ATLANTA (AP) -- Gov. Nathan Deal gathered top elected officials and executives from three major Georgia-based companies at the Capitol on Tuesday to announce Georgia had been recognized by a national trade publication as the top state in the country to do business.
How the state's economy has fared in the last few years is expected to be a big issue as Deal runs for re-election next year, and the governor used Tuesday's event to claim he had made good on one of his campaign promises.
"Now you have heard me saying it often, you would think it's a broken record, that my number one goal has been to make Georgia the number one state in which to do business," Deal said. "In only three short years, for the first time ever, Georgia ranks number one in the United States as the place to do business."
Georgia was recognized by Site Selection magazine as the state with the best business climate, besting North Carolina which had claimed the title last year. The magazine cited such economic development projects as carpet manufacturer Shaw Industries Group's plan to invest $85 million to build a facility in northwest Georgia with an estimated 500 jobs, along with Engineered Floors plan to build two new facilities that could employ as many as 2,400 people.
The rankings don't account for things like unemployment or the state's high school graduation rate. Georgia's unemployment rate measured 8.7 percent in September, among the highest nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, roughly 70 percent of Georgia's high school seniors graduated last year.
"I'm glad that Georgia has gotten a good ranking, although I am concerned the direction this administration is putting us in is sending us in the wrong direction," said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker. "We have to do a better job of increasing opportunities for Georgia and not only bringing businesses to Georgia but businesses that improve the quality of life for Georgia citizens."
Henson and Deal's Republican primary opponents noted Georgia has not fared as well on other rankings, including one by Forbes magazine that ranked Georgia 10th on its annual list of best states for businesses and careers. While receiving top marks for regulatory environment, Georgia did not fare as well on economic climate and quality of life measures.
"Georgia has lost 14 percent of its jobs paying more than $50,000 a year and added 15 percent to its Medicaid rolls during the recovery," said Michael Mule with the David Pennington campaign. "The wrong numbers are going up, and the right numbers are going down."
Deal is facing two challengers in next year's Republican primary, including Pennington and state schools Superintendent John Barge. Pennington, the mayor of Dalton, has been arguing Deal has not done enough to rebuild Georgia's economy since the recession and has been calling for a reduction in the state income tax.
Barge has also made the economy a focus of his campaign, arguing education is a vital component of economic development and has not been adequately funded.
"I certainly don't want to take anything away from Georgia being identified as the number one place to do business. However, my question would be, at what expense?" Barge said. "Our children? That is not a good trade-off for me."
Deal, meanwhile, cited estimates that 175,000 new private sector jobs have been created since he took office in January 2011. With him on Tuesday were executives from Home Depot, UPS and Gulfstream who praised Georgia's favorable business climate.
"What we are doing appears to be working," Deal said. "Every time that we have a new job it ought to lower our unemployment rate, and that's what we have to do, business by business, job by job, and that is what we're concentrating on."
Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Christina.