Writer: Felipe Rivas
2 min read March 2021 — In 2020, the Peach State was ready to continue its long-standing industry diversification efforts, maintain a record low unemployment rate and continue attracting international investment, among other ambitious business goals, well into the new decade. Then COVID-19 happened.
A year into the pandemic landscape, the light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to shine, heralded by an increase in vaccine availability and the stabilization of the unemployment rate that outstrips the national average.
Though these beacons of hope are steps in the right direction, many questions remain about the post-pandemic future of the local and national economy, mainly: what will jobs, education, government leadership and community engagement look like? What new role will technology play in advancing the economic landscape? How will healthcare be disseminated to Georgia’s growing population? And what does this mean for future generations?
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is among those grappling with questions concerning the future of the state’s economy and what the new normal may look like. Keen on gathering input from all stakeholders to best answer these questions, the chamber’s Reimagined New Georgia Economy campaign will help shape the recovery process and guide the future of the Peach State in a post-coronavirus world. “Our Resiliency and Recovery Task Force has been focused since May 2020 on driving a new post-COVID-19 economy, more resilient than our previous one, and something that Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Speaker David Ralston have all made a priority,” Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark told Focus: Atlanta. “To that end, our Reimagined New Georgia Economy strategy will provide the input, data and feedback to build a more resilient vision and direction for the future.”
“For 2021, the chamber will convene, facilitate, educate, research, study, and spend the year bringing Georgians together and listening to them,” said Clark. “We will take that information to build a vision for the next decade of economic prosperity.”
In Georgia, the latest statistics point to an encouraging recovery process. The current unemployment rate in the state hovers at 5.6% compared to a 6.3% national average, according to the St. Louis Fed.
The Reimagined New Georgia Economy campaign will help define, or redefine, key factors within the state’s business ecosystem, such as the future of healthcare, talent and upskilling, infrastructure investments and diversity and inclusion efforts. “Strategies are born when community input and hard data are combined to form a reasonably confident direction in which to plan and drive growth. What we are doing is collecting real-world insights from men and women on the ground to better help Georgia and its business community adapt and plan for the future,” Clark said. “Each of the areas mentioned above have a direct impact on the economic patterns of the future as we recover from the COVID recession.”
For healthcare, “the future of healthcare is in knowing how to address global pandemics, how to serve the mass population with vaccines, testing, and other essential services that do not overwhelm our medical facilities but, rather, support a response that reduces the economic and health-related impact that we have seen with COVID-19,” Clark said.
The pandemic accelerated the pace of innovation and highlighted the skills mismatch within the marketplace. As such, bolstering training-and-development efforts are a major focus for the chamber. “There is a skills mismatch that the global pandemic only exacerbated. Upskilling workers today for jobs of the future where robotics, SaaS and artificial intelligence shape worker qualifications is essential, and input and data must support the need for expanded programming at our institutions of higher learning,” Clark added.
The pandemic also facilitated a fast adoption of the work-from-home model in the corporate world at large. COVID further cemented the reliance on e-commerce and fueled the industrial market while highlighting the continued need for infrastructure investments. “Infrastructure investment has been a critical need for a long time and the supply chain and demand during COVID-19 demonstrated just how great an opportunity there is for heavy investment in roads, bridges, rail, and our ports,” Clark pointed out. “As online shopping becomes a way of life, distribution networks and the paths needed to get from point A to point B must be stronger, more accessible, greater in number and reliable, above all.”
Infrastructure investment in rural Georgia will be crucial as the chamber and business leaders think about the state’s future. “Broadband and technological infrastructure must reach these underserved communities in order to provide better education and workforce development options, foster entrepreneurial growth in our small downtowns, deliver goods and services to our rural medical facilities for health and wellness efforts and offer a stronger, more vibrant quality of life that attracts and retains talent to bring business and economic investment into this region,” Clark said. “Seventy percent of the 507,000-plus homes and businesses in Georgia that lack access to reliable broadband are in rural counties. By 2025, the number of devices connected to the internet, known as Internet of Things (IOT), in North America is forecasted to grow to 5.9 billion. This means existing technologies like telemedicine and e-commerce platforms for small businesses will grow and new devices and technologies will create additional opportunities to operate virtually and digitally.”
In 2021, the Georgia Chamber will host two key rural events slated to shed light on this issue.
The Future of Georgia Summit held in Columbus, Georgia, on Aug. 10-11 will host leaders in both the public and private sectors to highlight success stories, identify solutions for next steps and drive home strategies that will preserve and foster a brighter future for Georgia, the chamber said. Similarly, the American Rural Prosperity Summit (ARPS) held in Athens, Georgia on Oct. 5-6 is slated to draw national leaders for discussions around the issues and challenges facing rural America today and support discussion around best practices to enhance and strengthen these important regions of the country.
Most notably, 2020 also catapulted the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion to a new level. Leveraging this energy into actionable change will be key in guiding the socioeconomic future of the state and nation. “We must be willing to have tough conversations around race and the systemic, prevalent inequalities that exist within our judicial system and our society, today. We cannot allow this problem to continue, hampering our ability to truly make strides on all other fronts. We must come together as humans, as Americans, and work toward genuine equity and inclusion for everyone seeking opportunity in our nation,” Clark said.
Among the chamber’s primary goals is to help Georgia move forward, at an accelerated pace, through economic recovery and into a more resilient position. “If we can learn today from those things that have hit us hard, held us back and continue to permeate our way of thinking, we can truly begin to grow into a more resilient society and economy. That is what we want to achieve through this strategic approach to a vision for our state. The input will be reflected in our strategic direction, our legislative priorities, our political actions, and all of our chamber partners will be provided access to the information so they can adjust their own strategies,” Clark said.
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