As Georgia’s prominent role in national politics continues to grow, so too might the financial benefit to businesses and industries across the Peach State.
Recent high-profile elections for governor, U.S. Senate and the 2020 presidential race saw hundreds of millions of dollars flow each year into campaign coffers and, in turn, into local businesses, restaurants, hotels and event venues that have welcomed a national audience.
Heading into the 2024 presidential campaign cycle, the potential boon for business in this battleground state is even greater if a pair of developments come to fruition.
Late last year, the Democratic National Committee’s rules group approved a new recommended presidential primary calendar that would see Georgia catapulted into the rarified air of early states in 2024, and the party is considering Atlanta as a finalist for its convention next year.
There are several political and logistical obstacles to a change in primary date here, both from other states like Iowa and New Hampshire that are set to be demoted and within Georgia. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger indicated he would not hold two separate primaries or do anything to jeopardize a party’s delegates since GOP rules do not currently plan to alter the order.
But there’s more at stake than posturing for position in picking a president: there’s evidence that being earlier in the primary process carries an economic benefit for those states over others.
A 2018 analysis by The Washington Post found the first four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — saw average higher per-capita spending from political campaigns than the rest of the country. A study in the Economic Journal done ahead of the 2016 election estimated that boosted spending in a state related to a primary also boosted per captia earnings in that quarter by 25%, with an even higher benefit in the retail and service sectors.
Tom Smith, an economist and professor at Emory University, said that Georgia rising to the top of the pack means more investment in Georgia-based staff, doing things like ordering materials from a Georgia-based printer store and eating barbecue at a Georgia-based restaurant, which then is further spent elsewhere in Georgia, a chain reaction known in economics as the “multiplier effect.”
“Those dollars earned by the barbecue joint or the local printer? That turns into salaries for people who are working there,” he explained. “And then those people go and buy new shoes or new tires for their car, so the salaries that are created by having a political office in town create more resources for other people in town, and that money then ripples its way through the economy.”
Georgia has been no stranger to hosting large events and touting the economic impact of more people and attention flocking to the state, ranging from the 1996 Olympic Games to myriad conventions and cultural events like Helen’s Oktoberfest, St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah or Dragon Con in Atlanta.
Part of the retail politics that dominate presidential campaign schedules — especially in the South — is food.
Karen Bremer, president and CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, said a beneficiary of the state’s political rise is the hospitality industry that caters to candidates and regular customers alike.
“I have seen many folks that have benefited from the visit of a president or a candidate,” she said, like the sweet potato cheesecake former President Bill Clinton enjoyed from Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Bread Company or the slew of presidents who have answered “What’ll ya have?” from The Varsity. “To me, there’s a connection for most people about restaurants, hard work, good food and supporting the hardworking salt of the earth people that own and operate restaurants and employees.”
National campaigns also bring national media attention to the places they stop, which could bring more attention to top employers in the state like agriculture, film, technology and the growing electric vehicle industry.
“If you’re a politician and you want you want people in Georgia to vote for you, then you have to appeal to them based on perhaps their livelihood,” Smith said. “So what that means is, they’re going up to a poultry farm or they’re going to go talk to a bunch of Vidalia onion farmers or they’re going to stop into some kind of tech incubator in Roswell.”
In prior years, candidates have elaborated their stances on ethanol while in Iowa, sung praises of shipbuilding in New Hampshire and navigated nuclear waste issues in Nevada. Georgia could see similar speeches catering to its voters in the future.
Georgia being a hot commodity politically could also spur more economic development and new businesses that aren’t strictly politics-related, as evidenced by Gov. Brian Kemp being invited to a panel at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to talk about the state’s economy to an audience of billionaires, executives and other members of the international elite.
Smith, the economist, said the state’s population, economy and recent nail-biting election results and runoffs show that Georgia is a place worth paying attention to and investing in — regardless of its place in the primary lineup.
“This state is important because it’s got two Democratic senators and a Republican governor; that’s an interesting mix,” he said. “It’s super business-friendly, and you have some of the best healthcare systems in the country here; that’s an interesting mix. You’ve got a lot of people who live in Atlanta who are from other places and now they want to move to Atlanta because it is culturally and demographically diverse, an interesting mix.”
The DNC has given Georgia Democrats more time to share their plans for how to meet the party’s requirements to move earlier before a full vote in February and, by law, the secretary of state has a while before he has to officially name a primary date.
Even if Georgia does not rise in the presidential pecking order or host the DNC’s main presidential convention next year, the growing importance of its voters and its economy will continue to shine through and attract political tourists who are just passing through — and when they do, Bremer said the restaurant industry will be happy to serve them.
“You hear that time and time again from people how hospitable the state of Georgia is, how welcoming we are,” she said. “And that’s the greatness of any restaurateur: You want to welcome all, you want to make them feel comfortable, you want to give them a meal and you hope that they come back again.”
This article appears on Now Habersham through a news partnership with GPB News