Embracing the 'New Georgia Economy'

By Brad McEwen

While I’m certainly not what most folks would consider an “old-timer,” the fact of the matter is, you can’t spend the better part of 20 years either working in the business sector or reporting on business, industry and government without spending your fair share of time at various networking and educational functions like business after hours, lunch and learns, professional development seminars, State of the Community addresses and local Chamber events.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d venture to say that I’ve probably attended upwards of 1,000 such functions; and while they’ve all had their merit—containing some choice bit of information or positive social connect—I can count on one hand the times I’ve left one of the hotel conference rooms, campus auditoriums or other meeting spaces feeling as though I’d just experienced something truly powerful that could have lasting impact on the world around me.

But that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago when Georgia Chamber of Commerce President, CEO and South Georgia native and champion Chris Clark and his team rolled into Albany to present the state Chamber’s new strategic vision, known simply as “The New Georgia Economy.”

Now to be fair, this wasn’t the first time I’d attended an event like this, with the Georgia Chamber bringing its informational roadshow around the state to inform various local chamber members about the factors impacting the economic and business terrain in the state of Georgia.

Just a few years ago I covered the state Chamber’s “Georgia 2030” presentation for the Herald, and as seems to be the case with anything Chris and his team do, it was chocked full of important information about the state’s changing socio-economic climate and demographics and also provided insight on how to address those changes.

The “Georgia 2030” presentation was such a vitally important step, I believe, that it helped Georgia emerge as the number one state in the country in which to do business, a distinction it has now held for the past six years.

And as current Georgia Chamber Chair Walter M. “Sonny” Deriso alludes to his introduction to “The New Georgia Economy,” that doesn’t happen by accident.

“Maintaining the state’s ranking as the ‘Best Place to do Business’ for six years requires new ideas and a bold vision,” he wrote. “To that end, we are proud to introduce a new strategic plan: The New Georgia Economy. As the global economy evolves, so must our policy and our economic strategies. When we combine those changes with our 2030 demographic data, we have a foundation for long-term economic prosperity and mobility.”

Or in layman’s terms: like it or not, the world economy is changing, and in order to remain successful and profitable, and to build a better Georgia, we’ve got to be willing to accept the data that shows those changes and then adapt to it accordingly.

The state Chamber chair stopped short of acknowledging what might happen if we fail to act, but I don’t really mind pointing out that history has proven time and again that failure to adapt will always lead to extinction.

Georgia might currently be a shining star among its fellow Southern States that yearn to even be included in the conversation about the best states in which to do business, but given its underlying educational and socio-economic issues, it wouldn’t take much for that distinction to rapidly deteriorate.

Which for me is one of the chief reasons I went ahead and skipped my son’s 3rd grade Honors Day and arrived at the student center auditorium at Albany State’s West Campus at 7:30 a.m. to attend the half-day event.

You see, as proud as I am of the Bear, quite honestly it’s more important to me that he grows up in a prosperous state where he can have a bright future, than it is for me to see him get another Honor Roll certificate. Plus he knows I love him and that I’m incredibly proud of him.

So that was my mindset as I found my seat at the start of the event.

While I was obviously in the right frame of mind that morning to absorb the presentation, the fact of the matter is, I really wasn’t prepared to be so impacted by the material presented.

I mean I consider myself a pretty savvy guy who keeps his fingers on the pulse of most of the factors impacting my industry and my community, but while a lot of the thought-provoking insight that was presented that morning was not completely alien to me, some of the concepts that were discussed were new; and truly I had never really considered how some of the known concepts might actually impact the future of this state’s economy.

So when I say I was pretty darn close to being blown-away, that’s not hyperbole. Before my eyes even adjusted to the overhead lights that came up at the end of the event, I was struck by the thought that there simply weren’t enough people in the room that morning, that the information presented was honestly too vital to too many area residents, business leaders and local officials to not be shared with a broader audience.

And, that I should somehow use Beyond the Bank to help further that knowledge.

Thankfully, that sentiment was shared by others within the organization, and as we discussed the idea—and considered the fact that our own Albany Area Chamber of Commerce has enlisted the help of the state Chamber with its own strategic plan—it was clear this was something worth taking on.

There’s absolutely no way that I could ever begin to explain the entirety of the New Georgia Economy and what impact it could have on our community in a single Beyond the Bank feature and I have no intention to do that.

But over time, I intend to visit some of the pillars of the New Georgia Economy and dig a little deeper into what things like the “Gig Economy” and “Industry 4.0” mean for Southwest Georgia.

So you’ve never heard of the “Gig Economy?” Don’t feel badly, I hadn’t either before I sat down in my seat and opened my ears to the presentation.

But I can now tell you, not only what the Gig Economy is, but I can hopefully help illustrate what it means for the future of our economy and why our state and local leaders are taking it very seriously as they consider the future of doing business in Georgia.

In its simplest form, the “New Georgia Economy” is the convergence of multiple economic trends that in their own way impact every industry sector in the state, and the six strategic pillars the Georgia Chamber is focusing on as a way to mitigate the potential risk of those various trends, or as I see it micro-economies, that must be considered in the bigger economic picture (things like the aforementioned Gig Economy).

As Chris explained during the recent Albany presentation (one of several the organization is hosting across the state this summer), businesses in the state of Georgia are currently operating in what he called “a new economic revolution” that is not unlike the industrial and technological revolutions that have changed the way America and the world does business over the past 250-plus years.

And much in the way the first industrial revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries—which saw growth in industries such as coal, textiles, railroads and iron due to advances in technology—and the second industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—that saw expansions in electricity, petroleum and steel (all of which led to increased automation and the production of items like airplanes and public automobiles)—changed the way business is conducted worldwide, so too is the current “economic revolution” reshaping the landscape in which businesses operate today.

But while business and industry (and really society as a whole) had ample time to adjust to the changes that came about during those earlier revolutions, that isn’t necessarily the case today.

Most historians generally agree that the first industrial revolution came about over the course of nearly 100 years (roughly 1760-1850) and that the second industrial revolution unfurled over the course of roughly 50 years (1870-1920). With that type of slow evolution, Chris explained, people were able to adjust and adapt fairly easily to the changing times.

But since that time, advances in nearly every area of technology have come at an increasingly rapid pace, forcing faster adaptation within the business world as companies have scrambled to figure out how to implement new technology amid the shifting landscape.

We need only look at the last few years to see how the advent of wireless internet and smartphones has changed not only the way in which business is conducted, but how the average person lives their life.

Simply reflecting on my own professional life, I’m amazed at the changes I’ve seen since entering the workforce as a 24 year-old reporter for the Toccoa Record.

When I started there in 2000 I was taking pictures with a film a camera (which meant needing time to have pictures developed by a studio) and twice a week I would drive a three and a half inch floppy disk containing our page layout and a basket of pictures to the printing press in Hartwell so they could produce the actual paper and deliver the physical copies to all the subscribers and newsstands (back then the Record wasn’t online).

I left Toccoa two years later and by then we were already using digital cameras and had started using email to send completed page layouts to Hartwell.

Just 10 years later, when I returned to the world of journalism with the Albany Herald, digital photos were the accepted standard, every part of the paper’s creation was done digitally and my job almost from the day I arrived was to make sure our stories were released digitally throughout the day on social media and on our website.

When I left in 2017 as the Digital Editor, nearly everything I did was connected to the internet. I was publishing stories remotely through my smartphone and every reporter was required to Tweet and post to other social media platforms consistently throughout the day—thus strengthening our digital presence and by extension helping us remain relevant and hopefully profitable.

Now there may have been plenty of things about journalism that hadn’t changed from my time in Toccoa to my time at the Herald, but anyone who has followed the news for the past 15 years knows this is not our grandfather’s media environment.

The same can also be said for the banking industry.

When I started at Regions Bank in 2002, I was engaged to be married and in just a couple of years would have my first child, who is now 13. I didn’t even own a cell phone (flip or otherwise).

Today I’d literally be unable to do my job if I didn’t have my mobile device. I’m even compensated by my employer because it’s essentially become integral to my livelihood (mobile email being yet another major gamechanger that’s altered the business world).

I remember back when Facebook was gaining popularity in the mid-aughts and Regions actually took the time to warn all of its employees about the dangers of social media—going so far as to make the veiled threat that even having a Facebook account could put your career at risk.

Fast forward to my arrival at AB&T and not only does everybody have Facebook, the bank (along with every other financial institution in the known universe) not only has a Facebook page, but actively uses it as a marketing tool (in many cases the most important marketing tool in the belt). So basically we went from “Use Facebook at your own peril,” to “Brad, we’d like to hire you to help manage our social media presence and help grow the bank through those channels,” in less than five years.

Or take for example the explosion of Fin Tech. When I left Regions in 2012 the most recent innovation impacting the banking world was still the advent of online banking (think checking your balance on your home desktop, ha, and maybe moving money from your savings to your checking to make sure you could cover, get this, a check you wrote), and the growing proliferation of VISA debit cards. In fact, I can distinctly remember organizing branch call nights to contact customers to discuss with them the benefits of using debit cards.

Today, online banking is the norm and clients can do far more with it than they ever could back then; and VISA debit cards are also standard issue. Even my mom, who refused to even get a plain Jane ATM card back when I was at Regions, regularly swipes her debit card wherever she goes (or she’s holding her smartphone up to the sales terminal and paying through Apple or Samsung).

When I left Regions, apps were still a relatively new thing (I’m picturing kids playing the original Temple Run on what I likely thought were their mp3 players), and any of them that aided in mobile banking were most assuredly viewed with skepticism by many in the industry.

Suffice it to say, in 2019 if you’re a bank without a mobile app and your doors are still somehow open, somebody, somewhere has already written your obituary.

While these are just a few examples of how technology has drastically altered the landscape of not one, but two industries I’ve worked in (during what I would consider a pretty short period of time) they pretty accurately illustrate some of the sweeping change that has occurred in our world.

And I haven’t even mentioned names like Amazon, Apple, Google and Uber. Names that have altered the very fabric of our society.

So when Chris writes in his introduction letter to the “New Georgia Economy” that as successful as the state’s more than 180 Chambers has been, that “the traditional models of advocacy, networking and education need drastic updating as we face a new ‘knowledge revolution,’” I’m in agreement.

Chris goes on to write that the economic convergences known as The Digital Economy, Industrial Revolution 4.0, Gig Economy, Knowledge Revolution, Creative Economy, Ag-Tech, Innovation Economy and Eco-Economy “will create new markets, demands, opportunities, risks and a New Georgia Economy that is both disruptive and constantly evolving.”

“We must engage in a different advocacy and education strategy that prioritizes free enterprise and open markets,” he continues. “Additionally, we must learn how to leverage the New Georgia Economy to unlock the promise of a renaissance for rural communities and neglected city centers. It will offer economic mobility that moves people away from poverty and toward promising futures.”

Additionally, Chris explains, the continuing emergence of these factors also will require leaders to enact fresh and innovative policies and task business and industry leaders to work with start-ups and institutions of higher learning.

“It will require government and healthcare providers to partner with the faith community to address issues from addiction to poverty,” he writes. “Executives will need to embrace a new corporate citizenship. As companies embrace the potential of robotics and artificial intelligence, they must also provide higher wages and better benefits to attract talent and to ultimately discover the next great gamechanger.

“It requires small businesses and their employees to renew their commitment to democracy and free enterprise. Educators, parents, children and the corporate community will need to commit to life-long learning, a more diverse education delivery system, new skills, flexible technical training and liberal arts, as well as vibrant research universities. Citizens will demand local government work with business to make it easier for technology to foster faster internet, telemedicine, automation and safer data management.”

But most importantly for me, Chris writes, “we will need to prioritize the next generation of makers, doers, growers and builders and instill them with the spirit of entrepreneurship.”

In his letter, and in the Albany presentation, Chris also reaffirms the state Chamber’s commitment to leading the way for other Chambers across the state, which from a local perspective comes as welcome news as our own Chamber embarks on its strategic planning process.

“Partnering with the Georgia Chamber for our strategic plan for the Albany Chamber will allow us to work with them to help our community be prepared for these changes and help continue the progress our community is making in embracing change,” explained local businessman and Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Board member Matt Reed when we discussed the New Georgia Economy presentation a few days later. “What the Georgia Chamber’s Strategic Plan lays out—the New Georgia Economy—is a blueprint for not only our state, but our local communities, for how we thrive and address the changing demographics, both socially and economically.

“Aligning our local Chamber and community to the New Georgia Economy will allow us to remain competitive and on top of the coming changes and disruptions we will see in the future.”

That’s powerful commentary on its face, but it’s an even more impactful endorsement coming from someone like Matt, who in addition to recently being named this community’s Albany Under 40 Young Professional of the Year, also sits on the state Chamber’s Board of Governors—something that has given him a good deal of insight into the topics laid out in the “New Georgia Economy.”

“The Chamber is always at the forefront of what’s impacting our state and our business community and how we prepare for the future, and this initiative is no different,” he explained. “Whether it’s advocating for a pro-business climate to continue our run as the number one state in which to do business, or continuing to champion rural Georgia, the Chamber is here to help push our state forward.

“Chris and the rest of the Georgia Chamber leadership team have already established a proven track record of success within Georgia’s changing socio-economic environment, so it just makes sense for state business leaders and local Chambers to pay keen attention to the data being provided.

“Chris Clark and the Georgia Chamber have always been great friends to our Chamber and our community, always offering help and answering the call whenever they are needed, so I, for one, am honored that partnership will continue through our Chamber’s strategic planning.”

There’s definitely a lot to unpack with the “New Georgia Economy,” and this piece has barely scratched the surface of the various convergences in play or of the six pillars of the strategic plan designed to mitigate those factors, but that’s okay.

As we move closer in the coming months toward a finalized strategic vision for our Chamber, I fully intend to explore the “New Georgia Economy” in greater detail; and with the help of our local leadership, truly examine what it could mean not only for Georgia as a whole, but for Southwest Georgia and the Albany area in particular.

As Chris and his team so eloquently put it, our societal landscape is changing rapidly, so we can either embrace the change, and move toward a brighter and even more prosperous future, or we can be left behind.

I think it goes without saying which outcome I’d like to see.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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