According to the Georgia Department of Labor, nearly 9,000 jobs were added in northeast Georgia in 2013. Programs such as Complete College Georgia, an initiative designed to produce an estimated 250,000 college graduates across Georgia by 2020, will play a large role in supporting future job growth in the region. Dr. Ruben Boling, director of the Center for the Future of North Georgia, which is part of the Mike Cottrell College of Business at the University of North Georgia (UNG), talks about how job growth is shaping up for 2014 in northeast Georgia.
How will a more educated workforce support more jobs for the region?
The northeast Georgia region has a solid base of businesses that are successful and continue to grow. Local economic development organizations have focused on growing existing businesses, resulting in numerous announcements of expansions and growth plans creating hundreds of new jobs. In addition, many U.S. and international companies across diverse industries have elected to locate in the northeast Georgia region, bringing job opportunities. Many of these jobs require a more educated worker capable of analyzing problems and opportunities, developing innovative solutions and managing the implementation of selected initiatives. They must also be critical thinkers who can observe changing conditions and identify new opportunities to help companies grow and continue to add jobs in our region.
In addition, the expansion of existing companies and relocation of new companies to the region creates a ripple effect that generates a need for new businesses to supply the needs of the companies and their employees. An educated workforce increases the number of potential entrepreneurs who can identify opportunities and start and grow new ventures, meaning more jobs and new growth in the region.
What will be some of the biggest factors this year impacting job growth?
The greatest detractors from growth include workforce development and infrastructure issues. A continued focus on workforce development at all levels of education will be required to produce the highest quality workers that draw companies to locate and expand in the region. We currently have high-quality K-12 and secondary education systems that have enabled the positive growth in the region. However, we must continue efforts to increase the quality and number of graduates who are excellent educators, scientists, writers, musicians, and business professionals who work at the existing companies and those locating here, and also create an environment for an active and diverse lifestyle environment.
Infrastructure issues including roads and bridges are a major concern for existing and new companies to the region. We have a great port in Savannah and a great airport in Atlanta, but the current transportation system is straining to handle the growth in the area. Expansion of the existing system and development of new, innovative methods in transportation need to be undertaken to accommodate the growth in the region and state.
How does being in one of the fastest-growing regions in the state affect UNG and its ability to support jobs?
This presents great opportunities for UNG, but also many challenges. Our university continues to grow in number and quality of students while others in the state face declining enrollment. We have great faculty and administrators who have worked hard to maintain and even increase the quality of the education our students receive. However, as the region continues to grow, UNG will be challenged to supply more high-quality graduates to support that growth, resulting in a need for increased resources. Our ability to continue identifying and developing innovative approaches to educating our students will affect our ability to reach and educate a diverse student body.
2014 will present both tremendous challenges and opportunities that the students, faculty and administrators of the university will face. With the help of the community and other partners, UNG will graduate the top-performing workforce needed to continue the high rate of growth in the northeast Georgia region and beyond.