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Opinion

Is Georgia serious about being the best state for business?


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Apr. 26, 2021 - 1:21 PM

Is Georgia serious about being the best state for business?

Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.

Hang around Georgia policymakers long enough and you’ll notice a common refrain: they boast about Area Development Magazine naming Georgia the top state in which to do business several years running. It is a proud distinction—but that report only tells one side of the story.

Forbes ranked Georgia the sixth best place for business, and U.S. News & World Report puts Georgia at ninth. Meanwhile, the Tax Foundation placed Georgia at an abysmal 31st for business tax climate and the Institute for Justice asserts that Georgia has the 14th most burdensome occupational licensing regulations—both of which are strong indicators of the business and labor environment.

Suffice it to say, there’s room for improvement, and it is far too early for Georgia to take a victory lap about being the nation’s so-called best state for business. But there’s a corps of lawmakers intent on improving Georgia’s regulatory environment.

In fact, Rep. Heath Clark (R-147) and Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-14) introduced the most substantive pro-business, pro-labor reform to garner serious consideration from the Georgia General Assembly this year. They filed companion bills focused on responsibly reducing professional licensing barriers.

As it stands, around a quarter of adults need an occupational license to work, which means completing costly and time-consuming educational and testing requirements. And most of these licenses do not cross state lines—even if they are virtually identical to Georgia’s in requirements, education, quality and scope. Instead of recognizing these out-of-state licenses, Georgia forces prospective workers to navigate a regulatory morass in order to get a state-specific license—a largely redundant act.

This is a major problem, given Georgia’s heavy-handed occupational licensing regimes and the fact that around 250,000 people move to Georgia each year. This means the tens of thousands of people who annually relocate here with a license cannot work until they traverse the burdensome process of getting a Georgia license.

Rep. Clark and Sen. Thompson evidently found this ridiculous and sought to reform the system. While there were different iterations and bill numbers to do so, the proposal’s language largely remained the same. Their measure would have allowed some of those with out-of-state-licenses to integrate more easily into Georgia’s workforce, while simultaneously enshrining strict consumer protections by ensuring that only qualified professionals can work in licensed occupations. The proposal would have done so by requiring most licensing boards to endorse individuals who establish residency in the Peach State and hold out-of-state-licenses—that are in good standing and have requirements substantially similar to Georgia’s—to work here.

Numerous other states have enacted much farther-reaching forms of this measure without issue. By most accounts, this should have been a commonsense, uncontroversial piece of legislation. In fact, Sen. Thompson’s proposal enjoyed bipartisan support, but it got bogged down in the House where it met some opposition.

It seemed inexplicable that any lawmakers would balk at legislation creating a better business environment that would limit occupational licensing-caused unemployment, but some did. Capitol insiders tell me that there was one primary sticking point, which is quite simply bizarre: Some worried that if unnecessary job-killing barriers were removed, then more Democrats would be able to relocate to and work in Georgia—thereby turning the state blue permanently, according to this dubious theory.

However, this doesn’t comport with reality. First several reliably conservative states have enacted comparable legislation and remained Republican strongholds. What’s more, studies have shown that small business owners—many of whom are professional license holders—are more likely to vote Republican. Even if this wasn’t the case, it seems highly inappropriate to use state regulations to specifically keep Democrats out of work.

While Rep. Clark’s and Sen. Thompson’s proposal stopped short of the governor’s desk this year, the legislature can consider it next year and help many thousands in the process. The bottom line is that with or without this legislation, a quarter million people move to Georgia a year. It is up to the General Assembly to decide whether it should remain unreasonably difficult or become easier for those who establish residency here to safely earn a living. If policymakers are serious about making Georgia the best place for business, then they ought to give Rep. Clark’s and Sen. Thompson’s proposal another look in 2022.


Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.