Georgia's Startup Investment from Pensions Falling Short of Expectations

Six months after Georgia enacted a law meant to attract more startups by allowing the state’s pension plans to invest in them, few plans have actually taken advantage, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution report.
by | January 2, 2013
 

Six months after Georgia enacted a law meant to attract more startups by allowing the state’s pension plans to invest in them, few plans have actually taken advantage, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution report.

For one, the law enacted on July 1 excluded the state’s largest pension plan, the $53.5 billion Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. Other plans, like the $14 billion Georgia Employees Retirement System, have people developing its alternative investments strategy but haven’t made any investments.

Atlanta has reportedly come the closest to investing in new startups since the law took effect and has committed $74 million from its three pension plans, which combine for nearly $2.4 billion in total assets, according to The Journal.

But it hasn’t cut any checks yet.

“We’re very excited about the changes because it opens up a new set of investment options,” said Yvonne Yancy, head of Atlanta’s human resources department, told The Journal. “That said, we also want to be thoughtful about the choices we make.”

Some experts say the problem is with Georgia’s accounting -- the law as written counts not just the actual money invested but includes the money committed toward a plan’s 5 percent cap on startup-related investments. And because of the long-term nature of the investments, the law leaves little in the way of flexibility.

Other states typically count just the amount invested. South Carolina’s state retirement system, for example, commits about 150 percent more money than its investment target for private equity, according to The Journal.

Even the head of Georgia’s only plan that has close to 5 percent of its funds invested in alternative investments, isn’t happy. The $587 million Georgia Firefighters Pension was changed in 2010 to allow for investments in startups. But Executive Director James Meynard said with $28 million committed, it is already at 4.8 percent of its assets. So the plan is tied up for some time before it can commit $10 million or so to another fund.

“You’ll never get beyond about 3 percent” devoted to private equity investments, Meynard told The Journal. “It’s almost a waste of time.”

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