The economy in the country, the state of Georgia, and the region is very strong, 10th District Congressman Jody Hice and Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told a gathering of Oconee County Republicans last week.
That strong economy is threatened, both speakers said, by the shortage of labor to fill the jobs the strong economy is producing.
The pair offered a variety of solutions to the problem, including training in schools, training on the job, hiring those getting out of correctional facilities, hiring people with disabilities, and helping people get off the safety net and into jobs.
Neither Hice nor Butler mentioned immigrants in their comments, but a member of the audience asked Butler specifically about the possible use of immigrant labor to meet workforce needs.
“I’ve always been a proponent” of immigration, Butler said. “The ones who want to come here and work, we should help them get here.”
Hice and Butler were part of an agenda focused on economic development for the regular meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party.
Courtney Bernardi, president of the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce and the third speaker, used her time to tell the 49 people at the meeting about the new collaboration between Oconee County and the Chamber to further economic development in the county.
Hice On Causes Of Strong Economy
Hice began his comments at the Aug. 26 meeting, held at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, by focusing on the economy generally rather than on economic development specifically.
“Georgia is the hot spot in this nation for economic opportunity and business,” Hice said. “And this particular area is one of the hottest spots of that hot spot.”
“We’re seeing this nationally, as you well know,” Hice continued. “Just three years ago we were looking at an absolutely stale economy. We were being told that the new expectation was about 2 percent growth. That’s the new norm.
“It is stunning how in just two and a half years the turnaround that’s taken place on the federal level is a turnaround the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before and I would venture to say everyone in this room has never seen it before,” Hice said. “We are over three percent growth quarter after quarter after quarter.”
(The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that the change in the Gross Domestic Product quarter-to-quarter has been greater than 3 percent twice in 2017, once in 2018, and once so far in 2019, or four out of the last 10 quarters. It was 2 percent in the most recent reading.)
The national economy is strong for two reasons, according to Hice. The first is the reduction of regulations by the Donald Trump administration. The second is the party’s tax cut.
“From 2018, the average household saw about 2,200 real, live dollar bill--2,200 dollars--added to their wallet,” Hice said. “Ninety percent of everybody has received tax cuts,” he added.
Hice On Labor Shortage
“You all, we’re just living in the best opportunity--ever,” Hice said. “It’s just really amazing.”
|Julia Ballard Introduced Hice|
“The number one issue I hear from businesses is we can’t find workers,” Hice added. “I hear it every week and most of the time, several times a week.
“We, in Georgia, I think are making better progress than most other states,” Hice continued. “But the economy has really been outgrowing the workforce in many regards, which is a good thing.
“I mean if you’re going to have problems, like, isn’t that a good kind of problem to have, instead of it being reversed where we’ve got a lot more people wanting to work than we’ve got jobs?” Hice asked. “But that is an issue that going to have to be addressed.”
Hice said he was “excited” about efforts to increase workforce training in high schools.
And businesses have started doing their own training, Hice said, following the request from Trump in 2017 to engage in workforce training.
“But obviously we’ve got a long ways to go,” Hice said.
Hice On Budget Deficit
Even before Hice stopped his comments to take questions, Bill Mayberry of Watkinsville, who questions most of those who speak at Republican meetings, called out to Hice.
“When does the deficit spending stop?” Mayberry asked.
“Alright, great question,” Hice said. “There are two groups in Washington who are addicted to spending money: Democrats and Republicans. I have to be honest with you. Our party has been just as guilty as the Democrats.”
Hice then turned his comments to the Green New Deal and first-term Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who has been an advocate of the legislation to address climate change and income inequality.
“That’s what we’re dealing with on that side of the isle,” Hice said. “But a great question.”
“So when does it stop?” Mayberry called out again.
“It’s not going to stop as long as the Democrats are in control,” Hice said. “Hopefully, Republicans learned their lesson when they didn’t stop it. And I think that’s largely why we’re no longer in the majority.”
“And so, we’ve got to take back the majority,” Hice said. “We’ve got to get leadership to be committed to do what we said we would do.”
Hice didn’t say this in responding to Mayberry, but he was one of 132 Republicans who voted against the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which increases discretionary spending limits, suspended the debt limit, and modified budget enforcement procedures.
One Independent and 16 Democrats also voted against the bill, which passed the House on July 25 with 219 Democrats and 65 Republicans voting in favor.
The bill also passed the Republican-controlled Senate with 29 Republican votes and 37 Democratic votes.
President Trump signed the bill on Aug. 2.
Hice did support the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, though 12 Republicans voted against the bill.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in April 2018 that the Act would add an estimated $2.289 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.
No Democrats in the House or in the Senate supported the tax bill.
Butler On Workforce
“The congressman was absolutely dead on right,” Labor Commissioner Butler said when he began his comments. “Work force is the number one issue.”
Butler, referring to a legal pad he placed on the table in front of him as he spoke, said Oconee County has 165 fewer people in its workforce than it had at this time a year ago. And it has about 100 fewer people employed today than a year ago.
In last 60 days, however, his office put almost 200 job postings online for Oconee County, Butler said.
“That’s just the ones put online,” Butler said. “Only about 40 percent of all jobs are posted online.”
“So you probably have about 400 job openings right now with 160 fewer people looking, which is one of the reasons that Oconee has, tied with Jefferson, the lowest unemployment rate of any county in the entire state,” Butler said.
Oconee’s unemployment rate, according to data from Butler’s office, is 2.7 percent at present, compared with 3.6 percent for the state and 3.7 percent for the country.
Butler On Solutions
“If you’re an employer out there,” Butler said, “you’re struggling right now to find people.”
|Colby Baker Introduced Bernardi|
Employers are taking a closer look at people coming out of the correctional system and at people with disabilities, according to Butler.
“We’re also seeing a lot more companies do their own training than we’ve ever seen before,” he added.
People getting benefits as part of the federal safety net programs often cannot work because they will lose those benefits, Butler said.
“I told the Congressman I can fix that for you,” Butler said. “Just block grant all of that money to us and take away the rules and let us show you how it is done.”
“If you hear somebody say we’ve got to do more to create jobs, say, wo wo wo, let’s find some more workers,” Butler said.
Butler also told those in the audience to “make sure our young people stay in our communities where they grew up because there are jobs available for them here.”
Question On Immigration
Butler was just about to stop taking questions when someone in the rear of the room said he had one more question.
“What’s going on with the immigrants, legal and illegal, because I know in farm workers in south Georgia, I used to live down there, and I just want to know what’s going on with it now?” the man asked.
“Well, I’ll tell you this,” Butler said. “You know I hear people say we’ve got to do something about those illegals, they’re taking away jobs from Americans. They ain’t taking away jobs from Americans right now. And they ain’t working any cheaper.”
“I don’t know if we can get along without them,” the man said, drawing on, he said, on his experience in construction.
“I wish our immigration system worked correctly and we could attract more talented individuals,” Butler said.
“I’ve always been a proponent” of immigration, Butler said. “I mean I love it when folks come over here. I have a lot of friends who have come over here from other countries. Whether it be Asian, Europe, Africa, wherever.”
“The ones who want to come here and work, we should help them get here,” Butler said. “The ones who want to come here and just live off the system, I’ve got no time for that.”
Bernardi On Chamber And County
Bernardi told those in the audience that the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce as of July 1 is the “point of contact for economic development” in the county. The County is providing $100,000 annually to the Chamber for the service.
“This is completely new,” Bernard said. “We’re transitioning into a new role here at the Chamber, which we’re really excited about.”
A Task Force will begin meeting in the next several weeks to plan for the future, Bernard continued. (The meetings will be held at 9 a.m. on Sept. 17, Sept. 23 and Oct. 7 at the Chamber, Commission Chair John Daniell has announced.)
The Chamber has hired the Pendleton Group and its managing partner, Craig Lesser, to work with it on the project, according to Bernardi.
The Pendleton Group, which provides counsel on governmental affairs, economic development and strategic communications to governments and businesses, is based in Dunwoody.
Bernardi said the focus will be on new businesses as well as the existing businesses in the county.
“The businesses that call Oconee County home today, we want them to stay in Oconee,” Bernardi said. “We want them to continue to grow and thrive. So we really need to focus on business retention as well.”
“I think over the next 18 months,” Bernardi added, “you’ll see a lot of exciting things happen in terms of us developing a plan, which we really do need to have. We need to go forward strategically.”
At the beginning of the Aug. 26 meeting, county Party Chair Steven Strickland asked for any candidates in the audience to identify themselves.
|Strickland And 2 Percent|
Carol Bennett stood to announce that she is running for Board of Commissioners Chair in the primary next May. Bennett now serves on the county’s Family and Children Services Board.
Jimmy Williamson, retired University of Georgia Police Chief, stood and announced he is running for Sheriff.
Michael Hunsinger with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, stood to announce he is seeking election as Probate Judge.
Capt. James Hale of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office said he is running for Sheriff.
John Daniell next came forward to indicate that he is going to seek re-election as Chair of the Board of Commissioners.
Strickland, Tomlinson, Perdue
Following the presentations by Hice, Butler and Bernardi, during the business meeting, Strickland referenced the most recent meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party, where Teresa Tomlinson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, spoke.
Tomlinson told Oconee County Democrats they only needed to shave 3 or 4 percent off the county margin from Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018 to defeat incumbent Sen. David Perdue in 2020.
“She is a formidable opponent,” Strickland said of Tomlinson.
“Given our grass roots strategy here in the county,” Strickland said, “I think we can actually widen the gap by 2 percent and put us above 70 percent.”
The video below is of the entire meeting pf the Oconee County Republican Party on Aug. 26 at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville.
Julia Ballard, vice president for Teen Republicans at North Oconee High School, began her introduction of Hice at 4:35 in the video.
Chaim Moore, president of the Young Republicans at Oconee County High School, introduced Butler starting at 20:25 in the video.
Colby Baker, the secretary of the North Oconee High School Teen Republicans, introduced Bernardi at 50:06 in the video.
Strickland called for the introduction of candidates at 1:36 in the video.
Strickland made his comments about Tomlinson at 1:03:35 in the video