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Kemp talks business at Chamber
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Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, left, greets Effingham Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rick Lott on Friday morning. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp paid a visit to the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce on Friday to talk business, specifically, how to bring more of it to Georgia and keep it here.

“We have a very competitive state now,” Kemp said. “But South Carolina is doing some things that make it tough on us and some other states. We’ve gotta catch up in some areas and make sure we stay ahead in some others and continue to have a place where entrepreneurs not only want to start out here, but once they get their ideas perfected, they want to stay here.”

With community leaders, including Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, Georgia Power’s Dinah King, IDA CEO John Henry and Superintendent Randy Shearouse, Kemp spoke of different initiatives that introduce innovative entrepreneurs to legitimate investors to foster their ideas and teach them how to protect their ideas. He also spoke about overregulation at the federal level and contrary workforce needs across the state.

Said Kemp: “It’s amazing when you go around our state. In some communities, they’re like, ‘we’ve got to get new industry because we need people in our community to go to work.’ Then you go to other communities who say, ‘we’ve got jobs, businesses that want to expand, but we can’t find any people to work.’ I’m going, ‘are you kidding me, we’ve got 10 percent unemployment and you can’t find anybody that will take a construction job or a manufacturing job or a welding job?’ There are definitely areas that I think we’re going to be able to target to work on.”

He spoke about reducing red tape and bureaucracy and said that these regulations at the federal level are keeping businesses from expanding. Kemp added that there is work to be done at the state and local levels as well to foster development and streamline big projects. He said that some departments in the state are trying to put licensing online to reduce paperwork.

He also said that he’d like to have one agency dedicated to answering business and development questions from local development authorities and chambers of commerce.

“I think there will be some very serious discussion about trying to provide something like that that would be a resource to all local governments, new business owners, development authorities, regional development commissions,” Kemp said, “anybody that’s out there that has a question, something that will cut through the bureaucratic maze that you run into sometimes in government.”

Executive Director of the Effingham Chamber of Commerce Rick Lott asked Kemp what the state could do to make Georgia more competitive for businesses so that the IDA wouldn’t lose industrial contracts to South Carolina and Alabama. Georgia was ranked fourth in nation of top states for business, below Virginia, Texas and North Carolina, in a recent CNBC analysis.

Kemp said that Gov. Nathan Deal’s Competitiveness Initiative Council would be taking an in-depth look at the issue but that part of the problem could be because of a shortage of funds available for closing these types of big deals. He said it’s been hard for the state to balance that when they are trying to juggle other hot-button parts of the budget, such as teacher furloughs.

“It’s really been hard to balance that,” said Kemp. “Hopefully, here in Georgia, if our revenues will hold tight, hopefully there will be some things that will ease up.”

Kemp said that the entire state is supportive of deepening the Savannah Harbor and is finding ways to gain from it once the project is complete.

“I think it’s just critical to the state’s future that we get that harbor deepened,” he said, pointing to the federal government as the holdup.

He said that if the application were going through a Georgia agency, there would be priority and urgency placed on the matter to start work on the deepening as soon as possible.

“It’s unfortunate the federal government won’t do that, because you’re talking about jobs, you’re talking about economic development, you’re talking about tax revenue,” Kemp said. “Quite honestly I wonder if they just don’t get it up there. But it is what it is. We’ve got to deal with it. I know that the governor, it’s one of his top priorities.”