Column: Georgia Chamber sees ally in Gov.-elect Deal

By Maria Saporta
Friday, January 7, 2011

In mid-December, a delegation from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce had a chance to visit with Gov.-elect Nathan Deal to talk about the organization’s agenda.

“It was like sitting down with someone over a cup of coffee at a local café,” said Doug Carter, president of Don Carter Realty in Gainesville and chair-elect of the Georgia Chamber. “He’s an everyday person who just happens to be our next governor.”

It just so happens that Deal also is from Gainesville and has been a friend of the Carter family for years. And it just so happens that Gainesville also is the home of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — making the city in northeast Georgia the political power center in the state.

That hometown relationship is fortuitous for the Georgia Chamber as Carter takes over as the organization’s new chairman at its annual meeting on Jan. 10. But the affinity goes beyond geography.

“Obviously, being from Hall County, we are very excited about having Gov.-elect Deal in this role,” Carter said. “But what I’m really looking forward to is working in tandem with the governor-elect. I really believe it’s going to be a pro-business agenda.”

The friendly visit with the governor also included Suzanne Sitherwood, the chamber’s 2010 chair and president of Atlanta Gas Light Co.; and Chris Clark, who became president of the Georgia Chamber in November.

“The conversation that we had with the governor-elect was very natural,” Clark said. “Now, more than ever before, business needs to be a partner with the governor.”

Clark added that the Chamber will work with the governor on the hard issues, but it wants to make sure the state doesn’t “do anything that puts more burdens on the backs of business.”

Both Clark and Sitherwood said the Chamber is going to be focused on putting Georgians to work and improving the state’s global competitiveness.

“Everything we do needs to be focused on creating and keeping jobs,” Clark said.

That includes quality-of-life issues, such as water, transportation and education, as well as deepening the Port of Savannah and expanding the state’s rail and road infrastructure.

As Sitherwood sees it, 2010 was the “most transformational year for the Georgia Chamber bar none” because it decided to be a more “proactive” organization. She also was the first woman to chair the chamber in its history.

In fact, Carter has joked that he will have a “big set of high heels to fill” when he takes over at the annual meeting at the Georgia World Congress Center. It will occur right before the governor’s inauguration at Philips Arena and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson will be the keynote speaker.

The next morning, the Chamber will host the annual Eggs & Issues breakfast with the new governor, Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston.

Carter said that during his year as chairman, he will focus on the needs of Georgia’s small businesses. As president of a company that has a half-dozen employees, Carter said he understands the challenges that small businesses have faced and he knows the state’s economic recovery will depend on their financial health.

“We see our primary role as promoting pro-business legislation in the state and preventing legislation that we deemed to be harmful to the business community,” Carter said. “At the end of the day it all comes back to whether we are going to improve the quality of life for businesses and families.”

The Georgia Chamber also has put its future leadership in place. Atlantan Ed Heys, deputy managing partner of Deloitte, will chair the organization in 2012; and Stephen Green, president and CEO of Savannah-based Stephen Green Properties, will be chair in 2013.

Rising star

Tharon Johnson, who has been the senior adviser to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for the past year, is leaving his city post to join Piedmont Public Affairs LLC as a partner.

Johnson, who also served as Reed’s campaign manager, has been recognized as one of the top young political talents in the country. He recently was named as Campaign Manager of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants.

“I could not be happier for him,” Reed said of Johnson. “I believe [in] and support young people becoming part of the next generation of leadership. He has a wonderful opportunity with the firm of Piedmont Public Affairs, and I think he’s making the right decision.”

At 32, Johnson has had an impressive political career, serving as campaign manager for Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond in 2002 as well as serving as campaign manager for U.S. Rep. John Barrow’s successful campaigns in 2004 and 2006. In 2007, he went to work for Congressman John Lewis as his district director in Atlanta and ran his 2008 campaign.

Johnson said he is excited about joining Piedmont because it will give him “an opportunity to continue promoting good government, but from the private side.”
He will be the firm’s sole African-American partner, and he said he can “instantly help them with their local practice and their federal practice.”

The firm’s major clients include Microsoft Corp., Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and United Healthcare, and Johnson said he initially will be spending time helping Microsoft with its local ties.

Although he has been recognized nationally, Johnson said his most important critic and supporter is his mother. In reviewing his career, Johnson said: “It makes my momma really proud.”

Trumpet Awards

The 2011 Trumpet Awards will take place Saturday, Jan. 29, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. It will be the 19th annual black-tie event that honors African-American achievers and those who support the African-American community. The hosts will be Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker and Niecy Nash.

This year’s honorees will be: Drs. André Churchwell, Keith Churchwell and Kevin Churchwell (medical); U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (legal); Alfred Liggins III (media); Paula Madison (corporate leadership); Judge Greg Mathis (humanitarian); The O’Jays (lifetime achievement); Richard Roundtree (arts); the Rev. Al Sharpton (civil rights); and Chief Justice Georgina Wood (international).

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Project and its executive director, Harry Johnson Sr., will receive the president’s award.

This year, the kickoff for the Trumpet Awards will begin with an evening symposium on race relations on Wednesday, Jan. 26. The corporate sponsors include Anheuser-Busch; The Coca-Cola Co.; CompuCredit Corp.; Caesar’s Entertainment; Delta Air Lines Inc.; The Home Depot Inc.; the Hyatt Regency Atlanta; Nordstrom and TV 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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