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With more than 2,300 rural Georgia jobs on the line, shouldn’t state legislators be using accurate data?

Posted: Friday, April 1, 2022

In the coming days, the Georgia State Senate will decide the fate of a critical program that supports 34 small businesses and thousands of rural jobs — the Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act (GARJA).

I was proud to sponsor its renewal in the state House earlier this year, and prouder still that it passed the House on an overwhelming basis — with more than 90 percent of my colleagues voting in favor. 

My name is Rep. James Burchett and I represent District 176 in the Georgia House of Representatives. My district is home to the Cady Bag Company, a polypropylene bag production facility located in Atkinson County. Because of GARJA, Cady Bag gained access to new streams of transformational capital — and funds from the program have created or sustained more than 100 jobs at their Pearson-based plant.

Yet in the state Senate, GARJA critics are relying on a fundamentally flawed state audit to paint the program in a bad light. 

A 2022 analysis of GARJA conducted by Dr. Alfie Meek and his team at the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute found at least four major flaws in the state’s data — all of which result in unrealistically low estimates of the program’s results.

First, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts (DOAA) report analyzes GARJA over a period of five years — but GARJA is a 10-year program. And at the end of that period, every new job created by GARJA is expected to generate $13,400 more than the state gave up in tax credits.

Next, instead of using the real-world job data that GARJA recipients supplied, the state report relies on national estimates. According to Georgia Tech, when the state couldn’t find reliable data, they “made it up” using unreliable figures.

Third, the state assumed nearly zero employment growth. But we know — based on real performance data over the last five years — that GARJA companies have experienced, on average, job growth of 18% annually.

Finally, the DOAA analysis jumps between different economic output models throughout the report — picking and choosing results to fit their preferred narrative, and relying on “estimates” instead of using real GARJA performance data.

At the end of the day, I have seen first-hand the positive results that GARJA continues to bring to rural Georgia — and the flaws in the DOAA audit are fatal to the arguments that critics continue to launch against a critical rural jobs program in our state.

Right now, GARJA investments support 34 small businesses and 2,300 jobs in rural communities across the state of Georgia. By all objective metrics, GARJA has met or exceeded expectations. It’s a vital lifeline for rural communities throughout the state — especially in the uncertain economic times we face today — and its continuation would be a win for working Georgians. With the stakes this high for so many, it’s crucial that our elected officials use accurate data to make their decisions.

 James D. Burchett is a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives for District 176, representing Atkinson, Lanier, Lowndes, and Ware Counties.

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