Gov. Brian Kemp at the Dec. 8 event. (Photo by Paula Heller)

Low unemployment, economic development, and vaccine mandates were major topics during a Dec. 8 speech from Gov. Brian Kemp to the Brookhaven and Sandy Springs Perimeter chambers of commerce. 

Kemp spoke to a crowd that included Brookhaven and Sandy Springs mayors and City Council members, and spent most of the time reflecting on Georgia’s economic health during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’ve had some tough times,” Kemp said. “Especially for these mayors and council members and other folks that are in there leading organizations, or leaders in government.”

Kemp spoke about the unemployment rate in Georgia, which is at an all-time low of 3.1%, according to a November press release from the Georgia Department of Labor. According to that press release, in October of 2021, the state labor force – or the members of a population who are able to work – dropped by 1,889 to 5,174,052 people, and the number of unemployed people dropped by 12,897 to 158,107. Compared to pre-pandemic March 2020 numbers, the labor force is down by 32,000 people and the number of unemployed people is down by 29,000. 

Kemp also discussed Georgia’s economic development over the past year, including the contribution of two projects in Sandy Springs and Brookhaven. In August, Deluxe Corp. opened its FinTech and Customer Innovation Center in Sandy Springs and is expected to employ over 700 workers. He also discussed the Georgia Department of Transportation’s project for interchange improvements at I-85 and North Druid Hills Road, which will help better serve the needs of emergency vehicles headed to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, according to the project website. 

Kemp also brought up the success of Georgia’s film industry, which set a record with $4 billion in direct spending on production in the state for fiscal year 2021. Kemp attributed that to the decision to open the state for filming earlier than other popular shooting locations, such as Los Angeles. 

“During the pandemic, we gave the industry the flexibility to work with their healthcare providers and to come up with regulations to control their environment,” Kemp said. “Because of that, we had a record year for film and studio receipts.” 

Georgia’s movie industry faced slight challenges after Kemp signed Georgia’s new election law, which in addition to other things, limits the use of voting drop boxes, imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, and criminalizes giving food and water to voters waiting in line at polling places. In the wake of the voting bill, director Antoine Fuqua and actor-producer Will Smith announced they would move production of their film “Emancipation” from Georgia to New Orleans. However, many in the industry have promoted other ways of speaking out against the law since. The U.S. Justice Department also filed suit this year to overturn the law. 

During his final remarks, Kemp spoke against the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate. President Joe Biden has issued vaccine mandates for federal employees, employers with 100 or more employees, federal contractors, and certain healthcare workers. On Dec. 7, a federal judge in Georgia blocked the federal vaccine mandate for contractors. 

Kemp said while he is vaccinated, he believes the mandate is “overreaching” and could cause economic hardship. He also said he doesn’t believe there’s anything that the government can do to convince people to get vaccinated if they don’t want to.

“If people that are working in healthcare will not get vaccinated, do you think somebody in the government is going to make them do it? They just have a fundamental belief that they don’t want to do that,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting – or you could describe it another way – but that’s where they are.” 

However, case studies have shown that vaccine mandates can work in the United States. The New York Times reported in September that while hospitals are bracing for the worst case scenario, more than 650,000 hospital and nursing home workers received their first shot before the vaccine mandate’s deadline. The Washington Post reported that, among other company vaccine mandate successes, United Airlines – which has a vaccine mandate in place – announced in September that 98.5% of its employees had been vaccinated. 

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.