Column: Paul Bowers aims to keep Georgia Chamber relevant in 2015

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Jan. 9, 2015

As Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers takes over as the 2015 chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 13, the word he keeps repeating is “relevance.”

The business organization is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. And for Bowers, what is most important is that the Georgia Chamber not only honors its past but pushes itself to be even stronger for the next 100 years.

“We need to make the Georgia Chamber even more relevant for all the businesses in the state,” Bowers said. “We have to make sure we have the leadership in place to build for the future.”

Recognizing its responsibility to foster leadership throughout the state, the Georgia Chamber and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at The University of Georgia will announce a new GeorgiaLEADS program at its annual Eggs & Issues breakfast on Jan. 13. The program will ultimately ensure a continuum of leadership development opportunities at the youth, adult and regional levels throughout our state.

In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Georgia Chamber President Chris Clark traced back some of the earliest publications of the organization–and the issues were all too familiar: transportation, education and business recruitment–including how to attract young people to the state.

It’s not surprising those were the issues important to Georgia 100 years ago, Bowers said. And it won’t be surprising if they are still the issues 100 years from now. What matters is how the Georgia Chamber works on finding solutions that are relevant to each period of the state’s development.

On that score, both Clark and Bowers said they are coming off of a strong 2014–a year headed by Chairman Ernest Greer, vice president and Atlanta managing shareholder of the Greenberg Traurig law firm.

Greer sought to broaden the scope of the Georgia Chamber to be more inclusive and transparent as well as become more involved in public policy on a year-round basis.

“One of the things that the Georgia Chamber has done is realize that its mission is to serve every Georgian–if someone is unemployed, to try to get them employed,” Greer said. “We have got to be an organization that focuses on issues. We can’t be an organization that’s just focused on legislation.”

Bowers agreed, but added that the Georgia Chamber also would keep a close eye on any legislation that could impact the state’s economic potential–either directly or indirectly.

“We are going to be very transparent,” Bowers said. “As (legislation) get proposed, if it’s going to hurt our brand in Georgia or if it’s going to hurt jobs being created in Georgia, we are going to oppose it.”

Meanwhile, Bowers said his goals during 2015 will be on making sure that the students graduating from Georgia’s schools and universities have the skills needed in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. Investing in the state’s infrastructure–especially transportation–also will be key, he said.

Bowers, who also has been chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said the organization will intensify its efforts to partner with local chambers throughout the state. Already the Georgia Chamber has established a federal agreement with 90 local chambers–bringing its reach to 27,000 members with a presence in every one of Georgia’s 159 counties.

In lieu of holding an annual dinner the night before Eggs & Issues (and competing with any festivities related to the Gov . Nathan Deal’s inauguration), the Georgia Chamber will hold a 100th anniversary black-tie gala in Atlanta on Saturday, April 25.. It also will hold other centennial events throughout the state.

“It really is a privilege to be in this position at this time,” Bowers said. “We must ask ourselves–what the next 100 years will hold for us and the relevance of our leadership for the future of the state.”

Symphony lands big gift

Financial support for musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is beginning to come in.

Virginia Hepner, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, sent out an announcement to Center employees on Jan. 7 saying that a $1.25 million pledge had been made to the ASO’s Musicians’ Endowment Fund.

Hepner said the Center had received a $500,000 gift from Sally and Carl Gable, longtime supporters and patrons of the ASO. Their gift followed news of the $38 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation announced last year that had been earmarked for matching endowment gifts. The Gables gift is being matched by the Woodruff endowment gift.

“We are so grateful for the Gables’ enduring support and generosity,” Hepner wrote to Center employees. Hepner repeated the Center’s commitment–made in the recently-completed collective bargaining agreement with the musicians–to add 11 positions in the orchestra by the end of the contract’s fourth year.

“An audition process will be activated every time the Musicians’ Endowment Fund reaches $2 million in cash,” she wrote. Each position requires an endowment of $2 million to $2.5 million. That means the Center and the ASO need to raise about $25 million over the next four years.

Atlanta Kiwanis and the mayor

Since 1993, the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta has set aside the first Tuesday of every year for a speech by the mayor of Atlanta. And every year, the mayor of Atlanta has used that platform to give an early state of the city speech.

Until this year.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s scheduling office was not able to confirm his availability to speak to the Kiwanis Club in 2015, and finally the club’s leadership could no longer wait. So it scheduled another speaker — Bill Bolling, the founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Bolling said he knew he was filling in for the mayor when he agreed to speak on Jan. 6, so he offered to give his own “State of the City” report.

“The city is doing well. There are many positive reports,” Bolling said. “Of course we could do better for the poor and the unemployed and underemployed, parks and green space….”

He went on and thanked all the elected officials, and said he was proud to be an Atlantan, and he pledged to continue to try to do his part to make Atlanta an even better place for all.

Obviously the Kiwanis Club was already convinced. They gave Bolling the 2014 Golden Rule Award.

Kellie Brownlow–from Gwinnett to Cobb

It looks as though Kellie Brownlow is working her way around the region.

Brownlow, who served as chief of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s local government services division until November 2011, has been at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce serving as director of economic development at Partnership Gwinnett.

She has turned in her resignation to become chief deputy to Tim Lee, chairman of the Cobb County Commission.

According to a Cobb County spokesman, in her new role Brownlow will assist the chairman in a variety of roles.

“Her job will focus on representing his interest with the community and outside organizations,” spokesman Robert Quigley said. “Some of her initial responsibilities will include monitoring and assisting in achieving county goals as defined in our strategic plan and assisting in economic expansion efforts.”

In an e-mail to friends, Brownlow wrote: “Each New Year presents an opportunity for new beginnings.” Describing her experiences in Gwinnett as “awesome,” Brownlow said she would begin her new role on Jan. 13.

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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