Governor Kemp Sells Georgia To The World At Davos
This week’s Courier Herald column:
Why the heck was Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in Davos Switzerland this week? Some that asked that question genuinely wanted to know the answer. To many in the populist wing of the Republican party, it was more of a statement, heavy with implied derision.
In those circles, “Davos” is a one-word statement and punchline. It’s an annual gathering of “the elites”. Populists view the elites as the enemy. They are the ones that plot in secret to hold the common folk down. (Because, you know, world stages like Davos are such a well-kept secret.)
Others, many but not all in this same faction, deride Davos as the epitome of climate change hypocrisy. If you spent much time scrolling through social media you likely saw many memes about wealthy celebrities and industry titans flying private jets to Europe in order to lecture the world about giving up their cars (and maybe even their gas stoves).
If the Governor wanted to deliver his message to an audience devoid of hypocrites, he would have to avoid virtually all public gatherings, whether political, civic, or religious in nature. Instead, you go where the audience is who needs to hear your message.
The official reason for the trip is that Governor Kemp was on a trade mission. Georgia is a global brand, and a good CEO never passes up the opportunity to promote the abilities of those assets and people for whom he has been trusted with maximizing returns.
This brings in the most common pejorative used to slight Davos and those who attend. It’s a meeting of “Globalists”. Many of the people who use this term would be happy if a wall was built at the state’s North Carolina border to keep the Yankees out.
Like it or not, Georgia’s economy is built on trade. Georgia’s ports are among the few in the entire nation that balance exports with imports. We buy a lot of things from overseas, but we sell goods to foreign customers as well.
At the top of these lists are cars, chicken, and timber products, but the list is exhaustive. Being a “globalist” doesn’t mean subverting policy decisions to foreign powers nor accepting bad trade deals as “free trade”. It just means that you understand that your customers live across our nation’s borders.
So what, exactly, was the Governor selling? From an economic standpoint, he was selling what Georgia has to offer. The tag line for the brand is “the number one state to do business”, but to the points can be further refined to what the Davos attendees are buying.
Georgia is a state that offers a low tax and low regulation operating environment. That means that companies can operate their organizational missions without excessive government interference, and keep more of their profits than in many other jurisdictions.
Georgia and Governor Kemp have a proven track record of keeping the state moving forward, even amidst a global economic shut down caused by the pandemic. His decision to re-open the state with common-sense protective guidelines was even criticized at the time by President Trump, but has since been proven largely correct. The state and its citizens – including its corporate citizens – has been thriving since.
The Davos crowd likes the above, but is also keenly aware of environmental impacts. Many have taken their own climate pledges and need to operate in a state that can accommodate their needs.
You wouldn’t know this from reading most press accounts of how Georgia fares here, but we have a lot to offer on this scorecard too. Georgia has been phasing out coal for decades, at an increasing pace.
The state emitted 70% more carbon emissions to produce electricity in 1990 than we do today – and we’ve doubled our population since then. We’re the 7th leading producer of solar power in the country, with the solar generating capacity expected to roughly double again by 2030. We’ll add two zero carbon emitting nuclear plants in the next couple of years as well.
We don’t just have clean energy to sell to companies looking to move here, but it is also reliable (i.e., no frequency of rolling blackouts) with rates below the national average.
As UGA Coach Kirby Smart is fond of saying, “you’re either elite or you’re not”. Governor Kemp knows where Georgia stands on that question, and what can be offered to a meeting of “elites”. For business that want to grow and thrive with low costs, unobtrusive regulation, and meet their climate objectives, Georgia is elite.
Shortly after the Governor’s public remarks in Davos, Georgia’s Department of Economic Development sent out their 2022 victory lap press release. 218 companies chose Georgia last year to locate or expand operations. By the numbers, that’s 17,500 new jobs and $13 billion in private investment.
Much of that was from companies based in foreign countries with South Korea at the top of the list. 85% of those jobs and 92% of those capital investments will land in counties outside of metro Atlanta.
The Governor went to Davos to sell, not to sell out. And for Georgia – especially rural Georgia – he’s kept his receipts that match the message.