By Maria Saporta
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is taking a higher profile role in the state’s transportation needs.
The Georgia Chamber today announced the creation of a new transportation-focused affiliate — the Georgia Transportation Alliance — to focus on the state’s various mobility needs as it relates to economic development.
“My charge at the chamber is to be more aggressive and more pro-active and for the chamber to show leadership,” said Chris Clark, the relatively new president of the Georgia Chamber. “We want to be much more than an advocacy organization. We want to help drive the dialogue.”
One of the Alliance’s first major priorities will be to work with leaders in the state’s 12 economic development regions to help in the passage of a penny regional transportation sales tax in August 2012 when it will be on the ballot.
The Alliance also will work to expand Georgia’s growing logistics industry, including the state’s ports and its regional airport system. It also will seek ways to mitigate congestion in the state’s metro areas, identify needed improvements for the state’s rail and highway networks, improve connections to rural communities, and support efforts to build and maintain quality, multi-modal transportation networks.
In a telephone interview, Clark said that his board felt “it was time for the Georgia Chamber to take a leadership role in transportation” and that it was time for the statewide business organization to emphasize transportation and logistics as being vitally important to Georgia.
The Georgia Chamber also has agreed to run 11 of the 12 regional transportation sales tax campaigns. The Atlanta regional campaign is being run out of a coalition of organizations in the metro area, including the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
Within the next 90 days, the Georgia Chamber plans to hire an executive director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, and it then plans to select a firm to help it manage the 11 separate regional campaigns.
But Clark emphasized that this effort is not just being launched because of the transportation sales tax referendum.
“We are going to be in this business for the next 20-30 years or how long as it takes,” Clark said. “Our effort will be collaborative. We want to be a partner with the GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) board and with the GRTA (Georgia Regional Transportation Authority) board.”
Clark also said that the Alliance will not have a hidden agenda favoring one mode of transportation over another. Instead, it plans to look at which transportation investments will make the most sense from an economic development perspective and according to each region of the state.
“A lot of people view the chamber as the honest broker,” Clark said. “Our only goal here is to grow jobs and improve the state’s competitiveness.”