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Perdue urges nurturing of Georgia entrepreneurs

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia's economy "must grow from within" in the 21st century, Gov. Sonny Perdue told the 150 participants at the Georgia Summit on Entrepreneurship March 20 in Tifton, Ga. Local entrepreneurs, he said, will be the root of this new growth.

Georgia Tech's Advanced Technology Development Center and the Georgia Economic Developers Association sponsored the two- day summit at the University of Georgia Tifton Campus Conference Center.

The program focused local, state and national leaders in entrepreneurship on one question: How can Georgia fan and sustain the flame of entrepreneurship, especially in the state's rural economies?

Homegrown plan

The top economic-development strategy in Georgia's future is encouraging entrepreneurship, Perdue said.

The state must create an atmosphere that encourages, promotes and nurtures people who want to take a "homegrown" risk for profit, he said. That's especially true for those who want to stay in their communities and add to the local economy and job market.

For years, Perdue said, Georgia successfully lured companies with low business costs and cheap land and labor. This model and strong economic times helped Georgia become the fastest-growing state east of the Rocky Mountains. That was the past.

"The world has changed," he said. Global trade and stiffer international competition have "moved our traditional jobs overseas."

Due to this shift and the current economic downturn, the state moved from No. 1 in job creation to dead last in 2002, he said.

Georgia will continue to recruit businesses from other states and countries. "But I think that game is about played out in the cost of it," he said.

Community lead

Community leaders will have to take the reins and guide this new entrepreneurial spirit in Georgia. Rural communities can no longer wait for "the state to ride in on a white horse and deliver a company that will employ all the residents" with long- term jobs.

"Those days are gone," he said. "And you know it as well as I."

The communities that will thrive will be those that commit to growing their own economies. If communities do this, he said, the state will do its part.

"We will give you the resources to support you as you set your own economic course," he said.

State's part

Perdue charged the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism to broaden its mission and provide more opportunity for entrepreneurship statewide.

"It will act as a clearinghouse for state resources, coordinating efforts between our universities and local colleges and nonprofit support shelters," he said.

Entrepreneurs at the summit said Georgia needs a one-stop, easy- access place for financial, business and personal advice. Georgia entrepreneurs who were guest speakers attributed much of their success to the help of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Georgia.

Perdue said he understands the risk in starting a business. He was an agribusiness entrepreneur in Houston County in the mid- 1970s.

"I look forward in hearing your ideas on how we can do this job better," he said. "I'd like to suggest that this summit become an annual event."

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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