By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on January 10, 2014
From Ernest Greer’s point of view, it is wonderful that Georgia was recently named the No. 1 state in the country for business.
But for Greer, who will take over as chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 14, the real goal for the business association should be to simply make Georgia the best state in the nation.
The implications of broadening the focus of the Georgia Chamber’s mission penetrates deeply on the association’s agenda — a fact that is not lost on Greer, Atlanta managing shareholder and vice president of law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, who becomes the Georgia Chamber’s second African-American chairman in its 99-year history.
“We continue to evolve as a chamber,” Greer said in an interview previewing his year at the helm of the organization.
So in addition to the normal boilerplate Chamber issues, incentives and regulations, Greer believes the business organization has a role to play in tackling the issues of poverty in South Georgia, education around the state, homelessness, the crime rate, the cost of maintaining the state’s prison system, and the cost and availability of health care.
“When I looked over the landscape, what I see is a unique organization that’s very different from the other 153 chambers in the state because it is the only chamber that touches every square mile of the state,” Greer said. “It is the only chamber that is equipped to handle issues that involve the entire state. The Georgia Chamber is probably the best vehicle to deal with those issues.”
The Georgia Chamber has been developing a Small Business Alliance that now includes 70 local chambers and 19,000 small-business members. With the Georgia Chamber’s existing 3,000 members, that gives the organization a total membership of 22,000 businesses.
At next week’s annual meeting, the Georgia Chamber will launch an initiative called Georgia2Georgia to encourage people, governments and companiesin the state to do business with local firms.
It is launching a 2 percent challenge, asking companies to commit to increasing their business with Georgia companies by 2 percent in 2014. The goal is to boost the state’s economy and help create new jobs.
Greer has been involved with the Georgia Chamber since 2007 when Suzanne Sitherwood, then an executive with AGL Resources Inc., urged him to become involved. Sitherwood, who later became the first and only woman to chair the organization, was focused on making the board of the Georgia Chamber more diverse.
Greer said he also is committed to increasing diversity on the chamber’s board as well as increasing opportunities for minorities and women in businesses throughout the state.
Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power Co., is the chair-elect of the Georgia Chamber. He also is the past chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Greer succeeds Stephen Green, a Savannah-based real estate executive who is chairman of First Chatham Bank as well as president and CEO of the economic development firm Morris Manning Martin Green Consulting Group LLC. Green also serves on the board of the Georgia Ports Authority.
In looking back over his involvement, Greer also is proud that he was involved in the selection of Chris Clark as president of the organization in 2010.
“As we brought Chris on board, I realized very quickly that this organization could be a very powerful tool to improve the lives of Georgians,” Greer said. “Really what we are talking about is creating a platform for all Georgians to be employed and for all Georgians to have a better quality of life,” Greer said.
Clark agreed, saying that the central role of the Georgia Chamber continues to be job creation. But in order to foster new jobs, it means the chamber may have to expand its role in other areas, such as education.