The President and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce speaks to local leaders at a lunch meeting in StephensCounty.
Chris Clark met with local business and political leaders from Stephens and surrounding counties at the Currahee Club Thursday as part of the Georgia Chamber’s “Regional Power Lunch” series that has taken place across the state.
Clark told a full house that Georgia has seen a lot of positive economic news and appears to be headed in the right direction as a state.
However, he acknowledged that not all of the news is good, noting that while jobs and investments are up, the unemployment rate is not dropping like they would like to see.
Clark also said that rural areas are lagging behind in some cases compared to more urban ones when it comes to economic development.
“That has always been the case,” said Clark. “It is always more difficult (for rural areas). That is why we encourage local Chambers to take different approaches. Let’s help the tourism sector. Let’s grow small businesses. Let’s help existing companies grow.”
He added that while not all places will attract a large industry, communities can still grow and Clark said the Chamber encourages those areas to “think outside the box.”
Clark said a community must work to have a clear vision and set itself apart from other communities in order to attract growth.
He said that is especially important considering that the competition is no longer just neighboring communities and states.
“Think about what are we doing in Georgia to compete not just against South Carolina and Alabama and places in the southeast, but against Singapore and Germany,” said Clark.
According to Clark, the Georgia Chamber is working in a number of areas to try to help businesses.
Clark said one of the main ones is education, where he says the Georgia Chamber is pushing to increase standards and performance to make Georgia more competitive with other states in areas where it is currently lagging behind in education.
Clark took time during his speech to defend the “Common Core” standards that have drawn controversy in recent weeks.
Clark said the state Chamber supports “Common Core,” noting that it was a state-led effort, not a federal one, and explaining that while it sets uniform standards, it does not tell schools how to teach to get children to meet the standard.
“One example of a standard (is) every child should know how to subtract fractions by fourth grade,” said Clark. “It does not tell you how to teach it. It just tells you that this is the level you should be at.”
Clark also encouraged local businesses to get involved in education and other areas in their community in order to help growth.
He said such a grassroots effort can be much more effective in many cases that relying on a top-down effort.
That is a message that Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber Chair Brian Akin said he strongly agrees with.
“I think he was spot-on,” said Akin. “It is imperative that local communities, Toccoa and StephensCounty included, have to do work at the local level if they expect to participate in the growth to come for the state of Georgia.”
Akin said he was very impressed with Clark’s message.
Clark also took time during his talk to urge business owners to begin preparing their businesses to comply with new rules and regulations coming as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
He said businesses cannot afford to be caught off guard when the new healthcare rules take effect.