Georgia’s workforce has experienced job growth in the metro areas of the state. The rural communities have been left out of the wave, however. State officials plan to buckle down on the issue this week.
Select members of Georgia’s House of Representatives will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to address ways to drive economic growth in the rural areas of the state. Gov. Brian Kemp also plans to announce details of a rural job growth initiative on Thursday.
Georgia has been named “Top State for Business” by Area Development for the sixth year in a row, Kemp said Tuesday.
The state’s overall unemployment rate for July sat at 0.1 percent above the national average of 3.8 in July. The unemployment rate is higher in rural parts of the state, according to Labor Department numbers.
The 15-member council will speak to leaders in broadband technology and workforce planning development at the two-day meetings in Moultrie.
The council's goal is to study the “loss of population, a deficiency in access to health care, poor infrastructure, diminished quality of educational opportunity, scarcity of employment opportunities and overall lack of economic growth," according to House Resolution 214.
Speakers for this week’s meeting include Michael Foor, vice president of state government affairs for Windstream, a data network communications company. Foor plans to speak to lawmakers on the progress Windstream has made in rural areas of Georgia, including fiber upgrades in Moultrie.
Moultrie is located in the southwest Georgia county of Colquitt. The unemployment rate in the southwest region was 4.3 percent in July.
The maps in Foor’s presentation also show broadband expansion in rural downtowns like Shellman, Dawson, Ocilla and Sasser.
“It's important the community know what they now have access to,” he said.
Those cities are all located in regions with unemployment rates above 4.0, according to the labor department.
Foor will also speak to the panel about future opportunities in wireless internet and partnerships.
Three other broadband experts will also present to the council over the next two days.
Officials from departments of Public and Government Affairs, Natural Resources and Community Affairs and the Office of Workforce Development will discuss ways to improve the workforce and agribusiness.
One of the presentations includes data collection, new apprenticeship or other training programs, updating existing post-secondary training programs and building more career pathways and internship opportunities for students.
There will be panels on agribusiness, job tax credits, workforce housing and opportunity zones.
The chairpersons of the council, Rep. Rick Jasperse and Rep. Sam Watson, have until Dec. 31 to submit the council’s recommendations.
Last month, the council met in Jasper, where they focused on education and heard presentations from Career, Technical and Agricultural Education representatives, school superintendents and education associations.
“Building a strong foundation for education in these areas is a priority for the council, and learning about these educational needs set the pace for our meetings as we begin to further explore legislative solutions for our rural communities over the next two years,” said Rep. Darlene Taylor, a member of the council.