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ATL Business Chronicle Maria Saporta

Column: Chamber asks legislators to help protect Georgia’s brand

Kessel Stelling

Kessel Stelling

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Jan. 12, 2018

The Georgia Chamber of Commercewill ask elected officials and people running for office to take an oath that doctors usually take – first, do no harm.

The coming year will be especially sensitive for Georgia’s business climate. Not only is the state in a fierce competition to lure the Amazon HQ2 to Georgia. It also will be a year when Georgians will elect a new governor, lieutenant governor and a host of statewide cabinet positions.

Kessel Stelling

Kessel Stelling

At the same time, there is a concern that members of the state legislature could introduce religious liberty legislation or take a stand on Confederate monuments – actions that could dissuade an Amazon or other major businesses from investing in Georgia.

“We want to make sure we don’t do anything to disrupt the brand for the state of Georgia,” said Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber.

“We expect candidates to oppose any legislation that is discriminatory or appears to be discriminatory,” Clark continued. “We are going to oppose any efforts that could have a negative impact on our ability to attract new companies and talent to Georgia. We hope we can keep candidates focused on the most important issues for Georgia – jobs creation, transit, education, poverty eradication and rural development.

Kessel Stelling, the 2018 chair of the Georgia Chamber who took the gavel at the Chamber’s Eggs & Issues breakfast on Jan. 10, echoed those sentiments.

“We will continue to fight discriminatory policies,” said Stelling, who is chairman and CEO of Columbus-based Synovus FinancialCorp. “I hope we don’t get into fights that will damage our brand. It’s a critical time for our state given Amazon and other prospects. It’s no secret what happened in North Carolina and Indiana. We are doing pretty good as a state right now. From a personal perspective, I don’t believe additional legislation is necessary.”

During his year as Georgia Chamber’s chair, Stelling said, he will be focused on unifying the urban and rural areas of the state by promoting job creation. Stelling, who used to live and work in Cobb County, twice chaired the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. He also is a past chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

“I’m a Columbus guy who was born and raised in Augusta,” Stelling said. “My mother’s family is from Waycross. I have a vacation home in the North Georgia mountains. I feel I understand the state as well as anybody.”

He said the Chamber is dedicated to helping both urban and rural Georgia.

“We are one state,” Stelling said. “What’s good for Atlanta is good for the rest of the state. What’s good for Savannah and the port is good for the entire state. There’s a ripple effect.”

By the way, newly-elected Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had been invited by the Georgia Chamber to give the pledge of allegiance and the invocation at the Eggs & Issues Breakfast, and the organization believed she had confirmed.

“Our scheduling office provided notice that Mayor Bottoms would not be able to attend the breakfast by email on Monday,” said Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for the new Atlanta mayor. “At no point was Mayor Bottoms confirmed to attend the breakfast.”

Instead, State Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon) provided the invocation before the group that included Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston as well as 2,500 business and civic leaders from throughout the state.

The mayor’s office did not provide an explanation of why she didn’t attend the gathering.

Raphael Bostic and the Atlanta Fed

A tradition continues.

Raphael Bostic, who was named president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta over the summer, was the first speaker of the year for the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Jan. 8, giving his economic forecast. He was introduced by Dennis Lockhart, his predecessor at the Atlanta Fed, who would always give his forecast to Rotary at the beginning of the year.

Raphael Bosti

Raphael Bostic in a conference room at the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Bostic, however, added a new element. He said the Atlanta Fed under his leadership would give a special focus to the issue of income mobility in the Southeast.

“I am becoming increasingly concerned about the welfare of lower-income households in both urban and rural areas because much of the economic growth we anticipate may not reach the full extent of our populations,” Bostic said.

He said the issue is of particular concern in metro Atlanta, which has the least economic mobility of any major U.S. city other than Charlotte, N.C. But Bostic added that the lack of income mobility is also a problem in Nashville, Tenn., New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla. – all cities in his district. “In short, far too many people do not benefit from the growth our region has experienced,” Bostic said. “Drilling down more into the details of who is left out in metro Atlanta, north Atlanta and south Atlanta show very different economic conditions and, ultimately, opportunities for their residents.”

Bostic urged Rotarians to learn about the challenges and to become involved in efforts to advance opportunities for low income families.

“If we do not work to solve these disparities, we will likely miss yet another generation of children,” Bostic said. “And that would be a tragedy.”

Agnes Scott’s new president

The Agnes Scott College campus got to meet its next president on Jan. 9 at the announcement that Leocadia “Lee” Zak would join the all-women’s liberal arts college on July 1. Zak began her comments by borrowing a line from the movie “Jerry McGuire”.

Agnes Scott

A trio of Agnes Scott College presidents: Left to right: Past President Mary Brown Bullock, future President Leocadia “Lee” Zak and current President Elizabeth Kiss (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“Agnes Scott had me at hello,” said Zak, who served as director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency under President Barack Obama. “It really has reinvented liberal arts. It is one of the most innovative colleges in the country. It is such a special place.” Zak, who is of Polish descent, said she is dedicated to nurturing women to become global leaders – and that Agnes Scott is a perfect venue for the next chapter of her career.

President Elizabeth Kiss, who is in her 12th year as president of Agnes Scott and who will be stepping down on June 30, said it felt really good to have such a strong leader take the helm at Agnes Scott.

Maria Saporta

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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