Southern Manners Matter

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Southern Manners Matter

Three of the top five merger and acquisition deals of the first part of 2014 in the Southeast happened in Georgia, totaling $5.6 billion in only one quarter. That deal volume doesn't stop at the state line. Georgia’s momentum is shared elsewhere in the region. According to a report in “Deal Drivers Americas,” more mergers and acquisitions were done in the South in the first half of the year than in any other region in North America. If this transaction velocity continues through the New Year, the South will have earned its place on the map as one of the most desirable areas in the country to do business.

Georgia has contributed significantly to the South’s economic growth. A recent CNN Money poll named Atlanta the sixth-best city in the country to start a business. The recent economic vitality there and across the South is also owed to something iconic to the region: Good manners.

Southern etiquette isn’t just white gloves and properly placed silverware. The notion that stopping to ask for directions could turn into an invitation to supper can also be found in Southern businesses. Respect and deference to others during negotiations, a commitment to roots and community, and a work-life balance philosophy are as much a part of professional attitudes as they are of socializing.

The rest of the country is starting to notice how these practices, along with entrepreneurship and resilience, have built businesses and industries that have made the South a region of thriving economic activity.

The South’s culture of civility isn’t something that can be separated from everyday life. It’s a part of Southern identity. So how do these traditions come into the boardroom? In the same way they would in someone’s home. Beverly Langford, management communications professor at Georgia State University, says professionals respond positively to a person who shows genuine workplace courtesy. GSU offers courses on professional etiquette, covering topics like manager-employee communication and interactions in co-working spaces.

In a world where civility is largely on the decline, a cultural appreciation for manners is a huge incentive for conducting business in a region. Little things like remembering names, congenial negotiation habits, eye contact and simple thank-you notes were all part of an Inc. article on business etiquette rules “that matter now.” For a Southerner, these practices are second nature.

These longstanding Southern traditions continue to pave the way for businesses to thrive. The business environment is stronger now than it has been in years, and it continues to grow. Matt Lane, senior vice president at GenCap America, a Nashville-based private equity firm, says if he could find “an adjective hotter than frothy” to describe the current market, he would use it.

Georgia is no exception to this regional trend. The state is known among entrepreneurs for tax rebates to attract businesses and a new streamlined process for getting a business license. The Georgia Department of Economic Development has started an “Entrepreneur-Friendly Initiative” to make support for entrepreneurship and small business a more deeply engrained part of the community.

Southern regional growth is attracting attention from around the country and the world. According to Commissioner Bill Hagerty of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, investors are increasingly interested in the region because valuation multiples are more reasonably valued in the South. Business-friendly tax environments also allow for capital invested in businesses to fuel future growth.

From B&Bs to boardrooms, etiquette, manners, Southern hospitality — however you refer to it — are inextricable pieces of Southern culture and invaluable guides for business practices. These important byproducts will ensure Southern businesses stand the test of time.

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