Column: Paul Bowers becoming business champion for education

By Maria Saporta
Friday, May 4, 2012

Georgia Power Co. President Paul Bowers is emerging as the state’s business champion for educational improvement.

On May 1, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education held a forum on “Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Workforce.” Incidentally, Bowers is chairman of the partnership.

Speaking at the symposium was Edward Rust Jr., chairman and CEO of State Farm Mutual who is also vice chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former chairman of the Business-Higher Education Forum and the Business Roundtable’s Education Initiative.

“There are fewer and fewer jobs available for people without a college education,” Rust told the room of about 300 people. “What we have is a significant skills gap.”

Rust said more needs to be done to engage the business community in educational issues, but he also said he was “concerned about the fatigue the business community feels when education reform is brought up.”

But it is as important as ever to get business leaders to recommit to improving education at all levels to make sure that the United States will have a competitive work force for decades to come.

“Our system needs to be the best in the world,” Rust said. “We used to be best in college attendance. We are now 14th. Right now our competitive edge in the global economy is being eroded.”

During the panel discussion following Rust’s comments, Bowers said Georgia Power is finding it harder to hire qualified employees.

“The deficit that we see is [in the technology sector] and in math and science,” Bowers said, adding that other skills also are lacking. “Just being able to communicate a thought or idea is beginning to wane.”

After the program, David Peterson, chairman of the North Highland consulting firm, said that Georgia needed a business champion to lead the effort to improve the state’s educational system from pre-kindergarten all the way to post high school. Then Peterson suggested that Bowers would be an ideal leader.

As he was leaving the session, Bowers was asked if he would be willing to be the business community’s education champion in Georgia.

“I have kind of become that by default,” Bowers said. “Yes, I would.”
By the way, two educational events will occur simultaneously on Monday, May 7.

NBC News and WXIA – 11Alive will have a special live broadcast event from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Georgia Aquarium on “Job One: Preparing America to Compete in the 21st Century.” It will be hosted by “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory and will feature Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

Also, the Rotary Club of Atlanta will have a program on early education at its weekly lunch meeting. It will feature Bobby Cagle, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning; and Stephanie Blank, a member of the Bright from the Start board.

Allen at Aaron’s

Ron Allen’s first annual meeting as CEO of Aaron’s Inc. was held May 1. But the company’s founder and chairman, Charlie Loudermilk, was still running the show.

Allen, who has been on Aaron’s board since 1997, succeeded the founder’s son, Robin Loudermilk, as CEO. The younger Loudermilk resigned as CEO and from the board last fall for personal reasons.

“Robin is doing extremely well,” Charlie Loudermilk told those attending Aaron’s meeting. “He’s happy in the real estate business.”

Then Loudermilk turned to Allen and said: “Ron is working very hard. He’s catching on to this business very well. The future is bright. I think the company has as much a potential upside as it has ever.”

Allen also addressed shareholders. By having served on Aaron’s board for 15 years, he already had learned a great deal about the business. But since being named CEO, Allen said he’s become even more impressed with “the quality and depth of our management team.”

By the way, in attendance at the Aaron’s annual meeting was Charles Smithgall, who is the company’s largest franchise owner with 90 Aaron’s franchises.

“We will have 100 by the end of the year,” Smithgall said.

YWCA to honor Tatum

The YWCA of Greater Atlanta will honor Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, at its 29th annual Salute to Women of Achievement luncheon on May 9 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

She will join 10 other women who will be inducted into the Academy of Woman Achievers. The event is co-chaired by Becky Blalock, retired senior vice president and chief information officer of Southern Co.; and Harriette Watkins, retired special adviser to the president of Spelman College.

The 10 Academy inductees are:

Kim Anderson, CEO of Families First;
Amy Brady, chief information officer of Global Enterprise Functions, Key Bank;
Kelly Dolan, executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure for Greater Atlanta;
Terri Badour Duckett, CEO of American Red Cross of Georgia;
Donna Hyland, president and CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta;
Glenda Minkin, a development consultant;
Brenda Muhammad, executive director of Atlanta Victim Assistance;
Leslie Sibert, vice president of distribution for Georgia Power;
Noni Ellison Southall, senior counsel of Turner Broadcasting System Inc.; and
Lottie Watkins, a community activist

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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