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6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27, 2012, at the Classic Center, Athens

Right now is a wonderful time for leadership.

Now like all of us, I’ve been going through the same things that you all have been going through in the city of Atlanta. We’ve all been going through these extraordinarily difficult economic times that have cause us to re-imagine our businesses, re-imagine government and re-imagine our personal lives.

But I think there is good in that because we are actually having to be our best selves to get through the toughest economy that we have had in 80 years.

And I believe that the skills that are required for us to get through the times we have been are going to serve us well as the economy improves in the near future. Now while there are no bands playing … nobody is really acknowledging it … I do believe that it is time to look up again, and I do believe that we are coming out of these things.

And I do believe that our business leaders, our civic leaders and our political leaders are governing through some of the toughest times that we have ever seen.

And I do believe that in the metropolitan region in Athens and in the state of Georgia we are doing some things that are pretty terrific although people aren’t talking about them very much.

And I will tell you exactly what I mean.

The metropolitan region in Athens and Georgia have three major challenges.
One being water, and I believe that Governor Deal has been dealing very ably with our water crisis, and we got a very favorable result at the 11th Circuit that overturned the ruling of Judge Magnuson – this fellow gentleman from Minnesota who made a really tough decision with regard to our water usage.

But I think that Governor Deal has handled the water negotiations in an extremely skilled fashion, and I believe that we will have the water resources that we need for some time for the growth of our region and for the growth of our state.

I also look to the south of us to the Port of Savannah. You know when I first got elected Mayor, I started talking in my speeches over and over and over again about how vital it was to deepen the Port of Savannah by six feet. We have approval to deepen it to 47, so that the Port of Savannah would be ready when the Panamanian ships opened in 2014 for the Panama Canal.

And I remember going to the White House with a group of folks from Savannah. Most of them were Republican, and they were sitting there. And, you know, they see the Mayor of Atlanta come in, and I’m talking about deepening the Port of Savannah.

And the poor lady is sitting there. She was so confused, and she finally said, “What are you doing here again?”

I said, “I’m here for Savannah.”

What she didn’t know was that I have a personal vision of the City of Atlanta being the logistics center for the Western Hemisphere.

And what the Mayor was just sharing with me is when she was working on the Caterpillar project one of the major emphasis that they had was our ability to compete logistically.
So the things that we do with the Port of Savannah, the things we do at Hartsfield-Jackson and Atlanta all seem to be coming together in a rather nice fashion.

And what has been growing in the state of Georgia year over year at 7 percent, 8 percent, 10 percent? We have the fastest growing port on the Eastern Seaboard, the second fastest growing port in the United States of America, and it is adding a wide variety of jobs and positioning our state and our region for the future.

Now Gov. Deal and I have been working together non-stop, and I believe that that is appropriate because we mutually agree that this is a vital interest to the state of Georgia. And the time for intramural politics around the things that are essential to our thriving ... are over.

When you look at transportation, we now have transportation initiatives that are up all across the State of Georgia. In Metro Atlanta, we will have a vote on the regional TSPLOST in July of this year. Now we’ve got to take on traffic in the City of Atlanta, but it will only work if we do it in a bipartisan way. I couldn’t be more proud three months ago, when Atlanta’s regional group voted 18 to 0 in favor of a $6.14 billion transportation package.

That was a very special day that not a lot of folks talked about, but it was important because Republicans and Democrats – rural and urban – stood up and made a unanimous vote on transportation that will power the metro region for the next 10 years.

Why does that matter to Athens?

Because I know that when we are recruiting businesses to the metro region that the first thing that they say is, “You have Los Angeles-like traffic.” And whenever they say that, I know they have been talking to the Mayor of Charlotte or Orlando or one of those people. And then I counter that you can put Charlotte and Orlando and Chattanooga all inside of Hartsfield-Jackson and still have space left over in terms of economic productivity.

Because that is our tool to get people into our region and then back out.

You see, I think the future… certainly as we become more global and more international in scope… and you heard it again around Caterpillar. You certainly hear it around Wal-Mart. You hear it around Home Depot. Investors in the future want to be able to go home. So as we move into a global economy, it used to be at time when foreign investors wanted to come to the United States and just stay and stay and stay.

Well, I am here to tell you that you have an advantage when you can get to 600 different destinations, most of them on Delta Airlines, where you can land at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and be at Athens or be wherever you want from any part of the state.

And we are also taking advantage of our region’s unique culture and reputation, and that’s why we’re attracting so much investment from China and from the Middle East and from India and from Europe.

And that absolutely, absolutely strengthens Athens.

We are also having to learn a lot of lessons along the way.

Now I’ve got to tell you all when several years ago President Bush No. 43 was taking a picture ... they had a picture of him walking hand in hand with the Saudi Royal Prince on his ranch in Texas.

And at the time, I was unfair to our President. I said, “That’s just the strangest picture. They are walking hand in hand. What in the world is going on?”

Well, I tell you a few months ago, we hosted a group of Saudi businessmen, about 180 of them. And over the next 10 years, the Saudis are going to be investing about $600 billion into the United States. And I wanted to greet them and meet them and be respectful.

And so wouldn’t you know it, when we were leaving the Metro Atlanta Chamber, one of the leaders of the delegation said, “Mayor, we will walk.”

I said, “We will walk.”

So we walked across Centennial Park. And it is a gesture of good will when you get along with somebody to walk hand in hand.

Well, I walked hand in hand.

And by the time we got to Coca Cola, we just were swinging hands.
I tell you, I was rarely unfair to our former President. I was swinging the hands.

Then it gets even better. The other night on February 14 … Minister Yu … I’m going to China on March 21 because China is now among the state’s four largest trading partners, speaking of the Savannah Port. And so, Minister Yu was visiting the United States from China. He’s the deputy minister of commerce. The Chinese plan on investing $3 trillion over the next 10 years.

So needless to say, Mayor, you knew where I was. I was having dinner with the Chinese, and it was Valentine’s Day … Tuesday the 14th.

And so I’m looking around.
Then it dawns on me that they don’t have Valentine’s Day in China.

And we’re doing a 10-course meal. Needless to say, my girlfriend was pretty angry on Valentine’s Day, but I tried to make it up.

But we spent that evening together having a 10-course meal. It was good for Atlanta, and I think it will be good for Georgia.

But it’s going to be those kinds of innovative relationships that change the course of our region and our state.

And I’m happy to tell you as your partner from across the way that your capital city is getting its house in order. When I got elected mayor, the first thing I did when I walked in was see a city that had cash reserves of $7.4 million, see a city that had laid off police officers or furloughed police officers.

I am proud to tell you today that we have grown our cash reserves from $7.4 million to more than $98 million today. We balanced two budgets. We’ve hired more than 400 police. And crime is as low as the late 1960s when Lyndon Johnson was president.

That matters to Athens because Atlanta so often is a gateway.

And the perceptions around Atlanta –real and imagined – matter to us all as a region. And I accept and understand my responsibility as the leader of that region to do all I can to make sure that people have the most favorable impression of it.

But all of this only matters if we put aside the intramural games and if we work together.
We are taking on the tough challenges. We are taking on the challenges of water together. We will deepen the port of Savannah together. And I do believe that you will see across the state, you will see significant transportation initiatives pass across the state of Georgia.

But if you listen, nobody is talking about how terrific it is or how wonderful it is. Because we are all going through it. We are all managing through real tough times and making the hard decisions.

But I do believe, Athens, that we are at our best when we dream.

And in the midst of doing all of these hard things and making all of these hard decisions, we need to pat each on the back every now and then.

That’s why when I saw the Caterpillar story, I was just thrilled.
Not because the business is going to be located in Atlanta, but because I am a true regionalist.

And so the folks who work at the Caterpillar plant who build lives in Athens and Oconee County, they may not live in Atlanta.

But maybe some times they will go to a Braves game or a Falcons game, and they will come and visit the city.

That kind of view is the way that we’re going to win in the future.

You know when Governor Deal and I work on a number of initiatives, we always work on what we agree on. We don’t work on anything else.

So he gets to be a rock-ribbed Republican, and I get to be a Democrat, but on the things that we need to do to move this state forward, we put our shoulders to the wheel. I believe that the future of politics in the United States of America and in our region is going to be about performance. People want to know what you did for them. What did you do? What’s your record? What did you get accomplished?

Your Mayor, your county chair, your chamber ... you’ve got a great legacy because of what you’ve already done and because of what you’re going to do in the future.
Because folks elect you Mayor to win for them. And that’s what you all are doing in this room. I move around this community easily when I’m here. This city feels real good. It’s a nice place to be.

People smile a lot. They smile at you.

That’s part of the secret ingredient of what we have.

When you look at Atlanta, when you look at Athens and all of the rest, we have no beautiful oceans, we got no beautiful mountain vistas and all of that other stuff that other people talk about.

But what we do have is the blessing of people who choose to live where they are.
And I gotta tell you our results are pretty extraordinary … the region that we have built in Atlanta.

The work you have done here in Athens, which is essential to the success of Georgia.
Because you provide the intellectual capital that powers our state in the form of the University of Georgia and through your health-care businesses.

So when I was invited here, it was an easy “Yes.” Because I understand what you all contribute day-in and day-out.

And in the future, what is really going to move us forward at the end of the day is human capital.

I sat in on a speech, and it made me think about Athens while I was on the way over here. It was a really interesting speech by a guy named Michael Milliken, but he had a really interesting contrast. Basically what he did was … Jamaica and Singapore both gained their liberation about 50 years ago.

And Jamaica made the decision to invest in tourism. And it’s a special place with wonderful people.

Singapore made the decision to invest in its people and making them some of the smartest people on the planet.

Now the average GDP or economic output for people in Singapore is now about $35,000 per year.

And the average income in Jamaica is less than $10,000.

They were liberated at the exact same time.

I think there is a powerful message in that. And I think Athens has a unique role to play. What it says is that if you invest and pour into your people that human capital is the way forward in the future, investing in your people.

Who better to do that than Athens?

And there is one other notion that I want to talk about. It is the notion that it takes a lot of people to make path-breaking change. It simply does not.

That’s not even Biblical. If you go back to Jesus and his disciples, it has never been massive groups of people that changed the world or changed direction. They pointed out an interesting example and they talked about, “Did you used to love to go to Blockbuster?” Folks raised their hands. I used to love to go to Blockbuster. I don’t know about you all.

But he said look at what Netflix did to Blockbuster. It came along and because of the intellectual capital, the human capital, they completely changed the landscape and now everybody knows Netflix. Most people don’t remember Blockbuster.

They made a different example. And they said, “Do you remember when Sony Electronics ruled the day?” I remember having a Sony Walkman. Now Apple is the largest corporation in the world in terms of its valuation on any given day.

But he made a final point. He said I remember when Apple was about to go to bankrupt. And a group of us got together and decided we need to put a couple billion dollars into Apple.

But we needed to do one thing: We needed to go get Steve Jobs in order to run the business. And so, of course, you see when Steve Jobs arrived and was given the authority to run Apple, the valuation of the company took off, and it’s now one of the three most valuable companies in the world.

I think there is a message to that about us. It’s always a small group of people who have a vision, who are prepared to work and to sacrifice and who are prepared to put aside small things for a major goal.

That’s what I believe we need to be doing right now.

People in Athens, people in Atlanta and people in our region have to put aside small things to ensure that Georgia remains one of the fastest growing states the United States of America. That the region remains the second fastest growing MSA in the United States of the America.

That the region remains one of the three most competitive places in America in terms of attracting well-educated college students. I can’t do that alone as Mayor, and you can’t do it without me in Athens. But together we can, and together we will.

God bless you.
Last updated: 3/29/2012 10:52:58 AM