Georgia Chamber helping businesses navigate pandemic, shifting politics
By Maria Saporta
Peter Carter, the 2020 chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, described it best.
“it was a year like no other,” Carter said in a recent telephone interview.
As the chief legal officer of Delta Air Lines prepares to give the reigns to 2021 Chair Teresa White, Carter said Georgia’s business environment remains strong despite all the turmoil brought on by the COVID pandemic, racial unrest and a pivotal election year in Georgia.
“I feel like the Chamber in this past year became even more relevant and important because it was forced to get smart fast and find a way to connect with our members,” Carter said in a telephone interview.
On Wednesday morning, the Georgia Chamber will hold its first all-virtual Eggs & Issues Breakfast, beginning at 7:30 a.m. with speeches from Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston.
It also will be an opportunity for Teresa White, president of Columbus-based Aflac US, to unveil the five 2021 priorities for the statewide business organization to propel Georgia’s economic recovery Those five priorities are advocating for a flexible and competitive tax policy; promoting a skilled Georgia workforce; building the infrastructure of the future; ensuring a cyber safe harbor of cyber security to protect consumer data; and supporting rural resiliency.
White also is personally interested in pushing forward the Chamber’s diversity and inclusion agenda, crediting Aflac and Delta for leading in those areas.
White is the second woman and third African American to chair the Chamber, and she was encouraged to become engaged with the organization through former chairman, Paul Bowers, now the retired CEO of Georgia Power who is the lead director on Aflac’s board.
“I have found the Chamber to be an impactful organization,” White said, adding that she hopes 2021 will spur an economic recovery for businesses, especially small businesses, that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
An example of the kind of services the Chamber is offering is a Resiliency & Recovery (virtual) Town Hall with Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. to give an update on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Georgia Chamber President Chris Clark said he believes the first half of 2021 will be a continuation of 2020. The Chamber is planning to return to holding in-person events in the second half of the year with two major gatherings – the Future of Georgia Forum in Macon on August 10-11 and the Georgia Rural Prosperity Summit that will take place in October.
“Five years ago, we started the Georgia Rural Prosperity Summit,” Clark said. “In 2021, that is going to become a national event in Athens. We think Georgia can really become the national hub for rural innovation and how we can help our rural communities grow.”
The political profile of Georgia also is changing with President-elect Joe Biden winning state in November and with the election of two Democratic U.S. Senators – Reverend Raphael Bostic and Jon Ossoff – on Jan. 5.
Given Georgia’s emergence as a battleground state, expect more of the same in the future.
“I think the 2022 election cycle will start as early as April or May of this year,” Clark predicted.
Meanwhile, the Georgia Chamber took a lead role in December by issuing a press release to “reject any and all personal attacks on election officials.” It also stated that “the elections have been fair” and that after recounts and audits, “there have been no findings of organized voter fraud to date.”
As Clark said: “Everything needs to calm down. We are going to work with whoever is in office.”
Carter said having a strong two-party system in Georgia likely will lead to moderate policies and compromise, which he said would create better policies. He added the Chamber will continue to support Democrats and Republicans who are pro-business. Then he complimented state leaders with how they responded to national attacks from people (including President Donald Trump) who claimed Georgia’s election results were fraudulent.
“I do believe we should be very proud of Brian Kemp, Geoff Duncan and Brad Raffensperger for serving as profiles in courage,” Carter said. “They were outstanding.”