By Santura Pegram
“How do you think the State of Georgia has become so economically-ahead-of-the-curve these days?”
At some point, all of us should take time to reflect back over the course of our life and that of others…personal and professional-wise…to evaluate practices which have proven to work best vs. those that have not. After all, it is often people we meet along the way and experiences (good and bad) which shape us as individuals. For myself, thoughts often turn to having had a trailblazing mentor (the Honorable M. Athalie Range) who exhibited the proper way public policy should be implemented at the intersection of politics and business. On another note, thoughts also include being blessed to work under two of the most powerful (yet frugal-minded) businessmen in South Florida. One, an extremely savvy, yet diabolical businessman who was both respected and hated by most of the state; while the other man was a charming grandfatherly-type of business visionary who turned everything he touched into a success. Both business partners taught me so much when it came to international trade and the maritime industry, which is the industry that made both of them multimillionaires.
Being someone who has traveled abroad over the years and witnessed what can be achieved by exploring trade on an international level with other countries, this is a topic which those who I learned from would have surely stressed to our current President’s administration. Especially after a Newsweek magazine article once expressed, “Over 90 percent of what we use here in America is (imported) purchased from overseas, yet roughly only 2 percent of what we make here is sold (exported) overseas.” That’s mind-boggling! We are quick to buy products FROM other countries, yet sell few of the products made here in America TO or THRU other countries. Yes, most products can be manufactured for much less in Metro Asia and other foreign countries, but that still does not erase the fact that we as Americans do little (if anything) to push American-made products upon the international marketplace. Besides, we (Americans) do make some products that currently can NOT be made elsewhere with the same quality. (Which is another reason why I’m puzzled over how Americans are continuing to buy foreign-made vehicles over American-made vehicles at increasing numbers).
For example: Ford makes one of the best built trucks in the world (their F-150 Series), so you would think more people would be buying them. Although I will admit, they are pricey and would undoubtedly sell far greater volumes if the price point were to be reduced. However, many people will gladly spend slightly more for an American-made product that can both keep someone’s job here in the U.S. and not have to worry about spending excessive amounts over a vehicle that breaks down every other month.
Another example of a successful U.S.-based product that is made and sold primarily throughout the U.S., but not as much internationally is bourbon/whiskey. Spend some time in the State of Kentucky visiting their vast distilleries and breweries. You’d be surprised at the volume of spirits they produce and ship throughout the nation. Then, consider how much more business they could be doing if they were to place more emphasis on global sales?
Legislators across the country are always quick to tackle a topic to attach their name/image to in hopes of gaining popularity. Well, here’s one that an overwhelming number of them should be promoting aggressively. If international trade can make a profound impact upon major metropolitan cities like Miami, L.A., Seattle, Houston, New York or Atlanta, what do you think it can do for small regions formerly known around the world for manufacturing? It would be ideal to see more legislation pushed that seeks for creative tax incentives to help small businesses engage in international trade. Legislation that addresses unfair practices like currency manipulation. Legislation that will both help and require small businesses to acquire the means to hire and properly train larger volumes of employees and offer them decent wages and benefits. Wages that will, in turn, primarily be spent (re-circulated) throughout a particular state to re-build a once-thriving economy.
Over 80% of employers in America are small to mid-sized businesses…i.e., companies having 100 or less total employees. You would think legislators in small towns/cities would see the necessity in assuring that such businesses are given every means to prosper, but sadly that has not been their perspective. Small to mid-sized businesses in most states are offered little assistance in comparison to those in other more progressive, economically-advancing states throughout the nation.
Sending business leaders and government officials overseas for trade missions does nothing if the proper procedures are not in place to offer worthwhile tax incentives to both U.S.-based (small to mid-sized) companies and those seeking to do business with us from abroad. How do you think the State of Georgia has become so economically-ahead-of-the-curve these days? Their legislators have made it a top priority to focus on establishing creative tax incentives that are appealing to businesses of all sorts, which has led to global corporations like NCR Corp. relocating to Georgia in 2009, homebuilder PulteGroup Inc. in 2014, and enticed automobile manufacturers like Kia, Porsche and now Mercedes-Benz USA to launch their headquarters within the state as well.
Georgia is also home to two of the top seaports in the U.S. (the Port of Savannah & the Port of Brunswick). Logistically speaking, Brunswick alone is now responsible for shipping over 40 percent of all new vehicles into the U.S., and together, both seaports are two of the leading seaports in the nation for grain processing and paper production.
On top of that, as a result of clever business-boosting tax incentives, Georgia has now become the new “Hollywood of Movie Making” as Tyler Perry Studios has become one of the nation’s largest movie production studios in the world, and the state is where a growing majority of not only movies, but television sitcoms and reality shows too, are being filmed these days. That’s millions and billions of dollars being generated that could be divided among other states too.
Following suit, the State of Florida announced plans to begin offering similar incentives in a push to outmaneuver Texas to become the leading state for job creation in the U.S. over the next few years. Whatever the case, the current way most government and business leaders of today have been doing things is clearly not working effectively for the masses. And, by them not making decisions that truly matter now, most people will likely be dead or close to it by the time today’s elected officials realize their state has dropped off of the map commerce-wise. Regardless of what economic forecasters or elected officials claim, exporting is the sensible way back to a robust economy.
* Santura Pegram is a freelance writer and the director of Public & Intergovernmental Relations for STS Logistics LLC – Seaport Transportation Services LLC in Ft. Lauderdale. A former protégé-aide to the ‘Political Matriarch of the State of Florida’ – M. Athalie Range – Santura often writes on topics ranging from socially relevant issues to international business to politics.