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Lt. Gov.'s Tweet Siding with NRA Over Delta Creates Economic Development Dustup

Savills Studley's Chief Economist Says Cagle Comments Could Put Future Job Gains at Risk
February 27, 2018
Pictured: Heidi Learner, Savills Studley chief economist, and Chris White, Atlanta market leader, in their Atlanta offices in Monarch Tower in Buckhead.

A top elected official may be hurting Georgia's business climate - and possibly its chances of winning Amazon's second HQ - by criticizing a key corporate citizen for its stance against the NRA, according to Savills Studley's chief economist.

"It's going to hurt the state more than it hurts Delta," Savills Studley's Heidi Learner, calling Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's threat to block Delta from getting a tax break on jet fuel as "shortsighted."

In his tweet posted Monday, Cagle, who's running for governor, said, "I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."

On Tuesday, mayors from Birmingham to Minneapolis and other elected officials took to Twitter to invite Atlanta-based Delta to relocate to their respective cities. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted, "Hey @Delta - Virginia is for lovers and airline hubs. You're welcome here anytime."

Cagle's counterpart in New York responded that La Guardia would gladly welcome Delta if it wanted to relocate. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was more blunt. He tweeted, "...check into a city that DOESN'T cater to the @NRA. I’ll bet that you won’t want to leave."

In today's hyper-competitive market, Cagle's tweets could imperil Georgia's ranking as the No. 1 state in which to do business, Learner said. "You have to be careful in this day and age," she said. "Everyone has a choice."

The lieutenant governor's webpage touts a Site Selection magazine survey that places Georgia first in the country in which to conduct business. The page also credits Cagle for creating jobs.

"Casey has worked diligently to advance policies that encourage economic growth so more Georgians can obtain high-quality jobs. To do this, he has helped to create a business-friendly climate, while investing in growing a workforce that is second to none by maximizing the potential of Georgia’s public schools," the lieutenant governor's page says.

Conservative radio show host Erick Erickson said the state should cut tax breaks to big business. "Live by crony capitalism. Die by capital crony capitalism," he tweeted Monday. "No tears shed for a company that plays the games Delta does to benefit itself at the expense of competition when it gets burned in one of its games bowing to social justice warriors."

Cagle doubled down on his stance when interviewed by WSB-TV. "I'm tired of conservatives being kicked around on our values and it's time that we stand up and fight and show corporations that conservative values are important," Cagle told the TV station.

Calls for eradicating tax incentives, and taking action to do so, could adversely impact metro Atlanta's chances to be selected as the site for Amazon's second headquarters, Learner said. Atlanta recently made the company's shorter list of 20 cities and metro areas still in the race for the 50,000-job HQ2.

"Businesses have a longer horizon than politicians," Learner said. "Amazon will be a good example of [a company] voting with their feet. It's very clear where [Bezos] stands," referring to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a businessman who owns The Washington Post, embraces free enterprise and values the First Amendment's protections of freedom of speech and of the press. Attacking either likely will turn off Bezos, she said.

While criticizing Delta for its NRA stand may win Cagle points with conservatives and maybe even help him get elected Georgia governor in November, it comes with a risk, Learner said. "I would not want to be known as the governor who broke the economy."

Tony Wilbert, Atlanta Market Reporter  CoStar Group   

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