ALBANY, Ga. -- In the coming year, business leaders will face a daunting barrage of challenges if they expect to help Georgia grow and raise their profit margins, the state's top business executive said Wednesday.
Chris Clark, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, told business leaders from Southwest Georgia Wednesday that he believes the biggest concern for them heading into the second half of the year and moving on into 2014 will be K-12 education, civil justice reform and healthcare.
Clark got specific on those three key issues emphasizing increased engagement and cooperation of business leaders with government and social leaders as one way the business community could spark change.
Regarding education, Clark said that the current funding formula needed to be retooled, given that the state's $7.5 billion investment in education had netted the 45th highest graduation rate, the 36th best rate of four-year college completion and the 41st-best 8th grade math scores.
"We can't compete when 60 percent of every job requires a complete college degree and we have those kind of numbers," Clark said.
Clark asked business leaders to consider working with teachers, principals and teachers and said the Georgia Chamber would be working with legislators to examine the effectiveness of Georgia's education funding formula in hopes of funneling more funding for technology in rural classrooms.
"We're creating two different tiers of students in the state," Clark said. "Those who are lucky to be born in a place that has the technology to succeed and then those who don't have that same advantage."
Clark said he favors developing career clusters -- a concept where curriculum is created to match needed job skills in a community.
When it comes to legal reform, Clark said that business owners were struggling with frivolous lawsuits that tie up much-needed funds -- some of which is to blame on current laws such as one that makes seatbelt use in auto accidents inadmissible in civil trials, and a lack of a fair judiciary.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to business owners in terms of size and scope, Clark said, would be the full implementation of healthcare reform on Jan. 1, 2014.
"We can argue all day long about whether we supported it or not, but it doesn't matter now. It's the law of the land so we need to have some frank discussions about how it's going to impact our businesses," Clark said.
Clark said the bill includes 18 new taxes that are predicted to generate $835 billion over the next 10 years to fund it and will have fees for businesses that don't provide the proper level of care for employees.
The bottom line, Clark said, is that business owners need to be meeting with their human resources directors and their legal teams about what implementation of the law means for them.
"You don't need to wake up on January 1 and try to figure it all out," Clark said.