Trend Radar: February 2007
Renewing Old Ties: As one of his last official duties before leaving state government, Craig Lesser, commissioner of the Department of Economic Development (DEcD) led a group of Georgians on an end of the year trade trip to Mexico. Their mission was to meet the members of that country’s new government and mix a little state diplomacy with a message: You are big for Georgia business. “We wanted to show the continuation of our relationship and to strengthen the Georgia-Mexico ties,” says Lesser, who spent 30 months at DEcD before accepting a position at the Atlanta law firm of McKenna, Long & Aldridge.
Georgia’s ties with Mexico have given the state a nice balance of trade. Georgia companies exported $1.4 billion worth of products in 2005, while Mexican imports to the state totaled $368 million. In one critical aspect of the December trip, Lesser worked with government and business officials in the Yucatan peninsula to steer more business to Georgia ports.
“I found the people in the Yucatan peninsula to be very interested in the ports at Savannah and Brunswick,” Lesser says. “Right now, their products are going to the port in Tampa and that adds a day to their travel to their ultimate markets farther up the East Coast.”
Georgia reps covered a wide range of products, from aircraft parts to portable toilets. Georgia’s leading exports to Mexico include computer and electronic products, chemicals and transportation equipment. Mexican imports to the state are led by vehicles and parts, sugar and sugar confectionary, beverages and spirits, according to the DEcD.
National Accreditation: Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey celebrated the New Year by ticking off a list of distinctions his city’s departments have achieved. Covington’s fire, police and public works departments, as well as its 911 communications center, have all been nationally accredited, an achievement only two other U.S. cities (Plano, Texas, and Bellevue, Wash.) can claim. The Covington Public Works Department became the first in Georgia to receive the national accreditation, and the local police department has a prestigious international award to its credit.
These recognitions are good for PR, but their impact goes deeper – right into local wallets. “These accreditations not only set this community apart, it also means savings for our citizens in things like insurance premiums,” Ramsey says. “And by having certain procedures in place, this helps us avoid lawsuits. Because, if you haven’t done everything just right, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.”
Covington’s department heads have been working on the accreditations for years; the 911 center was the last to get the national nod in late 2006. Ramsey, who’s been in local government for 37 years, sees the accreditations as endorsements of municipal practices. “It tells me our department heads are meeting certain criteria,” he says. “And they’re doing everything by the book.”
A Crusade Hits Home: When Mayor Carl Camon became fed up with witnessing drug deals in his own neighborhood, he launched his own crackdown.
“Ray City has always been a community where we felt safe, where everyone knew each other,” Camon says. But he began noticing strangers coming into town to conduct what appeared to be drug transactions. Frustrated by his inability to get any help from overloaded state agencies, Camon led a citizen-based effort to sweep the streets of dealers.
Result: Camon awoke one morning to find a window on his car smashed in. “I think they were sending me a message,” he says. “I didn’t care. I was just too fed up. This drug dealing was eating at the core of our community.” Camon, elected mayor at age 27 in 1995, is encouraged by reports of two recent significant arrests in Ray City. “We’re going to keep fighting this thing,” he says. “We still have work to do.”
Dropping Anchor: Georgia’s popularity as the top landing site for Floridians fleeing high taxes and hurricanes has been well reported but little quantified. That is until a November story in the Jacksonville, Fla., Times-Union put some numbers on at least one segment of the shift. According to the piece, 2,588 Jacksonville residents moved to Georgia during the period 2004-05. Those numbers came from the IRS, which tracks changes of address on tax returns.
The chief reason for the moves appears to be job-related. Jacksonville is a home port to the U.S. Navy, as well as a Naval air station, and Georgia’s Camden County, just across the Florida state line, led the state with 721 of the transfers, thanks to its own Naval presence (submarines).