Our economy is at best stubbornly stuck in neutral, and too many elected leaders seem to agree only that the best way forward involves little more than pointing fingers and shouting accusations. That backdrop made it especially heartening to observe the more than 200 Georgians who traveled to Pine Mountain recently to discuss the future.
Over two days, participants at the Georgia Forward forum at Callaway Gardens pondered ways to help get this state back to the critical business of creating more jobs and better, more-prosperous communities.
The value of this movement is that it’s intended to help bury once and for all the wasteful “Two Georgias” construct that has done little other than needlessly divide this state and tamp down initiatives and collaboration that could help us all. We need to step beyond the tired old game of victims and villains. If we don’t, our best days will recede into the past a little more with each sunrise. Alec Fraser, president of Turner Properties, told attendees, “The future of Georgia lies in our ability to be competitive around the globe.”
Getting there demands unity on key issues. Atlanta has the world’s busiest airport, but it is accurate also to describe the Port of Savannah as Georgia’s “second Hartsfield,” as a Georgia Forward panelist did. We need both – and other spark plugs like them – working overtime to restart our economy.
We’re all in this together. A state unemployment rate that stubbornly hovers around 10 percent reinforces that point pretty plainly.
As Deke Copenhaver, Augusta’s mayor, put it, “All of our regions have strengths that will allow us to attract industry. As a state, we’re one organism and all of that organism needs to be healthy.”
We can best improve and ensure that health by strengthening our cooperation on the biggest issues, such as transportation and education.
Those at Georgia Forward represented a broad mix of local elected officials, economic developers, businesspeople, academics, leaders of not-for-profit organizations and others interested in learning more about each other’s struggles around the state. Attendees spoke often; more importantly, they listened intently. Real and honest dialogue is too rare these days, but it has never been more vital for our future.
This year’s event unfortunately occurred during the General Assembly’s special redistricting session. While unavoidable, it’s too bad state legislators were otherwise occupied. They should make a point to attend next year.
Until then, they should redouble – or begin – efforts to link all Georgians in a common quest for economic recovery. That will take real leadership, especially heading into an election year. As Mayor Copenhaver put it, “We need elected officials thinking beyond their next term in office.”
It’s up to Georgians to demand that of our politicians. As the tea party has shown, power and influence is gained when the grass roots gets organized. Comments from the forum’s discussions show that many around the state share its biggest concerns. “There really were a lot of commonalities around the table,” said one note-taker. Another said he was “tired of hearing Georgia is on the cusp of greatness. We’ve made progress, but there is a long way to go.”
Recognizing that more unites than divides us is a necessary step to pushing Georgia forward. When that happens – and it must happen – Georgia will be unstoppable. Let’s get going.