Economic Development Is Not Just About Atlanta

This week’s Courier Herald column:

It was not quite a year ago when Amazon launched its search for a second global headquarters location. Visions of landing up to 50,000 new high paying jobs have established a quest from Governors, Mayors, Chambers of Commerce in an economic development super bowl.

The eventual winner gets huge bragging rights, but will have to bid high and strategically to make that happen. It’s these potential incentives that have grab equal attention. With the Republican party being consumed by populism on the right and the Democrats heavily courting socialist interests on the left, the billions being dangled for one of the country’s most prosperous corporations is not without critics.

We’ll save the debate for the overall incentive package if and when Georgia’s package is revealed. Most criticism levied against the project from within the peach state, at least that which has hit my inbox, has come from folks who live outside metro Atlanta. It can be summed up as “What about us?”

Amazon’s RFP for HQ2 was fairly specific as to the size of the metro area they would consider, as well as available services such as public transit and proximity to international airports. Atlanta compares favorably to their bid criteria. Other Georgia cities and rural Georgia, not so much.

It’s perfectly natural for Georgians outside of the metro area to see the excitement building of state leaders pledging to do whatever is necessary to land Amazon and wonder what if the same attention were paid to them. The question has been asked more than once “What if the state took all that money they’re planning to give to Amazon and put it into recruiting smaller companies that would locate in rural Georgia?”

The concerns are valid, but the premise is wrong. Their assumption is that this quest is an either/or proposition. The evidence shows quite the contrary.

At any one time, the Georgia Department of Economic Development is working dozens of potential deals. They don’t usually talk specifics until a deal closes or the prospect chooses another state. Amazon is quite different as the company chose to issue a public Request for Proposal. Most companies prefer anonymity in the process.

Success, as well as the statistics of who Georgia is assisting, is found in the companies we have been able to land. The numbers show that companies that relocated or expanded with the help of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce Division have gone disproportionately to areas outside of metro Atlanta, and by a wide margin.

In FY 2017, 80% of the companies successfully assisted by the state’s Economic Development arm went to companies located outside of the ten county metro Atlanta area. For FY18 that ended in June, the number was 78%. Roughly speaking, four out of five economic development success stories have happened outside of Atlanta.

Don’t feel bad for Atlanta. It’s a region with half the state’s population, and continues to grow rapidly. It has the capacity to absorb Amazon, and the many other companies choosing to expand or relocate there.

Most of these, however, aren’t game changing announcements. Even the initial 5,000 jobs expected from a potential HQ2 would be just .1% of the Atlanta region’s population. The impact of these announcements in rural Georgia, however, often make a greater impact to areas with higher unemployment and little if any population growth.

Looking through the press releases by the Department of Economic Development shows 130 jobs to Monroe County, 130 jobs to Albany, 500 jobs to Whitfield County, 100 jobs to Jackson County, an expansion of a plant in Ware County, 300 jobs in Bainbridge, and 2 deals bringing 300 jobs to Gordon County …all in the last few months. That’s just the announcements in rural Georgia, omitting the success stories that have occurred for Macon, Columbus, Augusta, and metro Atlanta during the same period.

The point of this isn’t to say that rural Georgia is doing just fine and that economic development is the same as it is in Atlanta. There’s still a lot of work to do in some areas to diversify the economic base and attract next-generation employers.

The state, however, isn’t ignoring rural Georgia in its quest to land trophy headquarters operations in Atlanta. It’s fighting for every available job, in every corner of the state, every day.

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armanidogAndrew C. PopeCarolinebethebalancepaleocon Recent comment authors
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Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

They needn’t worry. There’s a long history of rural Georgia receiving more in government benefits than they pay, and that’s going to continue. For one thing senior officeholders power depends on it.

paleocon
paleocon

“The question has been asked more than once “What if the state took all that money they’re planning to give to Amazon and put it into recruiting smaller companies that would locate in rural Georgia?”” This question should be answered with: “Money is already being taken from Atlanta and redistributed to rural Georgia” and that should silence it. The problem: thanks to unethical discourse from not a few politicians, a lot of voters in those areas believe that it is the other way around. They actually believe that their tax dollars are being taken from them and sent to the… Read more »

bethebalance
bethebalance

There’s also been a proliferation of County-level economic development agencies/offices, as well as municipalities taking advantage of economic development programs like Main Street/Downtown Development Associations. Given the uniqueness of each local area, the localization of economic development efforts also makes sense. And of course they collaborate with the State.
So, are the complaints just holdovers from the whole Atlanta vs. rest of state argument?
Sounds like there could be a marketing/PR solution, which includes community awareness of local agencies.

Caroline
Caroline

Rural GA has got to decide who they are gonna be. You can’t rely on the cheap labor model to bring you business anymore or tax givaways. They could develop into an international agribusiness hub or some other focus. Once you focus you’re not going willy nilly after whatever comes along.

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

Charlie, here’s some reading that I think you and others around here may find interesting: https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/high-rents-rural-renaissance-new-generation-is-reviving-small-town-texas/ . The gist of the article is the revival some small towns in Texas are seeing as the result of millennials fleeing higher costs of living in cities like Austin, Houston, and Dallas. A choice quote: . “In fact, many small towns are ripe for rejuvenation. The industries that once sustained rural communities have been in a gradual, inevitable decline, creating a vacuum. ‘While it’s only an emerging trend now, we do think that smaller towns, particularly those strategically close to cities, have the… Read more »

armanidog
armanidog

If we had decent internet access and cell phone coverage in rural areas, that would help a lot. Working from home is a viable option these days. My brother in law is an executive with AT&T and works at home. He goes to Atlanta every one or two weeks for face to face talks but 99% of his interaction is via Skype for Business. His connection in Oconee county is over 100 Megabits down and 30 Megabits up. My internet connection is (at best) 3 Megabits down and 1 Megabit up for $95/month for phone and internet. It’s the only… Read more »