Monday, December 08, 2008

What happened?

Everyone is speculating why NBAF opted for Kansas over us.

At the end of last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue jumped into the fray and laid the blame at the feet of FAQ, while Blake says he's not entirely believing some of the rationales being tossed out there.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison was kind enough to weigh in with some of her thoughts, as did OneAthens co-chair Red Petrovs and Athens-Clarke County District Four Commissioner Alice Kinman. We even had some loyal readers getting in on the act, so it's clear everyone has an opinion on this.

Earlier, I shared some thoughts on this as well (and I'm going to expand on those thoughts in a broader context in the coming days).

While all of us are clamoring to figure what the real reason was, it might be important to look at some of the actual rationale given by the Department of Homeland Security ...

The findings for the South Milledge Avenue Site in the Threat and Risk Assessment were found to be comparable to the other Site Alternatives. Based on the lack of proximity to NBAF related research and workforce in comparison to the preferred alternative, the active community opposition, and the lack of a competitive offset package, I did not select the South Milledge Avenue Site as the preferred alternative.

That's why Perdue's hyper-focused criticism of FAQ was beyond ridiculous and potentially suggests a deeper fault between the folks under the Gold Dome and the folks who live out in rest of the state. And you can pick up on this in Davison's comments ...

The KS Governor continued sweetening the pot until it finally reached four times what Georgia and some others were offering. Hard to pass up when many other factors are equal. I wonder what the state spent on the KIA or Daimler Chrysler projects versus what they offered for NBAF. My sense is there is a disconnect between stated support for the biosciences and the resources put into attracting these type of investments to the state.

I don't think FAQ played an overwhelming role in the decision-making process (largely because, if we've learned anything from the Bush Administration, it's that the more unpopular the decision, the more likely they're gonna barrel ahead with it). If the site was most deserving and fit all of the criteria, it would have been the one that was picked. It didn't, and the resulting reports show that.

What are stated as Athens-Clarke County's biggest challenges are the lack of an adequate workforce and an emphasis on poultry science over more integrated biosciences. So, when University of Georgia President Michael Adams says 'it wasn't the science' ... well, guess what? To an extent, it was the science.

Then again, it appears it was a lot of stuff. And, again, we see the lack of a suitable workforce rising to the top as one of this area's biggest weaknesses. If you don't have the appropriate skill sets to fill the jobs, then your prospective business can't do the work.

If the governor's office, as Bert Brantley states in this story is going to stick with middle-of-the-road incentive packages and then rely on 'other strengths like location, workforce and supporting facilities' to land bioscience companies then maybe it should recognize that those 'other strengths' really aren't strengths ... particularly when they keep slashing money from the state budget in areas like job training, adult education, public education, infrastructure and so on and so on.

This should be rather clear to everyone involved, though it's apparently lost on the people actually running Georgia. Consider this presentation for the state's Regional Leadership Institute from Roger Tutterow, a professor of economics at Mercer University. He polled current and prospective business leaders in Georgia and asked them to list the state's biggest weaknesses with regard to economic development.

The results? More than 60 percent said our state's public education system was a hinderance, while more than half noted problems with our workforce. Coming in third was an existing perception of our state having a crime problem. Again, these are all areas that have seen significant cuts in funding in the past six years.

It seems clear that what the governor believes are 'strengths' for this state are consistently viewed as weaknesses by many in the business community, and therein lies the great disconnect. If you can't recognize what the problem is, thus meaning your only answer is to keep doing that which has failed, nothing is going to change.

And if nothing is going to change, then there's only so much that local communities can do to attract the jobs they need to grow their economies.


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