Business leaders, frustrated by lack of progress, want action from state officials

Atlanta business leaders had a brainstorming meeting this morning on a strategy to get more accountable state elected officials.

The executive committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber spent its enire monthly meeting talking about the breakdown during this year’s legislative session and how to prevent that from happening again.

For Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the meeting demonstrated the level of frustration that exists in the business community.

“It was the most spirited discussion I’ve heard in 11 years,” Williams said referring to his tenure at the chamber.

But Williams said the overall tone was positive — focused on making elected officials more accountable to the business community’s agenda and on getting results.

Of course, the Metro Atlanta Chamber has been working hard on its agenda — especially transportation and education — for years with limited results.

Tom Bell, CEO of Cousins Properties and a past chairman of the chamber, said after the meeting that the issues are more important than ever.

“We’ve got to get the legislative bodies to find ways to cooperate with one another,” Bell said. “We want a governor who understands that Atlanta is an important economic engine for the state and understands the issues that confront the metro region.”

Asked about the impact of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle withdrawing from the governor’s race on Wednesday, Bell said: “Certainly things are up in the air.”

John Rice, a vice chairman of General Electric who also is a former chamber chairman, was particularly disappointed that the legislature did not pass a bill on school governance reform.

“I think it’s ridiculous that a bill — Senate Bill 84 — that had the merits and was approved by everybody who took a good look at it, did not pass,” Rice said. “Elected officials, among others, have to be accountable for their actions.”

Equifax CEO Rick Smith, who is the current chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, summed it up this way: “The entire business community was very let down.”

Bill Linginfelter, president of Regions Bank for Georgia and South Carolina who will chair the chamber next year, said it was time for the business community to step up its political profile.

“We want to move in a positive direction towards finding the right people who can shepherd this in the legislature going forward,” Linginfelter said. “We want to back people who agree on our issues.”

The business leaders are particularly targeting the 2010 gubernatorial election, which will be a wide open race because Gov. Sonny Perdue will have completed two terms in office.

As Rick Smith said: “We want to make sure that whoever is running for governor understands the the platform that the business community is putting forward.”

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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