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Deal voices support for tech college


Deal voices support for tech college

1topstory11_23By Jill Helton
Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 3:09 PM EST

Bert Guy of St. Marys and State Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) listen during Gov. Nathan Deal's speech during a town hall style meeting Monday in St. Marys. Deal was in town to attend a fundraiser hosted by Guy and addressed a crowd gathered at Theatre by the Trax. 

Gov. Nathan Deal stopped short of promising Camden County a technical college campus during his recent visit, but said he recognizes the campus could help protect Kings Bay from cutbacks.

"One of the issues I have been asked about a number of times is what about the possibility of having a technical college here in your community," Deal said Monday at a town hall meeting at Theatre by the Trax in St. Marys.

Deal spoke to a crowd of about 70 people a little after 7 p.m., having just left a campaign fundraiser at the home of Bert and Jillian Guy in downtown St. Marys.

"We are in the budget preparation stages right now and it is premature for me to make any absolute promises, but I want to assure you I'm going to do whatever I can to try to make that possible," Deal said.


Loud applause greeted his statement.

"In addition to just providing those educational opportunities for people in this area, there is another reason and ... because you have one of our major military installations here, we believe it would be a valuable component to servicing the needs of that installation," he added.

Protecting military assets

Deal said the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission will be looking at installations and recommending cuts to Congress in the next several years. With several military installations, Georgia has a lot at stake.

"More than likely we are going to see the White House and the Congress insist on a significant downsizing of military establishments around the country and around the world for some of our overseas bases," Deal said.

Kings Bay officials have said they could cut training costs significantly by expanding the Navy's collaboration with Altamaha Technical College, which has a long track record of success in training Trident Refit Facility apprentices.

Deal said he hosted a dinner a few weeks ago for the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee that included representatives from all of Georgia's military communities.

"We had representatives from your area that were there. We had representatives from virtually every part of the state of Georgia where military installations were located. We told them we wanted to have a coordinated effort in that regard and I think the response was overwhelmingly positive," Deal said.

The governor said his administration is trying to be proactive in preparing the state's military communities for BRAC. He announced the hiring of former Secretary of the Navy Will Ball, a Georgian, who he said is "imminently qualified" to coordinate that effort and represent the state.

Ball held several posts in the 1980s during the Reagan administration, including assistant secretary of state, and served as the president's chief lobbyist and liaison to Congress.

"He is going to be doing everything possible to make sure Georgia is prepared to answer the questions that the Pentagon might have and be prepared for any BRAC Commission to come along," Deal said. "We are going to be working with you to make sure that everything the Pentagon could ever expect of a community and of a state is being done to try and protect the Kings Bay installation."

Creating jobs

Several questions from the crowd centered on economic development and increased trade for the state.

Deal said the state is phasing out the sales tax on energy consumption for manufacturers. Although counties can opt out, Deal encouraged Camden County to follow suit with the state.

"I know companies well enough to know they will make that a factor in determining where they go," Deal said.

He pointed to a variety of qualities that make a community attractive for the relocation of a major employer. Companies want to know their employees will be comfortable with the school system and will be part of a viable community, Deal said.

"Certainly I think your community has all of those very good features to be able to use as a selling point," he said. "It's a combination of a lot of different things and we will be working very diligently to try and help anyone in the state that is willing to try and help themselves and certainly your part of the state has demonstrated a willingness to do that."

Despite some challenges in education funding, the state is fortunate to be a national leader when ranked for the quality of its workforce, Deal added.

Rachel Baldwin, workforce development chair for the Camden County Chamber of Commerce and a retired local educator, pointed out to the governor that Camden County had the highest percentage of workers in the state who earned "gold" scores under the Work Ready program.

"We graduated 647 students from our high school here in Camden County last year; 593 of those were pathway completers," Baldwin said. "We appreciate any effort, all the effort you can give us in getting our technical college here. It is not just about our high school students ... I think we have a workforce here in Camden County that is very viable and ready for development here."

During his visit to Camden County, Deal also toured Express Scripts, a Fortune 500 prescription benefits call center that also has used Altamaha Technical College to train its newly hired staff.

ATC is currently operating out of shared space at the College of Coastal Georgia's Camden Center. The land for a future ATC campus off Interstate 95 Exit 7 was donated in 2010 by the Gross family.

Funding for the local campus was initially included in the state budget last year, but the line item was later cut by Deal. This year, it was ranked lower on the technical college system's priority list and below the ranking of another technical college funding request in Glynn County.

While Deal did not have any economic development projects to highlight in the immediate area, he did point to the state's continued investment in the Savannah port as a boon to coastal region and the state. He said he has committed $50 million in next year's budget toward meeting the state's share of the deepening project.

He also noted that there were several transportation projects designed to alleviate the gridlock in metro Atlanta and the addition of another international terminal at Hartsfield airport.

Tightening belts

Deal discussed improvements made to the state's education and court systems, despite continued attempts to cut costs for state taxpayers. He said the number of state employees is now at a record low.

"What we have done is try to look at state government. We've tried to consolidate agencies where it made sense to do so to try to avoid duplication of services ... The net result of that is that we have made the government smaller, we have reduced the spending of the government and we have tried put your money to work in the places that hopefully you agree is where it needs to be spent," he said. "Now, that does not mean we don't still have challenges."

Deal said he increased the state's "rainy day fund" 200 percent over what it had been when he took office.

"I think that is the appropriate thing to do because, quite honestly, nobody knows if we are out of the woods in this economic downturn yet," he said.

Deal said Georgia will not be setting up healthcare exchanges or expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act because the state cannot afford to do so. He said he is hoping that some legislative changes will make it possible to funnel frequent emergency room visitors to urgent care center and doctor's offices to help lower the state's healthcare costs.

St. Marys Mayor Bill DeLoughy thanked Deal for coming and presented him with a key to the city. They were joined onstage by State Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick, District 3) and State Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine, District 180), who also had attended the campaign fundraiser.


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