From Site Selection magazine, September 2003

The South's New
Peace Broker?

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue seeks 'ground rules' in escalating incentives war.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue



ite Selection: Your recent comments on the need to re-evaluate certain incentives programs and the impact of state-vs.-state bidding wars over projects indicate that you would favor a change in public policy toward recruitment of large companies. Can you elaborate?
        Gov. Sonny Perdue: We want to earn the business, not buy the business. We view our economic development process as a partnership. We want to provide a state that's business-friendly and that provides an infrastructure that meets the needs of our businesses. I include in that infrastructure a highly trained and productive work force, and transportation infrastructure by road, land, air and sea. We have a great Interstate infrastructure and good rail lines here. We also want stable, economic tax policies. Businesses can make do with most any rules. They just want to know what those rules are and that they aren't going to change with a whim. On the matter of incentives, we are at a fulcrum growth point in the Southeast. Other states felt the need to buy the business because we have been earning the business. But when we saw our customers being bought away, we had to make the appropriate response.

        SS: Will you call for a meeting with the governors of Alabama and South Carolina to propose some form of "truce" on bidding for large projects? If so, what type of tri-state agreement would you recommend? And would you favor expanding it to include Florida and North Carolina?
        Gov. Perdue: As a free-market theorist, I never believe that cartels work. But I also believe that healthy competition among businesses and among states is vital and is best if demonstrated with good communication. As a business person, I always want to have great relationships with my customers. You have parameters of service. We understand that Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia are all going to be in business at the end of the day. But in light of the budgets that we have seen recently and in light of the incentives we have seen for both incoming and existing businesses, I just want to make sure that we have discussions [so] that we are not eating our seed corn. I think all of us have gotten a little over-zealous in trying to attract businesses. There need to be some ground rules and some fire lines. I am a believer in good, candid communication. I think as we look at the region as a whole, we don't want to damage all of us to the degree from a taxpayer's standpoint that we are not making good, long-term, sustainable sense.

        SS: Is the DaimlerChrysler project in Pooler still going to move forward?
        Gov. Perdue: We believe that it is. We had very productive discussions. I don't want to presume what businesses will do, but the relationship has been straightforward. It has been engaged. We have absolutely done everything that we have committed to Daimler that we would do. They have done everything that they committed that they would do. It is my expectation that this would go forward. The whole auto sector worldwide is under some pressure at this point and they have to make the right decision at this point. But they definitely want to be in this market. The European companies who want to be in the market understand their need to source and produce here because of the currency exchange and management.

        SS: What can you tell us about the efforts to recruit a new Ford plant to Georgia?
        Gov. Perdue: Obviously, one of our focuses is to be as sensitive to our existing businesses as we are to those we would go after internationally and domestically. The real diamonds are right here among us and we need to mine those first. We have had good discussions with our associates here in the state.

        SS: You recently had meetings with Audi while you were in Germany. Can you tell us about the outcome of those meetings?
        Gov. Perdue: Nothing other than we had a very good visit with them. They have business relationships and marketing issues they want to resolve. There was nothing pending there, other than we made a great case for Georgia there and for building an automotive assembly plant here in Georgia.

        SS: The success of Pooler shows that rural Georgia can compete for high-stakes projects. What particular lessons can other rural Georgia communities learn from this endeavor?

POLITICAL BIO: A Republican, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is a former member of the Georgia State Senate, where he spent 11 years representing the people of Houston, Bibb, Bleckley and Pulaski counties. While serving in the Senate, he was elected Majority Leader and later President Pro Tempore.

BUSINESS BIO: Perdue earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1971 from the University of Georgia. Following his honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force in 1974 with the rank of Captain, he returned to his native Georgia to start two small businesses, concentrating in agribusiness and transportation.

PERSONAL BIO: Born on Dec. 20, 1946, in Perry, Ga. Married to the former Mary Ruff of Atlanta. The couple has four children and twin granddaughters. The governor and his wife also serve as foster parents.

        Gov. Perdue: This begins with relationships. When people think of Georgia, they naturally think of Atlanta. One typical criterion for any company is to be close to Hartsfield Airport. Many companies do not realize they can locate in LaGrange or Macon and be at the airport in the same amount of time as it would take to get there from the north Atlanta metro area. We are seeing growth expanding out along the I-75, I-85 and I-20 corridors. Obviously, Atlanta is already a huge economic engine and people want to be around where things are happening. We are trying to engage our second-tier cities in showing the strengths they have. We want our project managers to get out into all parts of the state. Second-tier and smaller communities provide many advantages, such as a pastoral setting. It is what companies are looking for as long as they have the amenities the companies are looking for. While we have a great advantage in geography, other states have more equilibrium in their population centers. In Georgia, Atlanta dominates our population. Long-term, we are developing our telecommunications infrastructure and building a backbone throughout the state. LaGrange, Thomasville and Newnan, for example, have been very proactive and progressive in their high-tech involvement with the community.

        SS: If you could give corporate site-selection decision-makers across North America one central message about Georgia, what would it be?
        Gov. Perdue: I think they will find a receptive, can-do, make-it-happen attitude from the Governor's Office down to the economic developers in the local communities. We want to be part of their solutions process. We understand we are in a competitive atmosphere. We think we gain an advantage when we help these companies solve their problems, not just in site selection but in their future business challenges. We think Georgia is still poised. There is still a core competency here of telecommunications infrastructure in the high-tech sector.

        SS: Georgia's fiscal situation is in better shape than the vast majority of states. Is that a big selling point for your state?

        Gov. Perdue: We have put some states on our economic development list because we might want to call on some of their companies. Some states look to companies to bail them out of their fiscal crisis, and we don't do that. Georgia is very competitive. That is reflected by the professional underwriters who have given Georgia an AAA bond rating. We are going to work very hard to preserve that. It's helpful with interest rates, but more importantly it sends a signal that we have a sound system of sustainability that we will carry forward. Site Selection

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