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Columbia County Chamber breakfast features development discussions

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Pleas to pass a transportation sales tax were incorporated into discussions about promoting economic development in Georgia during a Thursday breakfast meeting for area business executives.

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Members of Columbia County's legislative delegation Sen. Bill Jackson (from left), Rep. Barbara Sims and Rep. Ben Harbin applaud after the remarks by featured speaker Chris Cummiskey, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.  JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Members of Columbia County's legislative delegation Sen. Bill Jackson (from left), Rep. Barbara Sims and Rep. Ben Harbin applaud after the remarks by featured speaker Chris Cummiskey, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

State Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey and state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, both characterized the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax as an engine to drive development during the meeting sponsored by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.

Cummiskey called Georgia – with the Port of Savannah and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the “logistical hub of the Southeast.”

Though Georgia leads the Southeast in economic development, Cummiskey warned that other states are closing the gap. Through tax exemptions and other economic incentives, South Carolina and Tennessee are attracting more attention from industries considering expansions. Though more state funding for economic incentives will help, Cummiskey said Georgia also can fend off challenges to its dominance by building on existing infrastructure such as the port.

“The transportation initiative is completely about jobs. … If we don’t pass that, we’re going to lose jobs to the states around us,” Cummiskey said.

A regional initiative, the T-SPLOST would impose a 1-cent sales tax for road improvements. The referendum goes to voters next year.

Harbin said lawmakers can help grow the economy by offering manufacturers tax breaks on energy use, and he likely will consider such legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January.

By not having to pay taxes on electricity, more money can be devoted to expansion and job creation, Harbin said.

Cummiskey said that about 60 percent of his department’s resources are devoted to helping existing industries in Georgia expand operations. It’s hard to sell Georgia, he said, if employers are looking for cheaper alternatives in other states.

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