ROSWELL, GA. – Craig Lesser, the former Georgia commissioner of Economic Development under former Gov. Sonny Perdue, said in a talk July 12 at the Rotary Club of Roswell that the state and North Fulton in particular have a brighter economic outlook.
As chief marketing officer for investment, trade and tourism, he said “overall,” he was optimistic despite financial crises in European countries and a slowing Chinese economy that don't bode well for short-term economic growth.
In Georgia, key positive factors are Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport – the busiest in the world – and the port of Savannah, the fastest growing port on the eastern seaboard.
But competition for what growth there is will be fierce – not that it hasn’t been in the past.
In creating an international business environment that will attract new companies to the area, it is important that the government have relationships with business.
“Businesses want to know what the government supports,” Lesser said. “Everyone knows creating jobs is the No. 1 goal, but governments do not create jobs. However, it should grease the skids.”
This means keeping channels open to understand business needs and help find solutions.
Also important is the cultural relationship. When Lesser is hosted oversees, the people want to show who they are and what they value.
“So they show us their art, their drama and their architecture. The reverse is true. When they come here, they want to see who we are. Tourism and culture is very important on the international stage,” Lesser said.
These sorts of exchanges build real relationships that can become a basis of trust and understanding. But Americans in their rush “to get down to business,” often miss those kinds of opportunities.
In education, North Fulton itself has no worries. Its schools can compete with anybody. But as a state, Georgia still lags. He points to the state’s SAT scores as a particular drawback.
“When international developers are looking at potential sites in America, it will not do any good to point out we give the SAT test to many more students than most states.
“Investors want an educated workforce, and Georgia education K through 12 has always been its Achilles heel. When they see Georgia 46th or 47th in SAT scores, foreign investors are not likely to look much more closely at Georgia,” he said.
That is where the new technical school slated for North Fulton can be a big help in recruitment.
“Any initiative that helps raise people’s opportunities is a plus. In fact it is in post-secondary education that Georgia is ahead of most if not all states,” he said.
He also gives high marks for the government not only supporting technical schools and training, but maintaining close cooperation between government and business as well. This reinforces what business is trying to accomplish and sends positive signals to investors.