One year ago, none of us could have imagined the challenges we would face as a nation. Here in Georgia — similar to the rest of the country — our economy was growing at a rapid pace, unemployment was at its lowest in state history, and more Georgians were finding high-quality, sustainable jobs.
We had no clue that a worldwide pandemic would soon shutter businesses, cause jobless claims to skyrocket, and uproot our lives and livelihoods.
The past year brought unforeseen, unprecedented challenges to Georgia and our citizens. Faced with a deadly pandemic, my administration took decisive actions early to ensure our state had the resources necessary to combat Covid-19 and protect both lives and livelihoods.
Despite the challenges of 2020, I am proud of what we were able to accomplish together.
Working with the State House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, we were able to avoid drastic cuts to our state budget and continue funding essential services.
We fulfilled a cardinal obligation of our state government and passed a balanced budget that reflected our priorities – health care, public safety, education, and economic opportunity.
Last week, my administration proposed a new budget for the remaining months of the 2021 fiscal year, which includes no new cuts to state agencies, no furloughs, and no widespread layoffs of state employees.
And, I might add, no new taxes to help pay for it all.
Under the Gold Dome here in Atlanta, we have prioritized both the health and wellbeing of our people, and their paychecks.
In the heat of summer, when we were facing some of our toughest days in the fight with Covid-19, it was Georgia businesses, large and small, who stepped up to meet the moment.
From craft breweries, to local mattress manufacturers, to small startups – these men and women overhauled operations to build up the state’s PPE stockpile and limit our need to compete elsewhere.
It was our business community who made sure that our health care heroes had the resources they needed to care for Georgia’s most vulnerable, and when the legislature reconvened, we knew we had to support them.
We created a PPE tax credit to incentivize in-state production of PPE and ensure we supported Georgia Made entrepreneurs providing critical supplies.
This legislative session, my administration will propose expanding this program to include pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers. Other countries should not have a monopoly on life-saving medicines and medical supplies, and we are focused on bringing these industries and jobs back to America – and right here to Georgia.
I faced a lot of criticism – from all sides – when I chose to reopen Georgia informed by the advice of our Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey. Unlike other states, we trusted our business owners and entrepreneurs to use innovation and business acumen to implement new, Covid-safe protocols to reopen their stores, keep their customers safe, and retain staff on the payroll.
As a small business owner and construction guy during the Great Recession, I remember having conversations in our kitchen with my family about how we were going to make ends meet. Often, it was day to day, hour to hour. Many times, contractors working on the job site had more money in their pockets than I had in my bank account.
Those tough times and hard memories came flooding back in the early days of the pandemic. Hardworking Georgians were struggling – not because their business was a failure or because their products or services were no longer needed. They faced devastation because of a global pandemic, through no fault of their own.
While some disagreed with me, I know our decision to reopen safely is the reason many Georgia businesses lived to fight another day. In fact, some of our larger companies, like Kia and Bridgestone, even expanded their footprint in the Peach State and enjoyed record-setting years.
While liberal politicians in New York and elsewhere, aided by the mainstream media, spent the past year throwing stones in glass houses, I’m proud to report that – unlike them – the Peach State will not be facing budget cuts this year. Our unemployment rate remains below the national average, job growth is promising, and state revenues remain strong. And, for an unprecedent eighth year in a row, Georgia was named the No. 1 State for Business by Site Selection Magazine.
In a year riddled with economic hardship from coast to coast, Vice President Mike Pence said it best: “Georgia helped lead the way back to a prosperous American economy.”
We have a long way to go, but by working together, I know Georgia will continue to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family.
Thanks to our methodical approach and early, decisive actions, Georgia is open for business.
Brian Kemp, a Republican, is the governor of Georgia.