By M. Alexis Scott (www.atlantadailyworld.com)
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed led a delegation of about 30 Atlanta and Georgia business leaders to a White House Business Council meeting in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28 for a conversation about jobs and the economy that resulted in the exchange of information and ideas to continue the recovery from the Great Recession of the last four years.
Ari Matusiak, executive director of the White House Business Council, opened the meeting which took place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for four hours. He said that the council has conducted 600 such meetings for all 50 states, including about 15,000 participants during this past year.
“We couldn’t have a better partner” than the people in the Obama administration, Reed said at the beginning of the meeting.
“We want to help business leaders navigate where to go to get what they need, and to actively share with us information about job creation and economic competitiveness,” Matusiak said.
The meeting began with an economic overview by Mark Doms, chief economist with the U.S. Department of Commerce. He reviewed statistics on jobs, energy and housing. While the Great Recession has had a negative impact on the economy, he said there are some encouraging signs with the private sector adding jobs at a healthy rate.
Reed noted that the rate of foreclosures has taken a toll on property values and hence taxes to support the city’s budget. However, he said sales taxes, water fees and airport revenue are meeting expectations. As a result, he added that the city will not have to raise taxes or make any layoffs in the coming budget.
Doms also noted the negative impact on new business development, since most are financed by home equity loans and credit cards. He said most new business growth has come from big businesses. Citing unemployment figures, Doms noted the disparate negative impact on cities and that Georgia has been hit harder than the national average.
Richie Johnson, director of government and public affairs, for the Technology Association of Georgia, said that there are currently 4,000 technology jobs open in Georgia because there are not enough people with the skills to fill them.
Atlanta’s Lani Wong, chair of the National Association of Chinese Americans, said the federal government needs to look at VISA issues to encourage more international visitors and tourists who will generate more business and revenue for U.S. companies.
Atlanta Life Financial Group President and CEO William Taggart said access to capital is crucial for business development.
“As a nation that is idea rich,” Taggart said, “the biggest constraint is access to capital…. Middle-sized companies are grossly undercapitalized.”
William Stang, vice president of TOTO USA, (office in Morrow, Ga.) suggested that more jobs may be created in Georgia because of increasing costs of fuel and the concerns about an “Asian Spring” human rights protests in China along the lines of last year’s “Arab Spring” in the Middle East.
This could generate more “insourcing” along the lines of the new Caterpillar plant in Georgia, which expects to produce 1,400 new jobs.
Stephen Green, a member of the Georgia Ports Authority, said he is encouraged about the federal dollars being identified to expand the Savannah Port, the second-largest in the nation. This will impact 300,000 jobs in Georgia and the Southeast.
On the energy front, there are concerns about the impact in the increasing price for gas. Doms noted that domestic production has grown by 14 percent over the last two years, but the impact of global issues in Iran, Sudan, Syria and the North Sea are harder to control.
Jason Furman, assistant to the president and principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, reviewed the president budget priorities, including bringing down the deficit, reforming the tax code, and investing in skills training and education.
Mutusiak concluded the meeting by saying, “Atlanta represents an economic engine and innovative lessons for us all.”