Chris Carr | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Commissioner Keeping Georgia No. 1 for Business
By Karen Rosen
Chris Carr hit the ground runningas Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
No sooner hadGov. Nathan Deal appointed him to the post in November 2013 thanSite Selection magazine appeared on newsstands rankingGeorgia as the No. 1 state in which to do business.
Carr has kept that momentum going. Last monthSite Selection awarded Georgia the top spot for the third year in a row.
“It shows that you’re doing something right,” Carr says, noting that half of the score used by the trade publication is based on projects a state has landed and the other half on its reputation among site selectors. “It’s reaffirmation of the state of Georgia’s strategic plan for bringing companies to Georgia and growing the ones that we have here. It really is a point of pride.”
Area Development magazine and CNBC have also ranked Georgia No. 1 on Carr’s watch.
“Whether it’s tourism, business recruitmentand expansion, trade, the arts or entertainment or workforce, it’s a great time in economic development in the state of Georgia,” Carr says. “Because of the people and the policies that are put in place, we’ve seen a lot of success. It’s fun to continue to try to keep that success going and just be a part of the team.”
Carr was looking for a new challenge when he left his job as Chief of Staff for Sen. Johnny Isakson and accepted the offer tobecome Georgia’s biggest business booster.
Gov. Deal tasked him with bringing jobs and investment to the state using an integrated approach.
“If we can bring together all the assets -- arts, traditional industrial development, tourism, entertainment -- and leverage all of those resources, all the relationships, all the connections, that’s business,” Carr says.
The more the merrier, he says, in promoting the state. People in the private sector, local communities, utility partners and corporations can all look for new opportunities, help companies find success and lend a hand in marketing Georgia.
“We say everybody in the state is an ambassador for economic development because everybody’s got a relationship,” Carr says. “You may have a customer, a client, a friend, a neighbor or a family member, somebody that may be looking to do business somewhere, and we want them to come to Georgia. It’s just a matter of establishing those relationships and that communication with each other.”
In 2011, Gov. Deal introduced the Competitiveness Initiative, which called for the economic development department to partner with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in asking companies statewide what they needed to be successful.
The Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative, implemented last year, has been another rousing success. As one of the leaders, Carr works in concert with the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia to create a pipeline of communication between the private sector and the state’s workforce developers.
“That has been a game-changer and a great strategic move by the Governor,” Carr says, noting that workforce is one of the top issues for any company, regardless of industry.
“We know this is where the investment needs to be made,” he says. “The Governor has truly put workforce development at the front of what we are doing and that investment is going to pay dividends for years to come.”
The private sector participated in a survey to help the state prepare its workforce for their future needs. “Five or 10 years down the line,” Carr says they were asked, “what skills are you going to need, what degrees, what certificates, what courses?”
Since its first meeting in April 2014, the initiative has yielded fast results.Within four months, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents decided that Georgia Southern will become one of only three schools in the nation – and the only one in the Southeast -- offering a manufacturing engineering degree. The Georgia Film Academy was created to provide crew for movie and television production. Gov. Dealalso recommended that the state board of education allow computer coding to be considered on par with other languages at the high school level.
“All of this came from the Governor saying, ‘Let’s go to the private sector and find out what they need,’ and then let’s respond at the speed of business,” Carr says, adding that it’s “unprecedented” for government to respond so quickly.
Also in April 2014, the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development was repositioned under the economic development umbrella as the new Workforce Division, which Carr says was “critically” important.
“We can go to a company and say, ‘Look, if you locate here, if you expand here, we’re not just about that project, we’re about your long-term success,” Carr says.
Quick Start, the decades-old program which trains workers for new companies, has an infrastructure that Carr says is “really embedded in our DNA.”
Recently, Carr’sdepartment announced a new program called Georgia WorkSmart, which encompasses apprenticeships, internships and on-the-job training. European companies, particularly those from Germany and Austria, have shown interest in this type of full service, across-the-spectrum program.
A huge win for the state came in January,whenMercedes-Benz USA announced that it would relocate its headquarters to Atlanta, creating at least 800 jobs and investing approximately $74 million.
Automotive and headquarters are “hot industries” for Georgia, Carr says.
A world-class logistics network, including Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the ports; access to ideas and talent; a reputation as an innovation hub and a low-cost, low-regulatory environment make Georgia attractive to companies.
Carr notes that Georgia also has 230-240 different automotive suppliers because of the state’s logistics and location.
Georgia is also a big player in the movie and television business. That industry generateda record $6 billion for the state’s economy in the last fiscal year, with yellow location signs and trucks becoming ubiquitous.
“Georgia had been a place that was good to film; now it’s a good place for the film business to be,” Carr says.
The state has seen an increase in capital expenditures with new studios springing up, including Pinewood Atlanta Studios and Tyler Perry Studios. There has also been an influx of satellite companies providing jobs in areas such as hair and makeup, carpentry, lighting and catering.
Tourism is booming as well, with Georgia’s biggest year ever generating an impact of $57.1 billion, an increase of 6.7 percent.
While Carr says Georgia “has tried to create an environment in the state that is just simply pro-business,” that goes hand-in-hand with providing a great quality of life both for workers new to the area and those that are homegrown.
Carr says culture and arts are a priority for many companies looking to relocate or expand in Georgia, and bolstering them is another part of his responsibility.
“The quality of life here is fantastic,” Carr says. “People love to be in Atlanta and Georgia. I was just talking to a COO of a company and he said, ‘It’s hard to get people to go from their Atlanta office elsewhere because people love being in Atlanta.’”
Carr was born in Michigan and moved to Dunwoody when he was in kindergarten so his father, who owned a business outfitting vans with seats, carpet, etc., could be closer to the industry.
At the University of Georgia, Carr majored in international business, “which is so funny,” he says, “because I didn’t do anything in international business until I got here 20 years after I graduated. You come full circle.”
After college, Carr worked for Georgia Pacific for about 14 months, then decided to go to law school at Georgia.
“It wasn’t necessarily to be a lawyer,” he says, “but I liked international policy; I liked politics. I felt if I had a legal background, it would be good for me.”
Before entering law school, Carr had volunteered “and then got promoted to intern at the same pay grade” for Isakson, then a state senator running for the U.S. Senate. Isakson was not successful in that campaign, but Carr established relationships with Isakson and Rogers Wade, who had been Herman Talmadge’s chief of staff and was part of Isakson’s “kitchen cabinet.”
In 1999, Carr’s third year of law school, Isakson ran for the U.S. House of Representatives to replace Newt Gingrich and Carr again volunteered.
“Johnny wins and I wanted so badly to go to Washington,” he says, “but I kept getting the advice to go practice law first, make sure that wasn’t something that I wanted to do.”
Carr got an offer from Alston & Bird and worked for the firm about a year and a half before joining Wade at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation as Vice President and General Counsel.
He stayed in that role for two years, but the campaign trail beckoned again. Carr had also stayed close to Isakson and his chief of staff, Heath Garrett. When Senator Zell Miller decided not to run for re-election, Garrett asked Carr if he would be Isakson’s campaign manager.
Isakson won the set and Carr finally went to Washington as Deputy Chief of Staff for three years. He was promoted to Chief of Staff in November 2007, moving back to Dunwoody in 2008 and commuting back and forth until 2013.
Washington was all it was cracked up to be – “at the beginning,” Carr says with a laugh. He loved the history, the monuments and working at the Capitol. “It seems like the longer I was there, though, it started getting a little bit off kilter,” he says. “But I wouldn’t trade one minute of my experience, first and foremost with Johnny Isakson who was just a great mentor and a great person to learn about life, about business, about politics. He is a true gentleman and a great public servant.”
Isakson was supportive when Carr was ready for a change. His predecessor at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, ChrisCummiskey, was a former classmate at Marist andtold him about the opportunity.
Carr also knew Gov. Deal from his time in Washington and appreciated that he was very business-oriented.
“To be able to focus on economic issues, focus on jobs -- that’s really the way that you truly impact peoples’ lives,” Carr says. “The governor talks about this all the time. This is a great staff, they are truly the experts; I’m just fortunate to be along for the ride, to be a part of this team and a part of the Governor’s team.”
Carr estimates he is on the road probably a third to a half of his time. This year alone he has taken international trips to the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, Germany, China, Dubai and Japan.
At home in Dunwoody, Carr spends as much time as he can with his 11-year-old daughter, Mary Clifton. “She’s my buddy,” he says. “Whatever she likes, I like.” Right now, that’s theater, basketball and tennis.
Carr also loves books and music and is a movie buff. He tries to see every movie and television show filmed in Georgia, but there are so many if he watched them all, he’d have no time to drum up business and maintain the state’s No. 1 status in the country.
“You can’t control what another state does,” Carr says, “but we can control how we approach economic development. Right now with the partnership approach we have everybody’s going in the same direction. It’s a fun time to be in economic development.”
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