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CNBC names Georgia top state for biz – and gives Nathan Deal new fodder for campaign

Tel Aviv, Israel - Gov. Nathan Deal has taken plenty of heat for frequently citing a little-known niche magazine’s ranking of Georgia as the nation’s top place to do business. Now he has another credential from a brand-name media outlet to back it up.

CNBC on Tuesday declared Georgia the No. 1 place in the nation to do business. Deal, on the middle of a trade mission to Israel, went to the broadcaster’s Tel Aviv studios to acknowledge the award.

"It is the fulfillment of the goal that I had when I was first elected," said Deal.

The governor has faced media scrutiny for turning the Site Selection ranking into a political pitch and come under fire from Democrat Jason Carter’s campaign that he's using the ranking to mask other problems.

Deal said he sees the CNBC accolade as validation. And it’s a safe bet that we’ll be hearing about this plenty on the campaign trail.

From the CNBC website:

While the commute in metro Atlanta is as maddening as ever, roads and bridges are in the top tier nationally. In addition, the port of Savannah had a record year last year, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport just marked its 16th straight year as the world's busiest. Also helping Georgia in the category are marked improvements in its drinking water, including a $90 million upgrade just completed in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta.

...Georgia's worst categories are Quality of Life and Education, finishing 32nd in both.

Poor health hurts Georgia's quality of life. Twenty-nine percent of Georgians are obese, and more than 19 percent lack health insurance. Poor air quality doesn't help in the category, either. And in education, local school districts as well as colleges and universities are still struggling with budget cuts.

It’s hard to overstate how important economic recruiters who work for the state view these rankings.

We’ve documented how Site Selection’s rankings are often mentioned by Deal or his surrogates at political events or policy announcements. But they factor more prominently in the carefully crafted pitches that state planners use to woo potential businesses.

Deal’s trade mission to Israel offered a firsthand look at the process. About 100 Israeli executives showed up on a breezy afternoon -- before the CNBC ranking was announced -- to hear about Georgia’s businesses offerings, and meet with Deal for a poolside reception afterwards.

Along with statistics about the state’s workforce, details about the area’s logistics and case studies about companies like Coca-Cola who have made Georgia home, no fewer than four speakers emphasized the magazine’s No. 1 ranking to the crowd.

“As you’ve heard from several of our speakers, we are the No. 1 place in the nation to do business,” said Chris Carr, the state’s economic development guru. “And we want you to see how we can help you.”

That helps explain where the rankings fit in.

The audience included many executives who knew little or nothing about the Georgia market. We were asked by several entrepreneurs whether there were any Jewish people in Atlanta. (Attorney General Sam Olens, who opened the session in Hebrew, quickly answered that question.)

The recruiters who worked up the state’s elaborate pitch likely figured if there was one takeaway for Israeli investors, it would be that same line Deal has often repeated: “Georgia is the number one place in the nation to do business.”

Said Deal:

"Whether we want to admit it or not, advertising of your state is just as important as a manufacturer advertising a product. We're advertising our state, and this kind of publicity is advantageous to achieve that goal."

Update: Carter's campaign responded with a press release saying that the ranking that matters most show Deal's administration is "leaving too many people behind."

It cited rankings showing Georgia with the 8th highest unemployment rate, a declining real per capita GDP and mediocre household income.

"Instead of crowing about arbitrary rankings, maybe Gov. Deal should focus a bit more on the rankings that actually mean something to Georgia families," said Carter spokesman Bryan Thomas, citing some of the above statistics. "I bet we won't see those facts in any of Gov. Deal's campaign ads."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.