Gov. Nathan Deal speaks to the Perimeter Business Alliance on March 14.

Gov. Nathan Deal speaks to the Perimeter Business Alliance on March 14.

Education was on Gov. Nathan Deal’s mind when he spoke to an audience of about 200 at a Perimeter Business Alliance luncheon on March 14.

“We have to have a reliable and qualified work force,” he said, explaining that education is key to reaching that goal.

He said the high school graduation rate is not where it needs to be and that employers in key sectors can’t find qualified workers.

To solve that problem, Deal is asking the General Assembly to consider a proposal that the HOPE Scholarship fund 100 percent of tuition for students entering fields such as long-distance truck driving, welding, diesel mechanics and information technology.

Deal said state schools must evaluate what type of degrees lead to jobs and expand those programs.

Deal also pointed to the $547 million for the school system in the 2014 budget that will help eliminate teacher furlough days. He said that as a result schools are already rewriting next year’s calendars.

Another aspect to a successful economy in Georgia is the Savannah Port’s ability to move products efficiently, Deal said, explaining that he wants to start the port’s deepening project this year despite the fact that the Obama administration will not fund it. He said the state will have $266 million to complete the project once funding is approved.

Deal said making improvements to the I-285 and Ga. 400 interchange is one of his top priorities and that he promised “to build and finish and open a new intersection” at that location. “If you give me the opportunity, I look forward to being there to cut the ribbon,” he said.

Deal thanked the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts for its $10.5 million commitment to the project, and that he hoped that the public-private partnership would inspire other local communities to become involved.

John Heagy, a PBA board trustee who introduced Deal to the audience, said he agreed with the decision to prioritize improvements at the interchange.

“[The central Perimeter area] continues to be one of the hottest office centers in the Southeast and certainly in metro Atlanta,” he said. “It’s important that our leaders continue to address transportation issues.”

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