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GeorgiaForward forum explores ways of how the state can strengthen itself

By Maria Saporta

The theme of the fourth annual GeorgiaForward forum is how can we control our own economic destiny by growing from within.

GeorgiaForward, a statewide grassroots organization of interested business, civic and government leaders, is meeting in Atlanta for its two-day annual forum at the Georgia Tech Conference Center.

The theme for 2014 is: “Strengthening Georgia from within.” It is the first time the group, which kicked off the forum on Thursday, has convened in Atlanta.

Ronnie, Chatterji, a former senior economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisors who is now at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, explained that after a remarkable 50 year period of growth from 1950 to 2000, the U.S. economy has experienced a deep recession and then a “bumpy recovery” that has led to stubbornly high unemployment rates.

But looking to the federal government to get the nation or Georgia out of the dull-drums may not be realistic. The United States has led the world in innovation and entrepreneurship, and two-thirds of all Nobel Prize winning research being done in the United States with 30 percent of those researchers being foreign born.

“We had a great magnet,” Chatterji said, explaining the need for immigration reform.

But the U.S. government also is not being able to increase its investments in the areas that would fuel future economic growth. For example, of the entire federal budget, only 3 percent goes to transportation, 2 percent goes to education and 2 percent goes to science and medical research.

So what can states do?

Chatterji said they can focus on industry clusters and place-based strategies, state-based venture capital programs, entrepreneurship education, tax credits and attract more workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM).

Kate Sofis, executive director of SF Made, provided another idea that San Francisco started four years ago to bolster the city’s manufacturing sector.

Among a host of initiatives, it began to brand products that were being made in San Francisco as SFMade.

“We added 12.5 percent new jobs in 2012,” said Sofis, adding that her organization now works with 462 local manufacturers, more than 30 percent of them being less than three years old.

Such an idea could be replicated in other cities and states.

“Every community needs to be a manufacturing community,” Sofis said. “You should be making things that are authentic to your region.”

GeorgiaForward was started four years ago as a way to unify the two Georgias. At the time, there was great concern that the state was being divided into an Atlanta and the anti-Atlanta split.

Today, the conversation is more focused on how can the whole state participate in economic growth — a unifying platform, if there ever was one.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. moliere July 13, 2013 5:59 pm

    The economic growth this is a tough nut to crack. On one hand, you could say that spending more money on education and research would help. But what has having research universities done for Tallahassee, Gainesville, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Clemson and for that matter Athens? They are still sleepy college towns with large pockets of poverty. Meanwhile Miami, Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Jacksonville, Memphis etc. are huge without a single large research university (unless you want to count the University of Miami, which is a relatively small private university).
    Some would also say transportation, but most big transportation projects end up being roads to nowhere. I’ve been on plenty of highways where I was the only driver for seemingly hours, and I have ridden in my share of mostly empty buses and trains too. 
    There is also the low tax low regulation right to work argument, but what has that ideology ever done for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina etc.? Even Texas, the red state hero, is an real contradiction with booming economies in some areas but Great Depression type poverty in others. Texas is actually big enough to split into 3 states, and if you did, 2 of them would be the poorest in the country. 
    There is a lot that would go into getting the next big software or energy company to locate in Columbus, Macon or Valdosta, and there doesn’t seem to be a consistent, reliable formula. The only real suggestion that I have for outside the suburbs is to try to do more to develop our coastline as a tourist destination. We will never compete with Florida and Louisiana obviously, but we can compete with North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi, who have done a lot more to develop their ocean/gulf coastlines than we have.Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia July 15, 2013 1:48 am

      moliere Excellent points.  Though, one may remark that even with the large pockets of poverty, the Southeastern college towns that you mention have done better with their large research universities than the more than 95% of cities and towns in the rest of their respective states that don’t have a Florida State University, a University of Alabama, an Auburn University, a Clemson University or a University of Georgia.
      All parties involved will more than likely argue that those seemingly sleepy college towns have a much better economic outlook than they would if they did not have a large research university within their environs.Report

      1. moliere July 15, 2013 9:25 pm

        The Last Democrat in Georgia moliere 
        I can dig that. Come to think of it I did live in Tallahassee for awhile and their poverty wasn’t so bad. I forgot to consider what Tallahassee would be like without FSU (and FAMU, can’t forget about them). So there you have it then.
        1. Spend more money to develop our coastline to draw tourists and their tax dollars.
        2. Put competitive STEM programs at the universities in our medium-sized cities.Report


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