Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Connecting the Dots

By J. Mac Holladay, Founder and CEO.

I have lived in Georgia for over twenty years now, coming here in 1993 to run the Governor’s Development Council. I am saddened by the negative direction that this state has taken in the past few years. The most important example of that failure was contained in the headlines of two front page articles in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on April 16. Here they are: “College Costs Rise Again” and “Tech Talent Shortage Takes Toll on Georgia.” It does not take a rocket scientist to connect the dots.

A logical question would be what is the leadership doing? The data behind these headlines paints a clear, sad picture. Gone are the days when Georgia led the nation with the innovative HOPE scholarship which paid all tuition, books, and fees and provided a Pre-K space for every four year old child. HOPE now only covers 60% of the costs for our best students. Once, every school district in the state and all students spent 180 days in class, class sizes were shrinking, and the teacher pay was at the national average. All of that is history.
Georgia has drastically cut funding from Pre K – 12, technical colleges, and the university system. In another front page article on May 2 this headline appeared, “Tech Schools the Latest to Hike Tuition.” In 2009 the average annual tuition cost for technical colleges was $1,620. In 2014 that number is $2,670, a 64% increase. The state funding of our technical colleges has dropped to only 44% from 60% in 2003. Georgia Tech’s tuition is up 41.5% in the past five years and the University of Georgia is up 36.5%. This is in a state that has seen its per capita income increase by only 7.5% since 2007.

The second headline article quoted Eric Shelley of Home Depot (which is headquartered here), “At the end of the day, we don’t have the talent pool in Georgia.” So Home Depot put its new technology centers in Texas and California. Seven major corporations, including NCR and Porsche, spoke at that meeting all, with the same message: Georgia can’t compete on talent.

All of us in the economic development business know the number one issue for companies of all sizes is the quality of the workforce. Great schools create great talent. Someone in Georgia needs to have the courage to speak up and connect the dots. We can’t simply cut our way to prosperity.