There are several issues that former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams sees as being important to ensuring Georgia’s future prosperity.
Some of those are issues Gwinnett residents are likely quite familiar with, including transit and infrastructure, both in metro Atlanta and in other parts of the state. There are other pieces, however, such as expanding broadband access in more rural Georgia.
But there are two key issues that the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor has been highlighting repeatedly in recent weeks as she has toured the state to talk about her campaign platform: K-12 education and jobs creation.
“I want every Georgian to have the freedom and the opportunity to thrive,” Abrams said during an interview with the Daily Post on Friday. “We know that the equation for that is a solid, effective education coupled with economic investment and economic opportunity that is undergirded by an effective and engaged state leadership that helps remove barriers and creates pathways for opportunity.”
Abrams has been laying out a broad, multifaceted plan for addressing education and new economic opportunity that shows how, in some ways, the two issues overlap particularly in making sure Georgia has a trained workforce that can attract new employers to the state.
“I think about it from cradle to career,” she said. “A massive part of our economic opportunity is being able to provide a quality workforce but it’s also letting families that want to relocate to Georgia to bring businesses, bring companies here (know) that their children will get a good education, so we have to start thinking about it in both ways.
“And we have to start thinking about it as early childhood investment and investing in K-12, but also apprenticeships for those who aren’t intending to go to college or technical college.”
One of her plans is the creation of 22,000 new apprenticeships in the state in a broad range of career fields. She said there are three ways the apprenticeships could be provided. One way would be going through public-private partnerships where the burden is split in half. Another would be going totally through the private sector.
The third would be going totally through the public sector to address specific business needs in a community.
Abrams said Georgia leaders need to look at the statewide apprenticeships needs as well, though. She pointed out that while Georgia has some apprenticeship slots available now, it lags behind some of its neighbors in the south.
“South Carolina is far ahead of Georgia in apprenticeships even though they are roughly half our size,” Abrams said. “I want Georgia to create 22,000 new apprenticeship slots by 2022, and I think that’s not only achievable, but I think it helps us continue to build the kind of workforce that attracts new businesses and helps us meet the needs that we have today.”
Abrams also wants the state to invest in wraparound services offered in schools — such as nutrition services, healthcare and hearing tests, mental health services and assistance to help stabilize transient families — to address ancillary issues that can affect how a child performs in school.
“It’s really about making sure we’re thinking about the whole needs of the child beyond the four walls of the classroom,” Abrams said.
There are some other areas of education and economic development that Abrams wants to address were there isn’t an overlap between the two issues.
One is support for small businesses with a plan to invest $10 million into those businesses to help startup and mom-and-pop-style businesses grow and address needs that they have.
The money available in that system, which would work in cooperation with private sector financing, could be used to provide small business with access to capital that can be used to make investments needed to expand operations, Abrams said.
While the pursuit of Amazon’s HQ2 has loomed over discussions about economic development in Georgia, Abrams said state leaders should put the same level of attention and focus give to attracting large businesses to supporting and growing small businesses as well.
“In the state of Georgia, small businesses account for 44 percent of the private sector workforce, but they are not given half of the resources that we spend in economic development,” Abrams said. “We have to start to calibrate (the balance) more properly to make sure we’re attracting and holding small business with the same respect that we do for large corporations.”
But there are other issues that will likely be factors to some degree in the gubernatorial race, such as school and gun safety.
Abrams said safety issues have to be looked at when addressing education. School shootings have long been a flashpoint issue in political discussions, but the issue gained new vigor after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February.
That shooting led to student walkouts at schools across the country, including in Gwinnett County.
Some of the areas Abrams said need to be addressed when it comes to school safety include providing enough school resource officers, building improvements to increase security, positive behavioral intervention strategies and mental health support.
How big of an issue gun safety turns out to be in the fall gubernatorial remains to be seen. However, Abrams’ main opponent, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, repeatedly touted his support for gun owner’s rights in ads that aired during the GOP primary season.
“I am a very strong believer in gun safety regulations that improve the welfare of our entire community,” Abrams said. “That means background checks, waiting periods (and) having the opportunity to remove weapons from those who have been convicted of domestic violence offenses.”