Israel: Chamber saw progress last year

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Despite a sagging economy, Georgia Chamber of Commerce President George M. Israel III told a gathering of area business leaders Thursday that "last year was a good year for Georgia businesses" in the Georgia Legislature.

The "Power Lunch" at the Hilton Garden Inn amounted to a "state of the chamber" talk to local business people and government officials.

Georgia Chamber officials say the organization is an advocacy group for the state's many local chambers - large and small.

They pointed to several legislative successes last year such as defeat of budget proposals that would have limited Medicaid provider reimbursements, renewal of sales tax holidays and education reforms including incentives to attract more math and science teachers and a program that allows high-performing high school students to receive credit towards graduation for classes taken at post-secondary institutions.

While pleased with what the state chamber accomplished last year, Israel says the organization is focused on the future. Many changes are possible in the Georgia legislature, Israel said.

"In the senate there are 13 open seats and 20 others being challenged. In the house there are 27 seats open and 62 being challenged," he said. "The people we elect will shape our future."

Among the chamber's major issues this year are transportation, water, education and tax reform.

"We are very involved in the water war with Alabama and Florida," Israel said. "We hope there is a settlement with Alabama; we don't know what will happen with Florida."

In regard to transportation, the chamber cites a 2008 state study that says Georgia could lose as many as 320,000 new jobs and $500 billion in economic benefits without new transportation investment.

Incoming Georgia Chamber Board Chair Suzanne Sitherwood, who is the president of Atlanta Gas Light, urged the crowd to "join your local chamber, then join the state chamber.

"We are working hard to create bridges among our communities and enable them to speak with one voice. Let us do the heavy lifting for you."

Israel closed by saying much of the chamber's focus this year will be on Washington D.C.

"Healthcare reform, climate change and financial reform are all on the table, and all will affect us," Israel said. "Our job is to help our state's business community understand the issues and what is happening."