Opinion: Some attention, and a champion, for rural Georgia’s woes

So many topics that hold legislators’ attention are evergreens: education, transportation, health care, taxes. This year there is one new refrain — or at least, a new tune to which those familiar lyrics have been set.

The plight of rural Georgia is being discussed under the Gold Dome in a way unlike the past several years. Rural hospitals’ struggles are well-known, but there’s growing acknowledgment they are part of a bigger failing in the parts of Georgia where it’s easy to see the stars at night but too hard to find a good job by day.

AJC photo / Jason Getz

AJC photo / Jason Getz

“I grew up in rural Georgia, I still live in rural Georgia, but I get to go all over Georgia,” House Speaker David Ralston told me in a recent interview. “And I’m an optimist. So I started noticing that if I gave a speech here (in Atlanta), and talked about economic development and job growth, I could look out and see people excited, and applauding, and sort of affirming what I was talking about. They really could get, you know, 500,000-plus new jobs (statewide since 2010).

“Then I noticed, as I would go around the state … I’d get up and give that rah-rah (speech), but they’re kind of looking with this blank stare. Like, ‘That’s nice, but’— and I thought, you know, that’s because it’s not happening all over the state.”

This past week Ralston unveiled a new initiative to address the geographic gap. It’ll be chaired by Reps. Jay Powell and Terry England — the House’s point men on taxes and spending, respectively — and tasked with making recommendations this year and next.

“I want them to go to these communities … to ask people, what can we do?” Ralston said. Some possibilities: new or tweaked tax incentives, maybe to attract doctors and other professionals to rural towns, and better access to technical colleges, a big part of Georgia’s job-creation efforts.

As for rural health care, Ralston, who hails from north Georgia, cited an example from his district. “In Ellijay, we had the hospital closure there late last spring,” he said. “But it’s coming back now, as what I have called a micro-hospital. Because you know, every small town doesn’t need a 30-, 40-, 50-bed hospital if you can have eight or 10 beds, and an emergency room. But I think health care, and having access to that, is vital to jobs.”

Here, he offered a clarification: “I’m not looking for government to create one job here. This is not about government creating jobs … but it can create an environment for the private sector to grow jobs, and let’s let that mean something for the entire state.”

I asked Ralston what he would say to anyone in metro Atlanta who might question his emphasis on a shrinking part of the state’s population.

“Who’s going to tend the farms? Who’s going to do the timber production? Who’s going to do mining? Who’s going to grow fruits? I mean, you can’t do these things in Inman Park, as much as I love Inman Park.

“What I would say to them is that we are so blessed in Georgia to have just a dynamic, great city here, with all its neighborhoods – and I enjoy them, frankly. But we’re really interdependent. … We need to let that geographic and demographic diversity be a blessing, not something that we kick away.”

Having raised some of these questions a few months ago, I’m interested to see where this new initiative leads. Let me repeat something I wrote then: Someone who understands how and why to pull different levers to boost rural Georgia than those for Atlanta and other metros would be a compelling candidate for governor.

Reader Comments 0

82 comments
BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Kyle, this is a problem elsewhere in the world. Let me tell you about the Shetland Islands from whence came some of my ancestors.


Shetland, like rural Georgia, is Life On The Edge of civilization. 22,000 people live on 15 islands about 100 miles north of the northeast corner of Scotland. The main occupations are fishing, farming, and oil. The fishing is hamstrung by EU regulations, farming is difficult because much of the land is poor, and the North Sea oil production is dropping. The cost of living is substantially higher but pay is lower than on the UK mainland.The cost of local transportation is high and the speed is slow because the islands are connected by ferries. Government does not encourage people to remain on the smaller islands, but instead encourages them to move to the main island.


Healthcare and schools are problems. They have an overbuilt 76 bed hospital of limited abilities that they cannot fully staff within budget. If one needs care beyond the local hospital's abilities, one must go by ferry, airplane, or emergency helicopter 230 miles to Aberdeen; if one cannot get to Aberdeen then one must go to Bergen, Norway. They have many local schools that are expensive to operate, and no island wants to give up its school. High school age students from the smaller islands must attend the high school on the main island and live there in dormitories.


Employment is a problem because the government is the largest employer and the mainstays of the economy are in decline.


The edges of civilization are rolling back towards the core of civilization, just like in rural Georgia. Perhaps a study of lessons learned elsewhere can assist our legislators.



skeeterfitz
skeeterfitz

We certainly applaud the Speaaker's initiative.

Check out https://troubleingodscountry.com/2016/12/13/south-georgia-vs-gwinnett-county/

for a stark comparison of Gwinnett vs. an aggregate 56 South Georgia  counties. The State is not responsible for the recession, but a host of steps it took to survive it fell more harshly on rural Georgia, not to mention political choices geared to metro concerns. A state senator told me in January we should be glad the five metro donor counties haven't awoken to how much money they send south. I reckon so.

bu22
bu22

@skeeterfitz And yet Gwinnett County gets more money for the state from the fund for "poor"
 districts than any other district in the state.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Given a choice between watching the oscars or sliding down a razor blade into a tub of ammonia, I still wouldn't watch the oscars. But having seen coverage of the oscars, I have reached the conclusion that the real reason that hollyweird opposes a wall on the southern border is because it  would cut off their supply of cocaine and other Schedule A narcotics. That's a fact. We have evidence of rampant drug use. The iranian government tosses homosexuals off of tall buildings in the public square but hollyweird cheered and applauded an iranian complaining about our country banning people traveling in from a few terrorist nations. Any doctor worth his salt would tell hollyweird to cut back on the opioids. 


Either that, or they hate America.


Your choice.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

A broad coalition of groups including Organizing For Action, the SEIU, MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress have been working to help with grassroots organizing around GOP town halls. - eotp cnn 


I'm sorry, what was it that bookman was saying?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Problem: The President of the United States hosts an Oval Office full of African American civic and community leaders and there is no way in hell that the People's enemy media would ever give coverage to this historic event, they'd rather have their eyeballs plucked out. So how do you go about forcing them to cover it and show the American People, albeit, against their will?


https://www.yahoo.com/sy/ny/api/res/1.2/AcxdvXl.rH9Fgm0G9RCfaA--/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjtzbT0xO3c9ODAw/http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/afp.com/5f1135b00bd75f918ac2b88e8ae286a3cff89b31.jpg

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

I think we might be missing the point here, yes, President Trump may need a temporary increase in deficit spending so that he can rebuild the military, construct a border wall, fund tax cuts for American Industry to create more jobs. It will probably pay for itself and then start contributing to debt reduction within a few years.


Compare this to the last admin that spent 11 Trillion to register illegals to vote. Sorry, but it's the only tangible thing I could come up with.


You people hate America, seeking her destruction, and it couldn't be more obvious.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

And did we hear these renown budget hawks squealing back then? 

breckenridge
breckenridge

“This is a president who loves to talk about easy choices and pretty much runs away from any hard choices when it comes to the budget. This president has pointed out that our national debt is an important metric of this country’s health, but he has not put forward a plan for how to deal with it.”  Maya MacGuineas, President, nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, 2-27-2017

Trump running away from hard choices is an integral part of who he is.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@AndyManUSA#45 @breckenridge 

You're statement simply shows what an ignorant partisan hack you are.  I'd suggest you take a look at the Board of Directors of this organization, which is filled with fiscal conservatives:

Paul Volcker, David Stockman, Robert Reischauer, Robert Packwood, Jim Kolbe, William Hoagland, Kent Conrad, Erskine Bowles, etc.  A bunch that are much more intelligent than yourself and understand finance much better than you could ever imagine.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@breckenridge 11 Trillion Dollars shot completely out in 8 years and now the libs are worrying over the budget, how touching.

bu22
bu22

@breckenridge @AndyManUSA#45 Given that he hasn't yet put out his budget plan, its very true that he hasn't put out a plan to deal with it.  That's like saying water is wet.  The question is why do they think they need to say water is wet?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

The left wing media has become America's official Joke. Observed tonight on the TV, a commentator remarking that if we have another earthquake, you just know that it will be Trump's fault. 

DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

@AndyManUSA#45 Yeah. I saw that too. It was on that closed circuit channel at my son's elementary school. You get that too? 


It was right after the segment about why in the heck isn't there a "bring your dog to school day". 

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Our last president thought that the health care situation was an easy thing to correct and people died.

DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

"Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated."


Man. That's rich. The POTUS said that. We have elected a man child president. 


Kyle, is that fake news? If you report on the fact that plenty of people knew healthcare was complicated, are you then fake news? 


I'm pretty sure that you've written any number of stories over the years about the complicated nature of healthcare delivery in this state. Which, if you think about it, means that you knew. And if you knew, but he didn't... what does that make you? 


I mean jeez. You're just a desk jockey. He's a world beater. But yet, somehow, you knew. 


I gotta go sit down. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Rural America has produced many of America's finest leaders. The candy azzes who hide out in various forms within our inner cities are this countries blood suckers who contribute absolutely nothing. Yet they're now celebrated while the former producers are condemned. Go figure. Yes, folks it was indeed time for Donald Trump. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

@SGTGrit Tax receipts say you're wrong, but if it makes you "feel" better to believe it, go right ahead. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Ychromosome @SGTGrit  Tax receipts? What the hell do you know about tax receipts? Not much as your sources are far left sites like media matters, Salon, Slate or Political. Grow up.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Why do we have to keep subsidizing rural areas? Rural Electrification. Rural telephone subsidies. Mail service at the same price when the poor letter carrier has to drive much further between stops. Let the market decide what these areas get. 

bu22
bu22

@Ychromosome And let the city dwellers starve in the dark while the rural areas keep the food and keep the power plants that the city dwellers don't want.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Rush: Do you want to live a better life? Do you really want to have a normal, optimistic outlook on life every day? Don’t watch that stuff! Don’t watch CNN. Don’t read the New York Times. If you look at Drudge and if you see headlines that portend the end of the world tomorrow, don’t click on it. Just avoid the crap that pollutes the daily so-called news that comes from left-wing news organizations. You will be amazed. And it doesn’t take long, either. Just two days. You go on a Drive-By Media fast, two days of it, and your outlook on life will be dramatically improved.


Fact

bu22
bu22

@AndyManUSA#45 Seriously.  A lot of the left needs to get away from CNN and NYT.  They are making themselves miserable with all the sensationalism and fake news.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Resist Trump a/k/a Eye Wonder a/k/a PeeWee

You know this how, felicia? 

Does ^^^ that mean we're on again?

Have you read some of the disparaging comments your liberal pals have made about rural voters?

They're what leads me to know, PeeWee.

Let me know if we're off again.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

But all the Ellijay hospital is getting is an emergency room, and a ride to Piedmont in Jasper.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45


@Resist Trump

Your google broke, IReport?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_Party


For those of you who missed it, yesterday, the democrat party elected two total antisemites and muslim brotherhood wannabes to run their political party. It sure does lend credence to them tossing around nazi references, doesn't it?

Classof98
Classof98

"Tweaked tax incentives" and government intervention in the marketplace.  Great idea, Kyle.  What could possibly go wrong?

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

The migration to cities continues and outside of military or the ports there's not much going on outside of metro Atlanta. Sure there's a Kia plant here or a brewery there but the county school system, hospital, or municipal services is the dominant employer that pays a decent wage in most counties so unless there is a compelling reason the pattern of job growth will unfortunately continue to play out as it has. 

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@Pub Heaven Fake news from enemy of the People politico.


Why no mention of all the insurers pulling out of the market, before clinton got trounced?


Why no mention of the giant increases in premiums?


Why take the President entirely out of context? Should he just wing it like the democrats did? Hand it over to a bunch of stooges so it can be gruberized?


It's going to be better than anything the government has ever done, and actually take care of people, and that will be the end of you fascists.

Resist Trump
Resist Trump

@AndyManUSA#45 @Pub Heaven

So you're saying he is finally in control? The shadow government that Obama was leading from 'exile' has been toppled? Operation Deep Throat was a success? Yes?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@Resist Trump @AndyManUSA#45 @Pub Heaven Try to stay focused, fidel. The deep state has no control over health care policy. It will be written without their input. Sure, they might leak some fake memos or fake conversations to the fake enemy of the people, but so what?


I think they've been defeated already but it won't hurt to nuke them a couple more times to make sure.

Classof98
Classof98

@Pub Heaven Kinda like Obama admitting he didn't understand that there's really no such thing as a "shovel-ready" project AFTER the trillion dollar stimulus?