From Maria Saporta

It just doesn’t live.

Last fall, Governor Brian Kemp boasted Georgia’s consecutive No. 1 placement as a top state for business.

Yet, in the past few weeks, the same governor has accused two of Georgia’s best-known corporations – Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola Co. – of openly criticizing the state’s new electoral legislation.

At the same time, some left-wing organizations are calling for a boycott of Delta and Coca-Cola for not earlier speaking out against the electoral law, which they say will severely limit the ability of voters to cast their ballots.

In short, two of Georgia’s top corporate citizens are unfairly attacked by both sides of the political spectrum.

Governor Brian Kemp in December 2019 on the appointment of Kelly Loeffler to succeed Senator Johnny Isakson in the Senate representing Georgia (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The bottom line is that this skirmish is damaging Georgia’s image as a business-friendly state.

According to the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, more than 100 corporate executives gathered online Saturday to discuss new measures to combat controversial state voting laws under consideration across the country, including the law recently signed in Georgia.

Executives discussed stopping donations to politicians who support more restrictive voting laws and delaying economic investments in states that have passed such laws.

All of this is so counterproductive to Georgia’s long-term interests in being an economically competitive state that is attractive to new business investment.

But it is also an indication of the messy political climate around us.

Let’s not forget that Georgia passed law to appease former President Donald Trump, who claimed his loss in Georgia was due to fraudulent elections – despite failing to provide evidence of electoral fraud. That didn’t stop him from prosecuting Governor Kemp and Georgia’s Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger for failing to find the votes to give Trump a victory in Georgia.

For my life, I can’t understand why Governor Kemp would still try to please Trump after the former president repeatedly threw him under the bus last year – and that wasn’t until Saturday night at a meeting of Republican leaders in Mar-a- Lago, Florida. But that’s politics for you.

Ed Bastian, Delta CEO, is taking Andrew Young on a tour of the exhibition in the lobby of Ambassador Andrew J. Young’s newly named International Building in March (photo by Kelly Jordan).

It makes even less sense for Kemp and state lawmakers to look for Delta and Coca-Cola, two companies that raise millions of dollars in the treasury. Some have questioned whether legislators’ current anti-business stance stems from fears that these companies are helping to relocate Georgia from a red to a blue state.

But back to the business rankings.

The publication – Area Development – announced in September that Georgia had been named a top economic country for the seventh year in a row.

At the time, Kemp said the announcement was “strong evidence of the fundamental strength of the Georgian economy, even in these challenging times”.

Kemp continued, “After all these years, it is very clear that Georgia remains the epicenter for job growth, economic development and investment because of its strong, conservative leadership. But make no mistake, this ranking is down to the hardworking Georgians who work tirelessly to create opportunity and build success in their communities. “

And the governor concluded, “Going forward, we will work around the clock to keep our state government tight, responsive and business-friendly, and there is no doubt that this ranking will help fuel our economic recovery as we do this Protecting lives and livelihoods of all Georgians “

A month later, Atlanta-based Site Selection Magazine published its ranking. Georgia was number 1 for the eighth year in a row – despite sharing that first place with North Carolina (this was the first time there was a tie for the top spot).

When asked if the recent back-and-forth between the governor and two of Georgia’s largest corporations over the voting law would affect the ranking, Site Selection Editor-in-Chief Mark Arend said, “It’s too early to say. The law has just been passed. “

Governor deal best state for business

Governor Nathan Deal when announcing in 2018 that Georgia would be the best state to do business for for the sixth year in a row. Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson and Site Selection Editor Mark Arend listen to the governor. (Photo by Maria Saporta)

However, after 24 years in the magazine, Arend has realized that companies are looking for the right job market, good infrastructure, attractive incentives and the quality of life of a location when deciding where to locate their facilities.

“North Carolina had pretty bad PR success five years ago, and they were tied for the first time this year,” Arend said of North Carolina’s adoption of the controversial “bathroom bill,” which was overturned in 2019.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Delta or Coca-Cola have contradicted state lawmakers.

In the 1960s, Coca-Cola supported integration and the civil rights movement – a position that was inconsistent with Dixie-Crats at the time. But Coca-Cola has always had the support of the best elected officials in the city of Atlanta.

Because Atlanta had an enlightened business world in the 1960s, Atlanta became the undisputed commercial capital of the southeast. The executives likely took progressive positions because they understood that it would be good for Atlanta business to be seen as a place where the races could get along. Atlanta was also fortunate to be a center for black colleges and universities graduating from executives who wisely knew how to nonviolently push for change.

James Quincey, CEO of Coca-Cola Co., in conversation with Hala Moddelmog, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber in 2019 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Most Georgia governors recognized that a moderate stance on social issues would make the state an attractive place to invest – Governor Carl Sanders, Governor Jimmy Carter, Governor George Busbee, Governor Joe Frank Harris, Governor Zell Miller, Governor. Roy Barnes and Governor Nathan Deal were all hands-on politicians who made Georgia business-friendly. (You can find out the governors I haven’t listed).

More recently, Delta has emerged as the voice of smart business – be it on religious freedom legislation, immigration, the removal of discounted tickets for members of the National Rifle Association, infrastructure investments, or voting rights. The state parliament has tried several times to “punish” Delta by removing tax breaks on aviation fuel, and it tried to do so at the end of this legislative term, but it ran out of time.

Georgia is fortunate again that Delta is based in Atlanta and that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the main hub. When Delta signed a 20-year lease with the city of Atlanta in 2016, one of the terms was that the airline would keep its headquarters in Georgia for the duration of the lease.

Deisha Barnett, chief brand and communications officer of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said the assets that made Atlanta attractive for business will remain.

“At the end of the day, Atlanta never stops humming,” said Barnett. “Atlanta is a place that is catching on. We have celebrated and mastered challenges in times of great dynamism for over 161 years. We’re not perfect, but we’re determined to uphold and preserve Atlanta’s legacy – especially now. “

Special feature: Site Selection Magazine