For likely one of his last times in office, Gov. Nathan Deal addressed several local Rotary Clubs on Wednesday at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College.
At a joint meeting of five Rotary Clubs from Forsyth County and other clubs from around the area, Deal spoke for about 30 minutes, highlighting changes and policy goals tackled in the state since he took office in 2011.
Deal said between his time in the state Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and governor, he had represented Forsyth “literally since I was sworn in as a state Senator in 1981.”
“You’re in the heart of one of the hot spots in terms of business activity, and I congratulate you on that” Deal said. “Because, for us all to be successful, we have to work together.”
Ted Richardson, with South Forsyth Rotary Club, said it was a great opportunity for the clubs to hear Deal speak before leaving office in January.
“It’s been a combination of a good economy and good leadership,” he said. “You put those two together and you can move the dial. We’ve accomplished quite a few things in Georgia. We’ve positioned ourselves as well as we could with education and jobs. When the economy picks up, we’re in a position to catch that wave, make the most of it and ride it further than if we didn’t have all that cooperation ahead of time.”
Wednesday was busy for Deal, who also announced his endorsement of Geoff Duncan, a former lawmaker representing Forsyth County, for lieutenant governor and announced a state of emergency for all 159 counties in Georgia ahead of Hurricane Florence.
Deal said Georgia was first named as the No. 1 state for business since 2013 and had maintained it every year since. After taking office while the state was still feeling the pinch of the recession, Deal said the state unemployment rate has gone from 10.4 percent to 3.9 percent in his term and 700,000 jobs have been added. “We are now in the neighborhood of 20 or 21 major, new prospects averaging 850 new jobs for each of those projects,” Deal said. “That is unprecedented, even for our state.”
One of the most visible growing industries in the state is the film and television production industry. Deal said the state was rated the No. 2 place in the world for major film production behind only Canada, joking it took a “whole country” to bump Georgia out of its previous first-place spot.
“I am told in this past fiscal year, there have been some 455 film and television projects that have taken place right here in Georgia, and the economic impact of that is at least $9.5 billion,” he said.
Deal also said he had also supported efforts to train residents for jobs needed in the state, including a full-grant program to pay for training in 17 areas. He said for those that went through the program, 88.4 percent have a job in their specific field and 99.2 percent found a job.
“If you want to do something to help your state, get people who are Georgians qualified to take the jobs that are already here,” he said. “We don’t have to go import people in. Let’s get our own people ready to take those jobs.”
Crime and courts
When faced with building two new prisons in the state, Deal said the state found that an “extremely high” percentage of those incarcerated were there for non-violent crimes.
To both save on costs and to reduce the population, Deal said the state made moves for an increase for more accountability courts, which are now present in all 49 judicial circuits.
“These are people that have had, in most cases, some form of addiction problem,” Deal said. “You can’t deal with that unless you deal with the addiction that got them there in the first place, so these courts give them very close supervision, provides them with a kind of help for their addictions that is designed to break it and it is designed to make sure they are employed.”
Those programs can include drug, DUI, mental health, veterans and family courts.
Deal said there had also been steps to offer high school diplomas and blue-collar skills to inmates and to help them find jobs, meaning they are contributing to the tax base rather than being housed using tax dollars.
He said the state government has also “banned the box” or prohibited automatically removing felons from job searches for state positions.
Deal also went over several road projects that will likely impact traffic in Forsyth County and the metro area.
“The intersection of Ga. 400 and 285, which was originally the most expensive DOT project in the history of the state, is making huge progress,” he said.
Another project planned for the area is an inland port similar to one that opened in Chatsworth in August. The port takes cargo 388 miles from the Port of Savannah to northwest Georgia.
“There is going to be another one and it is coming to northeast Georgia,” Deal said. “The one in Chatsworth, I’m told, will serve as many as five states, and when you take 50,000 containers off of our Interstate 75, which is what that one project will do, that will make a huge difference in terms of safety and in terms of mobility and time saved on our roadways.”
He said the new project could have a similar impact on trucks on I-85.