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Gov. Kemp unveils Georgians First initiative to support small businesses
Brian Kemp
Brian Kemp.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced in his first executive order his intention to prop up small businesses by cutting regulations and streamlining government permitting.

And last week, he made good on that promise when he established the Georgians First Commission.

“I believe that we need businesspeople not bureaucrats to renew our processes, challenge the status quo and get government out of the way,” Kemp said at a televised news conference on Feb. 12.  

It’s unclear what recommendations the 18-member body will draft, but Kemp said it could include a continued Republican push to lower state income taxes.

The commission, whose members are business leaders from across the state, is co-chaired by Cade Joiner (owner of Shred X in Brookhaven) and James Whitley (founder of Landmark Properties in Athens). The group will submit its recommendations by June 2020 and is scheduled to host its first meeting at the capitol in Atlanta in March.

"These hardworking Georgians know firsthand the difficulties that small businesses face in getting started, expanding operations, and investing more in our state," Kemp said. "I look forward to working with them to cut government red tape, slash regulations, spur innovation, and ultimately make Georgia the top state for small business in the country."

Kemp described Georgia as the “epicenter” of job growth in the nation, with major industries from agriculture to film playing vital roles in the health of the state’s economy.

“But we cannot rest on our laurels,” he said.

According to the governor’s office, 99.6 percent of Georgia businesses are considered small and employ a total of 1.6 million people.

The federal Small Business Administration defines a small business by industry, and can mean having no more than 250 employees or less than 1,500 workers.

Of course, many small businesses employ only a handful or a few dozen.

The SBA reports that firms with fewer than 100 workers account for 98.2 percent of all businesses in the United States.

But there’s “more that we can do,” Kemp said. “We have to keep building.”  

Kemp, in his announcement of the commission’s members (Bobby Banks, chief administrative officer of CBT Inc., which is based in Oakwood, is the lone Hall County member), noted that the group’s “work will no doubt be challenging.”

It’s also a tall order for the very measures Kemp identified.

But Georgia already has a leg up on other states, especially regionally.

“In the landscape of states, Georgia is extremely business friendly,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, adding that the Peach State “compares really well with so many other major population states.”

As secretary of state for eight years, Kemp’s office handled all business registration and licensing, from realtors to cosmetologists.

“Gov. Kemp is uniquely situated to have a perspective on this,” Evans said.

For small business owners, Evans said, it can be “challenging to work through state, local and federal requirements that are placed on their business.”

Juggling marketing, sales, customer service, cash flow and payroll, among so many things, makes being a small business owner and entrepreneur “akin to being a one-person band,” Evans said.

“It’s hard to keep up with all the changes and compliance” demands, he added.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 proved to be a common example.

Whatever the legislation’s merits, its implementation could be burdensome on employers, and understanding the nuances of health care law can make it “really challenging (for small businesses) to offer and be competitive for both wages and benefits,” Evans said.

And regulations can be different from community to community within a state, or even a county, Evans said.

For example, the Gainesville City Council has approved several changes to the city’s alcohol ordinance since the beginning of 2014 in an effort to promote new businesses, streamline permitting, eliminate outdated restrictions and better align with state regulations.

These changes paved the way for a brewery to open, growlers bars to exist and farm wineries to establish.

“That’s where it’s so important to have the good relationships and communication with (local governments),” Evans said.

He added that Hall County is large enough to have a diverse industry base and talent pool for small businesses to operate in, but also remains small enough that employers can have confidence in working with government officials to build a business-friendly climate.