June 2007:Radar

Familiar Name, New Job: Few people are more closely associated with Georgia’s economic development community than Laura Meadows, former chief executive officer for the Georgia Housing and Finance Authority, who was named first executive director of the OneGeorgia Authority. She also served as assistant secretary of state and commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, where she presided over $950 million in annual assistance for economic development in communities statewide.

This spring, Meadows took on a new role: associate vice president for economic development at the University of Georgia. Contacted while still unpacking at her Athens office – she’ll have another in Atlanta – Meadows says, “I’m not about creating a lot of new programs. I want to be an access point for people who need help,” she says.

To prove that point, she invites inquiries at her email address, lmeadows@uga.edu “I hope I’ll get invitations to come and talk,” Meadows says. “I want to help [UGA] become even more responsive to economic development opportunities that the state and local communities may bring to us.”

More Competitive: Georgia manufacturers have reversed a trend that saw them losing sales to foreign competitors, according to a survey conducted by Atlanta-based accounting firm Habif, Arogeti & Wynne (HA&W) in cooperation with Kennesaw State University and the Georgia Industry Association.

The survey, completed in February and published in April, showed fewer Georgia manufacturers reported losing sales to offshore competitors in 2006 than in previous years. And the manufacturers seemed more content doing business in Georgia: Only 13 percent of the 83 respondents said they were thinking of moving offshore to stay competitive – down by half from the survey conducted two years ago.

“Georgia companies are becoming more competitive in the foreign marketplace,” says Richard Kopelman, an executive with HA&W. “Innovation has been the key to this turnaround, and I think Georgia companies are working smarter.”

Georgia’s low cost of labor is one of two major attractions for companies looking to compete with the foreign manufacturers. “Another is the transportation network,” Kopelman says. “The ports, the roads and the airports were rated as high factors in terms of why companies are coming here.”

The Break-Even Point: Every Georgia county eagerly welcomes the new resident buying a home, right? A University of Georgia study shows that retirees are especially appreciated by local school systems, because they pay the school tax, but don’t put kids in the classroom.

“From the county’s point of view, the question is how much do we spend providing services to that house,” says UGA professor Jeff Dorfman, interim head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, which conducted the 2006 study.

The counties, Dorfman says, calculate all the costs and determine how much a new resident should spend on a home to reach a break-even point – the amount of taxes a home can generate to pay for the services provided to its occupants, including education. In rural South Georgia’s Brooks County, he says, new residents need to occupy a house costing about $65,000 to reach the break-even point. Cherokee County’s break-even figure is $184,000. Lest those costs seem modest for a new home, the figures are calculated for retiree households.

Add a school-age child, and the numbers get far more dramatic. “In Brooks County the break-even figure for a family with one kid is $345,000, and in Cherokee County the figure is over $517,000,” Dorfman says. “In most counties the average new home being built is near or above the county’s break-even value.”

However, retirees “are clamoring more and more to be left out of the school taxes,” says Dorfman, who adds, “If we let retirees out of school taxes in the state of Georgia we will bankrupt our public school system … an enormous catastrophe.”

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features