A growing Georgia needs an improved workforce to continue to compete in a global marketplace, said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
As the keynote speaker for the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Post-Legislative Breakfast on Thursday at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, Cagle discussed the state's economy and government's responsibility to create a job-friendly environment.
"Jobs (are) how people experience the American dream," he said.
Cagle said Georgia hosts 17 Fortune 500 companies, is home to the world's busiest airport and maintains a quickly growing seaport business.
"There is no place abroad you can enter the American marketplace better than through Georgia," he said.
As a young man, Cagle said he mistakenly thought finding a high-paying job meant seeking employment in banking, medical or legal professions. Later in life, he learned that many plumbers and electricians earn more than $100,000 annually.
Thus, Cagle said he is promoting the further creation of "career academies," which marry a traditional educational setting with a technical institution. The academies provide teens with a basic education while giving them the vocational expertise needed to find employment upon graduation.
Such academies already exist in Newnan, Ga., Dalton, Ga., and Walton County, but Cagle said he hopes to help open five to six more schools this year in other Georgia communities.
Other topics broached by Cagle included the state's water crisis and health care.
Currently, there are 1.7 million Georgia citizens without health insurance. That translates into an extra $1,000 in health insurance premiums each year for the typical family of three to cover the excess cost, Cagle said.
Upper respiratory problems are the most common illness treated at emergency rooms. Such a condition costs about $1,400 to treat at an ER, but just $100 from a primary care physician, the lieutenant governor said.
The state needs to expand its clinics networks to ease the burden of hospitals treating uninsured patients, which might lower insurance costs, Cagle said.
He also boasted on the passage of a state water management plan during this year's legislative session. The plan streamlines the process for construction of new state reservoirs.
The idea that the Atlanta population's water demand outgrew its supply is wrong, Cagle said. Instead, drought and mismanagement of the state's watershed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to blame for the water crisis, he explained.
Following the breakfast, Cagle conducted an inspection of some Columbia County sheriff's deputies, toured the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital and held a town hall meeting at the Evans Government Complex.
At the town hall meeting, he fielded questions about water, taxes and sex offender laws from about 50 people, most of them public officials from Columbia and surrounding counties.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver also asked Cagle if he saw any end in sight to the political in-fighting that marked the most recent legislative session in Atlanta.
Cagle said lawmakers should be able to talk about issues without turning the discussions into personal attacks.
"Don't lose your way. Don't lose your focus, and your focus needs to be where you're going," he said. "If you're just going to operate from what's politically expedient, you may regret it 10 years from now."
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