Georgia small businesses had a lot to be happy about in 2019.
November’s unemployment rate fell to a historic record low of 3.3%. In fact, the biggest complaint from business owners is that they can’t find qualified workers to hire.
Thirty percent of small business owners reported raising compensation and 26% plan to do so in the coming months, the highest level since December 1989, according to NFIB’s monthly jobs report. Owners are adding an average of 0.29 workers per firm in November, which is the highest level since May.
These impressive gains are in large part because Georgia small businesses are feeling confident. NFIB’s monthly Small Business Optimism Index Report showed small business optimism posted its largest month-over-month increase since May 2018, rising 2.3 points to 104.7 in November.
The exceptional Index reading was bolstered by advancement in 7 of the 10 Index components, led by a 10-point improvement in earnings. Owners reporting “a good time to expand” increased by 6 points and those “expecting better business conditions” increased by 3 points.
One reason our members feel confident is that Gov. Brian Kemp has is committed to enhancing the small business climate and prioritized it since he came into office.
His first act as governor created the Georgian’s First Commission to make Georgia the No. 1 state for small businesses. This has been met with bipartisan support and excitement among small business owners as the commission looks from top to bottom at regulatory issues, tax policy, and bureaucratic red tape, which all cause chokepoints for small businesses doing business in our state.
But while there is plenty to be optimistic about, there are still very concerning challenges facing small business owners in Georgia.
As we enter 2020 and a new legislative session, the unequivocal top concern is Georgia’s abysmal legal climate and its negative impact on small businesses.
According to the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, Georgia’s national legal ranking has fallen from 24th to 41st in just seven years. On top of that, the American Tort Reform Association listed Georgia as a Judicial Hell-Hole for the first time. This is in part due to a dramatic expansion of premises liability, record-breaking nuclear verdicts, and the increasing frequency and cost of litigation. Small business owners, employees, and customers are victimized while billboard personal injury lawyers line their pockets at our expense.
Every product and service bought or sold in Georgia has a built-in liability cost baked into the sticker price. In fact, the average family in Georgia pays over $3,631 per year in liability costs because of our poor legal climate.
Georgia has the 2nd highest insurance rates in the country for startup businesses with a tractor-trailer. Logging truck companies have seen a 300% increase in insurance premiums in just two years. Mom-and-pop trucking companies are going out of business because they cannot afford insurance coverage. This has a ripple effect because almost every product is transported on a truck.
Georgia has the 11th highest auto insurance rates in the country, 22% higher than the national average, according to Insure.com. Despite having some of the highest insurance premiums in the country, Georgia is also one of the least profitable states in the country for insurance companies to operate.
Premises liability has become one area of many concerns for Georgia small businesses. Georgia courts have permitted tens of millions of dollars to be awarded against property owners and businesses for crimes committed by criminals on or even just outside their property. Instead of prosecuting the criminals, business and property owners are often held liable and become victims of lawsuits.
Any owner of a business or property risks a frivolous lawsuit, including homeowners, convenience stores, apartment complexes, grocery stores, or anyone with a parking lot or storefront. The most unfortunate part of this is business owners feel there is nothing they can do to protect themselves from the gamesmanship of billboard personal injury lawyers.
Georgia small businesses are easy targets for frivolous claims because they do not have the resources, time, or sophisticated internal infrastructure to litigate a meritless case in the judicial system. Billboard personal injury attorneys know this and use it as leverage to force them to settle. Businesses cannot afford to be right, so they are forced to pay.
There is good news, however. The General Assembly has heard the concerns of small businesses and is considering legislation to improve our legal climate in this legislative session. The senate created a study committee, resulting in 19 recommendations to help bring needed balance to our legal environment. A coalition of over 40 organizations representing every industry and type of business from every corner of our state is supporting these needed reforms.
Addressing these challenges is not going to be easy, but Georgia small businesses are motivated, and I am confident we will make 2020 even better than last year.
Nathan Humphrey is NFIB’s state director for Georgia.