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Employer tax credit helps teleworking take off in Georgia

Teleworking, or working from home, is taking off in Georgia. A key factor in its increasing popularity is Georgia's forward-thinking telework tax credit for employers.

Last month, the Georgia Department of Revenue announced that 135 employers have been approved to take tax credits in 2008 for creating and expanding telework programs. These credits - capped at $2 million a year - will provide a tremendous return on the state's investment in the form of increased employee productivity and morale, fewer cars on our traffic-choked roads and less pollutants in our skies.

This week, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, introduced a bill in the Georgia House, HB 1244, that would extend the telework tax credit for two more years and raise the cap on the credit to $2.5 million per year.

Based on the response to the credit's first offering, it's safe to say that businesses will once again step up, creating and expanding telework programs that provide tremendous benefits for all.

The new teleworkers created because of this tax credit will join more than 300,000 people in the metro Atlanta region who already work remotely at least one day each week. These once-a-week teleworkers quietly testify to metro Atlanta's best-kept secret: the best commute is the commute not taken.

As we grapple with how to handle the millions of additional residents - and their cars - coming our way in the coming decades, teleworking will play an important role. It is cost-effective, can be deployed quickly and makes sound business sense.

Using existing technology to take cars off the road, a telework program can be implemented almost immediately, without waiting years or decades required to build new roads and transit infrastructure.

The tremendous potential for teleworking to help relieve our traffic quagmire is a key reason that Georgia offers a tax credit to businesses that start a telework program. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Sonny Perdue and support from the Regional Business Coalition, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the American Electronics Association, Georgia was the first in the nation to offer a tax credit of this kind.

It provides up to $20,000 to cover program start-up costs as well as up to $1,200 per new teleworker. Employers who want to take advantage of it next year can apply between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31.

Despite the fact that we are one of the most "wired" regions in the nation and more jobs are suitable for telework every day, some employers are still hesitant, thinking their employees will be less productive at home or that managers will lose control of staff. Since 2004, The Clean Air Campaign has helped more than 70 employers, including GE Energy, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Georgia Power, start or expand programs correctly.

The start-up process requires the development of a well-defined purpose and plan, customized policies and staff and management training. Through The Clean Air Campaign, these services are offered at no cost to employers, and they are essential to establishing a successful telework pilot or program and measuring success.

These telework programs have documented productivity improvements of up to 20 percent, reduce overhead costs and also create happier, less-stressed employees.

Letting employees work from home, even occasionally, simply makes sense for today's employers. Now is the time for metro Atlanta employers to step up, take advantage of this telework tax credit and make a positive contribution not only to the region but to their own bottom lines.

Kevin Green is executive director of The Clean Air Campaign, a nonprofit organization that motivates Georgians to take action to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion.