By Maria Saporta
Creating an innovation agenda for Georgia will mean improving the state’s K-12 education, reviewing the state’s incentive packages, revising its tax structure, investing in its infrastructure, and perhaps most importantly, getting all the political, business, academic and civic interests working in unison.
Those were just some of the ideas exchanged at the second annual GeorgiaForward forum, which met Wednesday and Thursday at Callaway Gardens.
The gathering of 200 plus leaders from the throughout the state included several national, state and local experts providing their perspectives in keynote address, on panels and in workshops that explored a host of issues — transportation, water, economic development, the arts, education, innovation, governance, to name a few.
Chad Evans, a senior vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Competitiveness, brought his own perspective. As someone who grew up in Peachtree City and has family living in several corners of the state, Evans showed how the United States economy compares with other nations and how well Georgia fares in the country.
For example, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States continues to outpace that of any other country in the world. It accounts for 19.7 percent of the world’s economy; the whole European Union represents 19.9 percent; and China represents only 13.5 percent.
But a few years ago, the United States accounted for 22 percent of the world’s economy — and almost of all of the drop in the U.S. share has been China’s gain.
Among the 50 states, Georgia ranks 31st in per-capita GDP, a mediocre score at best. Georgia also was in the bottom third in terms of income.
As a Georgia native, Evans was asked how he felt the state fared compared to the rest of the United States.
“When I looked at the data, I was surprised at how many metrics were in the ‘ugly’ or ‘bad’ category,” Evans said. “My impression of Georgia was much better than it really was. For me, there was a disconnect. I was surprised in the low growth in income. Georgia was doing pretty well in the ‘90’s, and that has tapered off.”
Interestingly enough, back in the 1990s, two Georgians were key leaders of the Council on Competitiveness — Duane Ackerman, then-CEO of BellSouth Corp. (which has since been swallowed up by AT&T); and Wayne Clough, then-president of Georgia Tech who is now running the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
One of the goals for the GeorgiaForward initiative is to help the state recapture its economic mojo by getting all different sectors and geographic areas of the state to work together towards a more promising future.