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Monday, November 4, 2013 - 12:03pm

Georgia Ranked Top For Business, But Critics Call It 'Meaningless'

Georgia is now officially the number one place to do business, according to Site Selection magazine. Gov. Nathan Deal announced the ranking at the state Capitol Monday, touting it as one more fulfilled campaign promise. But critics call the designation ‘meaningless,’ saying it doesn’t give an accurate measure of Georgia’s economic health.

Deal said he had promised when running for Governor that he would not rest until Georgia was the top place to do business. Now back on the campaign trail for a second term, he boasted it only took three years.

The magazine ranking is based several factors, including plant openings and taxes. Georgia came in at number four last year.

Myron Gray was one of several executives on hand. He is head of UPS’s U.S. operations. And he points to something else that keeps the shipping giant in Georgia.

“With operations in more than 220 countries and territories around the world, we need to be able to jump on a plane and get anywhere within a moment’s notice,” he said at the press conference.

Gray says Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport, the world’s busiest, makes that possible.

Other executives also weighed in on the ranking, which the magazine’s editors say is eyeballed closely by companies.

Gulfstream Stream’s Ira Berman said his company has expanded several times since opening in Savannah five decades ago. When describing that growth, he pointed to a problem many states cope with when trying to be business-friendly.

“Twice in the past seven years, we conducted a site selection process for significant expansions, and twice we selected Georgia,” he said.

That means twice Georgia had to compete to keep Gulfstream from opening a facility in another state and sending jobs there rather than keeping them here.

Deal says he will continue to make Georgia as business-friendly as possible. But critics say the state already gives too much away in tax incentives to businesses and doesn’t spend enough on education.

Wesley Tharpe, with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, says the ranking is incomplete because it focuses on factors such as tax incentives but ignores others.

“Being quoted as the number one state to do business is fairly meaningless measure because it doesn’t say anything about whether families’ incomes are increasing, whether people have high-wage jobs, or whether they’re able to afford the spiraling cost of healthcare or education,” he said.

Tharpe said Georgia’s jobless rate is still among the highest in the nation.

Labor officials, however, say more people are getting back into Georgia’s job market. And that’s because the state is consistently attracting new jobs, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Monday after the unveiling of the ranking.

The magazine’s ranking is based partly on feedback from corporate executives. Georgia displaced North Carolina, which was number one last year.