A Sandersville native, Nathan Deal served in the U.S. Army at Fort Gordon in Augusta after graduating with college and law degrees with honors from Mercer University. He then began a private law practice in Gainesville, the hometown of his wife, Sandra. While she taught in Hall County public schools, Deal began a career in public service, working as a prosecutor, judge, state senator and U.S. Congressman for Georgia’s 9th District. He was elected Georgia’s 82nd governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. The Deals have four adult children and six grandchildren.
What do you find to be the more rewarding part of your job?
As governor, I’m privileged to meet people from all walks of life, in every corner of our great state, and to hear their stories.
Site Selection magazine has ranked Georgia #1 for business for the past 5 years and the state has become the #1 state in feature film production, what makes Georgia so special?
When I took office in January 2011, I made a promise to the people of Georgia that we would not stop until our state was the No. 1 place in the nation to do business. Last month, Site Selection magazine announced that Georgia is the No. 1 state for business for the fifth consecutive year. This success is the result of our highly skilled workforce, an exceptional team of partners, conservative budgeting, and a low-tax structure that allowed us to build the most business-friendly environment in the nation, while also encouraging private-public collaboration. Since I took office, Georgia has seen the creation of more than 650,000 new, private sector jobs, thanks in part to a growing economy, credits available for job creation to reduce the effective tax rates, and an AAA bond rating from each of the three main credit rating agencies for the 20th consecutive year.
Recently, Georgia has seen the creation of more than 100,000 jobs each year in the previous two years, and so far this year, 76,400 new, private sector jobs have been created. From Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest passenger airport, to a highly skilled workforce to the Port of Savannah, the nation’s fastest-growing port, to a business environment that has been recognized by both publications and job creators, Georgia offers a wide range of assets to businesses of all sizes. Other industries including automotive manufacturing and logistics and distribution enjoy Georgia’s status as a top national distribution hub, as suppliers can reach 80 percent of the U.S. population from Georgia in just a 2-day truck drive or a 2-hour flight. Our port system has set recent records and remains one of the crown jewels for future economic development prospects.
Georgia’s business-friendly climate fuels existing industries, as expansions by existing companies contributed to 58 percent of investments in the state last year. We are also working to cultivate international connections to keep the state globally competitive and support investment from around the world. To support the population surge that our continued economic growth has brought to the state, we are now spending more on transportation per capita than any other state by investing in highway and rail transportation projects that will strengthen and expand our logistical network. Investments in our infrastructure, including the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, are well underway to improve cargo connections all over the state, as are more than 200 additional freight-supporting projects that the Georgia Department of Transportation will be working on in the next five to seven years. We have completed several such undertakings over the last seven years and are continuing to work to transform our means of commuting and commerce.
Last year, the state’s tourism industry generated a record-breaking $61.1 billion in economic impact as more visitors from all over the world came to enjoy our famous southern hospitality. Many of these visitors came to see where their favorite movies and TV shows are filmed, as the production industry continues to expand in Georgia. During fiscal year 2017 alone, the film industry generated $9.5 billion in economic impact through 320 feature film and television productions, including $2.7 billion in direct spending and employing more than 90,000 Georgians.
We are looking forward to the film and tourism industries continuing to grow in every corner of the state. The Georgia Film Academy and growing list of studios in the state will also ensure that next year’s film production will set another record. Pinewood Studios, Eagle Rock Studios, Tyler Perry Studios, and others are constantly working on productions here in Georgia, and recently Matchbook Media Group unveiled plans for Cinema Park Studios - Georgia's first studio dedicated to developing above-the-line content and creative professionals. In other words, right now, a lot of productions bring their talent and behind-the-camera personnel with them from California to Georgia. With these developments, studios are beginning to look first in Georgia for talent including actors, writers, directors and producers. That’s something we are very excited about, because we are seeing the creation of the permanent film industry jobs that so many in California and New York kept claiming would not materialize.
While we are #1 in many business arenas, workforce development is still a key component to maintain momentum. Please tell us how HOPE came about/why you felt it was important. And, the exciting news that construction education is now eligible for 100% HOPE funds.
Investing in the long-term economic future of our state means investing in our most valuable natural resource: our people. While economic incentives are important, we have been able to obtain and maintain our ranking as the top state for business because of our workforce. Early on, we recognized that the classroom to career pipeline should be a top priority and that education acts as an economic development tool that leads to new jobs, a better quality of life and a stronger society.
Our statewide network of two and four-year colleges and universities and the HOPE Scholarship and Grant connected to them, respectively, are prime examples of the research and development efforts in supporting industries of both today and tomorrow. Our Technical College of Georgia (TCSG) leadership is proactive in working with industry professionals to identify current and future needs in fields in which there are more jobs available in Georgia than there are skilled workers to fill them. In response to feedback from industry partners, I recently announced that the HOPE Career Grant will add five additional course offerings in construction, aviation, logistics, automotive technology and electrical line work. Our decision to include construction in this expansion is tied to both current needs and projections, as we found that there are construction jobs available, yet there are not enough qualified people to fill those jobs. Starting in January, students who already qualify for the HOPE Grant and choose to enroll in construction or one of the other majors that have been identified as strategically important to the state’s economic growth will receive 100 percent tuition to pursue their studies at a TCSG institution.
Over the past several years, Georgia’s population has grown rapidly, and Georgia is now the 8th most populous state. By 2040, the population of Metro Atlanta is expected to add another 2.5 million residents, many of whom will be buying homes. With this ongoing development, construction will be a growing business throughout the state, not just for the foreseeable future, but for decades to come. Further, as we continue to invest in infrastructure in every corner of the state, construction jobs will extend far beyond the Metro Atlanta area.
To date, the HOPE Career Grant for existing fields has produced exceptional results, with 88.4 percent of students finding job placement in their fields upon graduation and 99.2 percent overall finding job placement of some kind once they complete their programs. By including construction in the HOPE Career Grant, we are making it easier for Georgians of all backgrounds to find meaningful employment in construction both today and in the future.
The collapse of the I-85 bridge back in March is an example of the importance of a skilled workforce, ready to meet a challenge. I-85 is an important corridor, not just for Georgia, but for the entire Southeast region, with approximately 243,000 vehicles traveling the corridor daily. Thanks to the can-do spirit of the people, businesses, and response organizations of this state, I-85 was reopened in just six short weeks, seven full weeks ahead of schedule.
Please share a particular interest or hobby and how it helps you “get away” from the everyday stress of your day job.
When away from the State Capitol, I enjoy relaxing with my wife, Sandra, at our cabin on the banks of the Chattahoochee River. I also love to spend time in the North Georgia mountains with my family. Closer to the Governor’s Mansion, when I have a moment for myself, I enjoy reading works on American history and personal writing.
As you are nearing the end of your stewardship of the State, what do you want your legacy to be from your time in office?
It’s been the privilege of my lifetime to serve as Georgia’s 82nd governor. It is Sandra’s and my hope that we leave this state, and its people, better off than when we arrived. It is my hope that Georgia continues to maintain its top-ranked designation for business, continue advancing the criminal justice reforms that have saved taxpayer dollars and made communities safer, and build upon the investments made in education, workforce development and public safety.