Georgia Governor Announces New Economic Defense Initiative

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As lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate over the impending fiscal cliff, Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal (R), announced in late November that his office would undergo a major strategic defense initiative to jump start economic development near the state’s military bases.

The Governor’s Defense Initiative would spur job creation in and around the state’s various military bases, even as Congress and the Obama administration weigh the effect that the automatic $500 billion cuts would have on the nation’s defense industry as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act.

“We want to be an active defense before things happen,” said T. Rodgers Wade, a close ally of the governor who has been tapped as the executive director of the initiative.

Georgia ranks fifth in the nation for overall Department of Defense military, civilian direct-hire, reserve and National Guard employment. The combined three Army bases, two Air Force bases, a Navy base and a Marine base, create a $20 billion economic infrastructure that includes salaries, contracts and generated revenue.

Additionally, eight of the top 10 defense contractors in the United States operate in Georgia, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics (Gulfstream) and Raytheon.

The potential for huge job losses and structural change within Georgia’s defense industry would be devastating to a vital part of the state’s economy. The Warner Robins Patriot reported that at a November Requirements Symposium for defense contractors held at Robins Air Force Base in Perry, GA, the district’s congressman, as well as Air Force military commanders, stressed that defense cuts were inevitable.

This is not the first time Georgia’s military community has been affected by congressional changes to defense. Ft. McPherson, an Army base in southwest Atlanta, closed in 2011 as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommendation. It’s closure forced neighboring base Ft. Gillam to become a military enclave several command units.

The initiative is in its early stages, but it would be a public-private partnership managed by the Georgia Department of Economic Development with assistance from the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee, a branch of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

Wade said the program would look at creating jobs for returning veterans who have served on nuclear subs to expand Georgia’s nuclear power plant. Also, a potential non-military manufacturing base could be created from jobs shed as military aircrafts are decommissioned following the drawdown of US missions. The program would also tap into Georgia Institute of Technology’s engineering programs as a major area for research and development. As a result of these projects, Wade said the affected communities could also see small business development increase.

Gov. Deal appointed William L. Ball, former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, to lead the program. Both Ball and Wade have deep ties to Georgia’s business and defense industry. Both served as chiefs of staff under controversial Southern Democrat, and former US Senator, Herman Talmadge. Wade is the former head of the governor’s transition team and the former president of the non-partisan, free-market think tank Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Ball will leverage his connections with the defense industry, Georgia Tech, home of the number 2-ranked graduate aerospace engineering program in the country, and his federal experience to spearhead the program.

“We wanted to get somebody who knew both sides,” said Wade.

Wade could not indicate what percentage of the program would come from taxpayer dollars, but he did say the 2013 state budget appropriated money for this type of economic development initiative. He also mentioned private donations would fund a majority of the program.

According to figures from the Office of Planning and Budget, approximately $44 million would be appropriated to OneGeorgia Authority, while another $67 million would go to Regional Economic Business Assistance. The budget for the Department of Economic Development saw a growth in funds of about $1 million.

Georgia also poses an economic advantage to business developers because it is a right-to-work state.

“I think that’s been a major incentive for Georgia for the last 25-30 years,” said Wade. “Georgia has stuck out as a shiny penny.”

Wade is enthused about the corporations that have already begun to break ground in Georgia. Baxter International, a bio-pharmaceutical corporation, announced in April that it would invest $1 billion dollars and bring 1,500 jobs to the state. The company will begin constructing its Covington, GA-based plant during the 1st quarter of 2013.

“The bottom line is jobs,” said Wade.