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REED Summit highlights job opportunities in Georgia agribusiness industry

September 30, 2020

Gary Black, the Georgia commissioner of agriculture, gave an encouraging message to students, educators and business leaders watching the virtual Regional Education and Economic Development (REED) Summit hosted by the University of North Georgia (UNG) on Sept. 23.

"When you get a degree in agriculture, it's not a question of if you get a job. It's a question of which job you get and where you want to live," said Black, the event's keynote speaker. "There are enormous opportunities for those who want to lead and serve in this industry."

According to Georgia Farm Bureau statistics, 1 in 7 Georgians work in agriculture, forestry or related fields. Agribusiness is Georgia's leading industry with more than $75 billion in economic impact every year. Biotechnology, drones, telematics, yield monitoring, and other precision agriculture technologies are rapidly changing how Georgia grows.

Black pointed to beef production as a potential area for growth in the state going forward. He also noted the diversity of skills needed in agribusiness, including information technology and engineering.

Breakout sessions of the summit focused on the poultry industry, life sciences, the effect of education on economic development, STEM and the American workforce, and how educational pathways train students for good jobs.

Bobbi Larson, director of economic development and community relations, said the summit was a uniting force for sharing information about agribusiness with regional organizations.

"Business and education, both K-12 and post-secondary, share a common cause in the preparation of a highly skilled workforce to preserve regional competitiveness and economic opportunity in response to rapid innovation, technological change, and increasing global competition," Larson said. "The REED Summit reinforced the idea that workforce development is a team sport and fostered collaboration between industry and educators at all levels."

Mike Giles, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation, noted that globally, only seven countries produce more broiler chicken than the state of Georgia, which produces 1.4 billion birds and 8 billion pounds of chicken annually.

Dr. Linda Purvis, associate professor of biology, rebuilt the agriculture-poultry science pathway associate degree program at UNG in the past decade. She was excited to participate in the summit and hoped others gained valuable insights.

"The general public hears about agriculture and that it's a big part of Georgia, but they may not realize the diversity of it. They think about farms, but they don't think about the life sciences side of it, such as vaccines and pharmaceuticals," Purvis said. "We have a very diverse agriculture industry in north Georgia that includes wine and poultry. Our educational programs at UNG prepare students for careers in a variety of these sectors."

Tim McDonald, executive vice president of Lanier Technical College, took part in a prerecorded interview included in the summit and attended multiple sessions.

"This year's REED Summit was important because agribusiness is such a large and diverse part of the economy of northeast Georgia," McDonald said.

Sessions were streamed through Zoom and will be available by Oct. 5 on the REED Summit website.

Due to the event being virtual, registration was free for high school and college students, professionals and community members. Northeast Georgia Health System was the presenting sponsor for the summit.

Georgia Power, Rochester & Associates, and Syfan Logistics were executive sponsors for the REED Summit. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, Habersham EMC, Lanier Federal Credit Union and Windstream Kinetic were supporting sponsors.

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