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Greg Bluestein

Nathan Deal on economy: ‘There are areas we can improve’

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The rankings that put Georgia as the top state to do business are likely to play an even greater role in Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-election campaign. But he said he won’t be presenting the state’s economy as a perfect package.

The governor said in an interview that two clear signs his economic policies are working are an unemployment rate that’s dropped and a rainy day fund that has swelled since he took office in 2011. But he concedes there’s a ways to go on other metrics, such as graduation rates and poverty levels.

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Gov. Nathan Deal addresses employees at the UPS hub in Tel Aviv.

“We know there are areas we can improve,” Deal said. “And many of the categories we rank low in are greatly accelerated by my interest in job creation. One of the best ways to eliminate poverty is to have someone in a great job.”

Deal’s campaign hopes to ride signs of a stronger economy to a November re-election as Democrat Jason Carter focuses his message on education. Deal’s camp is eager to promote last week’s announcement by CNBC that put Georgia as the top state to do business to reinforce the message.

“The future bodes well for us,” he said in the interview. “We will maintain our status and improve in the areas that we know we need to improve.”

The governor and his surrogates often mention the rankings at political events or policy announcements, and they’re featured in campaign ads. But they factor even more prominently in the pitches that state planners use to woo potential businesses.

Four presenters at a trade seminar in Tel Aviv last week mentioned a similar top ranking by Site Selection magazine to Israeli executives considering investing in Georgia. It was clear organizers wanted the ranking to be their guests’ top takeaway.

Democratic groups have already sought to poke holes in the rankings. And Carter’s campaign sent a release after the CNBC announcement rattling off a list of statistics showing Georgia lagging in key categories, including unemployment rates, per capita income and household earnings.

“I bet we won’t see those facts in any of Gov. Deal’s campaign ads,” said Carter spokesman Bryan Thomas.

Deal, for his part, dismissed the criticism.

“The bottom line is, you add it up by their score sheet, we’re still number one,” he said.

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