organization of interested business, civic and government leaders, is meeting in Atlanta for its two-day annual forum at the Georgia Tech Conference Center.

The theme for 2014 is: “Strengthening Georgia from within.” It is the first time the group, which kicked off the forum on Thursday, has convened in Atlanta.

Ronnie, Chatterji, a former senior economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisors who is now at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, explained that after a remarkable 50 year period of growth from 1950 to 2000, the U.S. economy has experienced a deep recession and then a “bumpy recovery” that has led to stubbornly high unemployment rates.

But looking to the federal government to get the nation or Georgia out of the dull-drums may not be realistic. The United States has led the world in innovation and entrepreneurship, and two-thirds of all Nobel Prize winning research being done in the United States with 30 percent of those researchers being foreign born.

“We had a great magnet,” Chatterji said, explaining the need for immigration reform.

But the U.S. government also is not being able to increase its investments in the areas that would fuel future economic growth. For example, of the entire federal budget, only 3 percent goes to transportation, 2 percent goes to education and 2 percent goes to science and medical research.

So what can states do?

Chatterji said they can focus on industry clusters and place-based strategies, state-based venture capital programs, entrepreneurship education, tax credits and attract more workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM).

Kate Sofis, executive director of SF Made, provided another idea that San Francisco started four years ago to bolster the city’s manufacturing sector.

Among a host of initiatives, it began to brand products that were being made in San Francisco as SFMade.

“We added 12.5 percent new jobs in 2012,” said Sofis, adding that her organization now works with 462 local manufacturers, more than 30 percent of them being less than three years old.

Such an idea could be replicated in other cities and states.

“Every community needs to be a manufacturing community,” Sofis said. “You should be making things that are authentic to your region.”

GeorgiaForward was started four years ago as a way to unify the two Georgias. At the time, there was great concern that the state was being divided into an Atlanta and the anti-Atlanta split.

Today, the conversation is more focused on how can the whole state participate in economic growth — a unifying platform, if there ever was one.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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