Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Clark and representatives from the Georgia Chamber were in town earlier this week to meet with our local Chamber President Lori Smith and Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Kyle Fletcher, as well as those from surrounding communities, to discuss matters important to our region and how the Georgia Chamber can be of service.
Over the last nine months, the Georgia Chamber has been meeting with local chambers of commerce as well as development authorities to find out what messages they can take back to the state agencies on what policy changes are needed to be made to help grow jobs in rural Georgia.
“These meetings really are our opportunity to listen to our partners and members around the state,” said Clark. “At the Georgia Chamber, everything we do is to try to make our community and our businesses more competitive so we can create jobs and grow the economy of Georgia.”
Clark stated that recently Georgia, as a whole, has seen an upward swing in the job market, with 1,700 corporations locating or relocating to the state. He also noted there has been almost $20 billion worth of new investments coming in, and Georgia has recently been named the top state in America to do business with by CNBC and “Site Selection” magazine, one of the nation’s top economic development trade publications. However, Clark stated the Georgia Chamber realizes the job climate is not seeing the same growth in all areas of the state.
“We are beating our rivals and doing very well right now, unfortunately we are not seeing that growth in all the rural parts of the state. We are seeing good growth in some areas because of the film industry, distribution still seems to be good and there is a lot of small business activity; but we know we still have got work to do and that is what we are going to focus on.”
An element that has been important to the Upson County area as a way to aid in economic growth is the Import/Export Highway 74 project, which local leaders have worked with other agencies on for quite some time. The project proposes widening Highway 74 to a four-lane road to allow a direct route from Macon to LaGrange to connect the suppliers shipping through the Savannah Harbor with the businesses on the west side of the state (such as KIA).The planned deepening of the harbor will allow for increased accessibility and capacity for what is considered the fastest growing port in the nation and is also thought to increase the truck traffic on the interstates greatly. It is thought the expansion of Highway 74 will alleviate some of the traffic in the metro Atlanta area, in addition to providing a more direct route to the western part of the state. Clark stated the Georgia Chamber has been involved with that project since the beginning and they realize having the connectivity would greatly help Upson and surrounding counties to grow.
“It is a priority for us, just like it is a priority for y’all,” said Clark. “We discussed this in our meeting earlier today and are completely committed to make sure it is a priority and gets in front of the Senate and House committees during their sessions this summer.”
When asked his opinion on how communities like Thomaston and Upson County could assist in becoming successful, Clark noted one way is to use a new program started by the Georgia Chamber this year called Georgia2Georgia. The program connects businesses with not only other businesses throughout the state, but governments and ultimately consumers in Georgia. Clark stated this program asks governments as well as businesses to do just two percent more business with in-state partners, especially those in your own community, which will lead to more economic activity and job creations for everyone. You can sign up to be a part of the program at www.georgia2georgia.com.
In addition to doing business with each other Clark noted the most important organization to be involved in, is the local chamber of commerce. He noted each chamber is only as strong as the members who invest in it, but feels being an active member opens a wealth of benefits to those who do. One being, small businesses with fewer than 10 employees who are a member of the Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce, also automatically get to be a member of the Georgia Chamber at no additional cost.
Clark also feels two of the greatest assets Upson County has are our IDA Director and Chamber President who are working hard for our community.
“You’ve got a great Economic Development Director in Kyle(Fletcher), who is out there shaking the trees and working on projects. You could not have a better Chamber President than Lori (Smith) and all the hard work that she is doing when it comes to tourism and film development as well as running the chamber.”
He continued emphasizing that no matter how great those two ladies are at their jobs, in order to make a community successful, it takes the work of everyone.
“At the end of the day, businesses and particularly your county, city and school board ought to be looking at how do we do more business with the businesses in our area and community. Because those folks are already paying taxes, they are invested, are employing people here and if they can have more dollars carrying though then they will grown and your community will grow. So it is pretty simple, just do business with each other.”
The Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce is a member of the Georgia Chamber and Chamber President Lori Smith stated she was very excited to have the organization reach out to the rural communities to see how they can better assist with our needs and feels they will be able to help on the state level with many things. She noted it was a nice change of pace to have the group come to our community, instead of travelling to Atlanta as usual, and Upson County was proud to play host for the meeting which involved not only our local chamber, but also the Roberta-Crawford, Meriwether and Barnesville Chambers of Commerce.
TUIDA Director Kyle Fletcher also felt the meeting was beneficial, especially due to the fact the Georgia Chamber works closely with many State agencies, such as the Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. She feels they can be a great help in adding an extra voice for Thomaston-Upson County with those departments and keeping us on the radar.
To find out more information about the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and how to become a member, visit www.gachamber.com.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1