Zell Miller - A True Economic Developer
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Posted by: Randy Cardoza
As you know, Governor Zell Miller passed away on Friday, March 23rd. Randy Cardoza, served as Commissioner of GDEcD, formerly GDITT, for all eight years of Governor Miller’s two-terms. Here he shares his thoughts about Governor Miller.
So many memories, stories and good times come to mind as I think about one of Georgia’s truly great governors and economic developers. Governor Miller took recruiting companies and jobs to our state very seriously and he enjoyed the role. From his early days in office, he made it clear that he was going to do whatever it took for Georgia to be more than just simply successful.
He was always willing to do most anything the Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism asked of him - it was GDITT until 2002. He would meet with prospects, make phone calls to them, travel to see them, dedicate new plants, meet with existing industry and travel the world to market Georgia. He knew how important jobs and investment were to Georgia families, especially in rural Georgia, and he took it to heart. We took countless companies to his office for visits over the years and I cannot recall him denying a request without a good reason and he’d explain the reason!
He and Shirley were enthusiastic travelers and especially enjoyed the international marketing trips, however tiring they might be. His “rule” was start me early in the morning and I’ll work all day but try to keep the evenings open. If we couldn’t, he would understand, maybe not happily but he understood. On one trip to Germany during white asparagus season, we were served them for about 5-6 meals in a row. He finally said to please ask the next company to take them off the menu!
The memories are flooding in as I try to capture a few examples to give you an understanding of how seriously he took economic development.
He told me early on that if we needed the helicopter and he had it reserved, just call him and he’d find other transportation. He hosted prospects at the Mansion for meals or meetings and often would invite them to spend the night. A Japanese company president was there for breakfast one rainy morning and he arrived by helicopter. After breakfast we walked the president out to the helicopter, in the rain with no umbrella, waving as they took off. Governor Miller said “I’ve got dry clothes upstairs but you aren’t so lucky”. He seemed to enjoy the joke.
Our first mission to Europe started in Switzerland and included a visit to the Suhner Company (they are located in Rome). Otto Suhner had flags everywhere and a bugler on top of his headquarters building who started playing when Gov. Miller arrived. It embarrassed him no end - the visit went great, but that kind of attention was not much to his liking.
The Porsche headquarters project is a great example how Gov. Miller was with prospects. The Porsche team arrived in Atlanta to make their final decision (so we were told). After discussion, the Governor made our “final” offer to the North American president. He said “that’s a nice offer and we’ll discuss it and let you know”. The Governor leaned over and said to me “I thought they were here to make a decision”. I responded that that was what we were told. He looked at Fred (the president) and asked “what will it take to get your business?” Fred said “if you’ll commit to X, I’ll shake your hand and we’ll have a deal”. Governor Miller stood, stuck out his hand and they shook, then he had to leave. Later Fred told me he had planned to select New York City but “I like that man and know I can trust him.”
The next year we visited Stuttgart and had an exciting German Police Porsche escort to their headquarters and took a few really fast laps around their test track, becoming members of the “hundred tooth” club (huge smiles).
The next evening we attended the opera with Mayor Manfred Rommel followed by a cafe visit. Mayor Rommel talked of his father with us which was quite interesting and most unexpected. (The “Flying Dutchman” lasted about 8-9 hours, or so it felt to our tired souls)!
Atlanta was the first stop by the Emperor of Japan during his first visit to America - quite a testament to our relationship with Japan. The Millers hosted a reception at the Mansion - no small feat and not without considerable attention to every detail. I’m sure it was quite disruptive but they smiled through it all - always the gracious hosts.
The Olympics provided an incredible opportunity to showcase our state and Governor Miller embraced it fully. I can’t begin to recall all the receptions and dinners hosted at the Mansion by the Millers over the year preceding 1996 and for many months afterwards. Hundreds of potential prospects were warmly welcomed to Georgia there.
All Georgia governors host the Red Carpet Tour at the Mansion. Governor Miller would invite them to spend the night if they’d come back and he’d cook grits for breakfast - “and if you locate a plant here, you don’t have to eat them!” We arrived at Hartsfield for the early morning flight to Augusta one year we were greeted with a surprise. Governor Miller was standing by “Red Carpet 1” to shake hands with each guest, thanking them for being on the Red Carpet Tour. As we all know, that personal touch means so much.
On a very personal note, I will never forget that as busy as he was, he flew to Milledgeville to attend my father’s funeral. As I listened to Taps at the Capitol service today, that memory filled my heart. It was a true honor to have worked with Governor Miller and he signed one of his books for me with this: “To my dear globe-trotting partner in bringing jobs to Georgia”.
It doesn’t get much better than that!