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State needs innovation

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POSTED: September 8, 2010 10:36 a.m.
As we close in on November, Georgia’s voters are firming up opinions about which Gubernatorial candidate should lead us into the 21st century.
 No doubt each candidate brings certain strengths and weaknesses to the race. And each brings a passion for the state of Georgia. Why else would anyone wander around kissing babies, pressing flesh and eating rubber chicken at every Rotary Club in the Peach State? It’s a grueling task and one that most people cannot fathom. That is, unless his spouse is already planning her Christmas party at the mansion on West Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta.
 So which of the cast members really has the passion to bring about the necessary change that will launch Georgia into the 21st century? The two front-runner candidates wasted no time taking big roundhouse punches at each other; disappointing for sure, especially given the state of the state.
 With any luck the candidates will eventually focus on the issues that matter to Georgians. Where did all the jobs go? When are they coming back? Where will they come from in the future? How come the state government isn’t doing more to create new jobs? If the statistics are to be believed, the unemployment rate hovers just below 10 percent. Most economists suggest that actual unemployment rate in Georgia is closer to 17 percent. So what is the solution to this economic crisis?
 The candidate who brings his passion (and furniture) to West Paces Ferry Road ought to start with an assessment of who we are as a state. We have some amazing assets and accomplishments under our belt. But we also rank close to dead last in educating our children. Our health care delivery system is failing us and our traffic and transportation problems are legendary. And, when we aren’t losing our textile and manufacturing jobs to Mexico we are losing them to Alabama and South Carolina.
 So, how do we set our state on a clearer path? As the pioneering American computer scientist Alan Kay once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Our next Governor will need the passion, spirit and the vision to re-invent our state. That change starts with the rebranding of the identity of the state.
 Our relatively new flag was a bold move in the right direction. It now includes the state seal of Georgia which is our brand, of sorts. The words adorning this great seal are “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.”
 The first two words are wonderful descriptors of what we desire from our legislative and judicial systems. But when Robert Woodruff envisioned his worldwide “brown sugar-water” empire, “moderation” wasn’t on his mind. When Ted Turner envisioned the first worldwide, 24-hour news network, “moderation” wasn’t on his mind. When Bernie and Arthur envisioned the world’s largest do-it-yourself home improvement warehouse, “moderation” wasn’t on their minds. And when Billy Payne and friends envisioned bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta, “moderation” surely wasn’t on their minds. These are the iconic leaders of the past who fueled the economic engine of the state. 
The word that should replace “moderation” on the state seal is “innovation.” The textile and manufacturing jobs that left the state in the past 10 years are not coming back. It’s time to invest in technology, healthcare and the next-generation of skilled manufacturing that will spark the recovery. As conservative columnist George Crane once wrote, “There is no future in any job. The future lies in the man who holds the job.”
 So who is most qualified to invent the future for Georgia? Who can create an environment of innovation for the Southeast and lead new and exciting businesses and opportunities to this wonderful state? This is the burning question on everyone’s mind as the political winds pick up.

Greene, co-founder of a Marietta-based medical device company and a national consultant on employee health and productivity, wrote this commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
 

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