October 5, 2012

Local business execs decry lack of leadership in Washington, Atlanta

Charles Oliver

— The United States suffers from too much debt and too little leadership.

That was the consensus of Dalton State College Lunch & Learn panel members on Thursday.

Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce; David Jolly, president and CEO of J&J Industries; and Bryan McAllister, vice president for finance at Brown Industries, looked at the state of the economy at both the local and national level.

“One thing that has been lacking is that we’ve had a failure of leadership in a number of different areas,” said Anderson. “It’s not just Democratic or Republican. We really haven’t had problem solvers for quite a while. It seems like we have seen that same trend at the state level.”

The panelists criticized the federal government for the massive debt it has run and that it continues to accumulate. Jolly said the debt is “totally unsustainable.” But he said no one “is willing to step up to the plate and make hard decisions” on how to reduce it.

Jolly gave state lawmakers credit for voting to phase out the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing. But he noted they also gave local governments the power to impose excise taxes on energy to make up for the revenue they will lose, making it unclear exactly how much Georgia manufacturers will save from the tax cut.

Jolly said that just adds to the uncertainty about taxes and regulation that is holding businesses across the nation back.

Anderson noted that the state put together a tax reform panel two years ago, which recommended ending the energy tax, but lawmakers have adopted very few of its other recommendations.

The three agreed that though the recession may have officially ended in 2008 the recovery has been very weak, especially in northwest Georgia.

Jolly said carpet industry revenues have begun to rise but total output is still well below what it was before the recession. He said the industry still has capacity that isn’t being used.

McAllister said the floorcovering industry won’t completely bounce back “until people start building houses again.”

But Anderson said the downturn has caused the floorcovering industry to adopt more technology and other labor-saving devices and the impact of those changes will be felt even when the industry picks back up.

“Some of those jobs just aren’t coming back,” he said.

All three agreed that plans to widen the Port of Savannah should help the Dalton area.

“That’s positive for Georgia and for the South,” said Jolly, who noted that the northwest Georgia area is, after the metro Atlanta area, the biggest user of the port.

But Jolly said that it has taken too long for work to start on widening the port. He blamed red tape, excessive environmental concerns and lack of cooperation among various government agencies for the delays.