The loss of jobs in McDuffie County as a result of two industries closing was front and center as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp spoke to citizens July 8 during a coffee with the governor gathering at Belle Meade Country Club.
The governor mentioned the nearly 100 jobs lost as a result of the Georgia- Pacific fire last month and the loss of at least 200 jobs because of the closing of Hollander Sleep Products this fall. He also spoke on labor concerns locally and across the state, work force development, and how state legislators are working to bring more jobs to the state. Coffee with Kemp was organized by the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce and its members.
“It is such an honor and privilege to be able to bring him to McDuffie County,” said Chamber Director Debbie Jones, as she thanked the businesses and partners who supported the effort that brought nearly 100 people to the Belle Meade County Club for coffee and a 45-minute engagement to learn how Kemp intends to help McDuffie move forward.
“Governor Kemp is passionate about the State of Georgia and specifically rural Georgia, and he cares about McDuffie County,” said organizer Andy Knox Jr., as he gave the purpose of the coffee klatch. “McDuffie County has a special place in his heart,” Knox said.
Knox told the audience that it is awesome to see the governor’s care and compassion to Thomson-McDuffie, which suffered two drastic losses.
“It is important for me to be back here today to let you know that the things I talked about on the campaign, “I have not forgotten the people in the communities that worked hard for me. Even if they didn’t, I am still their governor and am working just as hard for them as I am for you all to move our state forward.”
Kemp said job loss from plant closings, a viable workforce, and other issues are challenges many rural communities face.
“There are tough issues we are facing in rural Georgia with our population shrinking and people moving away for better opportunities,” he said. While rural communities are being challenged, Kemp said opportunities exist. Kemp said it is his desire to keep future generations working at home instead of moving from their rural cities and towns to find work.
“That is what my focus has been, is and will continue to be. It is not something you can fix in a week or a day; it is something we are going to have to work on for many years.”
The governor told Thomson-McDuffie elected officials that he would continue to work with them on economic development. “We are focused with the Department of Economic Development on this area in light of the things going on,” Kemp said. “It is definitely on our radar,” he said.
“We will continue to stay focused on the area, from a regional perspective, but also specifically for McDuffie County to make sure that we are trying to find opportunities for those who live here that have not been able to be moved or found a replacement job just yet.”
The governor is organizing a strike team to partner with local communities to attract and expand economic development opportunities. “We want to work with you on that,” he said. He also noted the task force being created to streamline bureaucracy to help business establish and grow.
Public safety, a viable workforce, affordable healthcare access, and lowering costs are among the issues in the works to make Georgia first for small businesses, Kemp said.
In terms of public safety, Kemp relayed his frustration with more than 40 officer-involved shootings across the state this year. “We have a gang problem in the state, and we are going to do something about it,” he said. A solution has been the creation of a gang task force under the auspices of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“I am looking forward to the day when other governors complain to me that we have run them out of our state,” Kemp said. “I am sick and tired of it.”
In terms of rural broadband access, Kemp said the legislature passed a bipartisan bill that gives electric membership cooperatives and other utilities the ability to enter the broadband marketplace. “That is not the end all, be all,” he said. “We have to continue to focus on the state’s role in that.” He said the Department of Community Affairs is working to help the state understand where the broadband needs are, and the types of access people have.
“We are committed to continuing to move the needle forward.”