“I have some good news this morning,” said Dr. Joey Smith, UWG associate professor of economics. “We’re showing job growth in all five counties in the region, primarily led by the private sector. We’ve seen a lot of increase in employment in goods production, services and health care.”
Smith said home sales are also up, but in existing homes, not new ones.
The west Georgia region includes the counties of Carroll, Coweta, Douglas, Haralson and Paulding.
Speaking specifically on Carroll County, Smith said 1,334 new jobs have been added in the private sector, with the largest growth coming in the accommodations and food service area, with 351 new jobs, mostly in the business corridor along U.S. 27-South.
“Carrollton’s new Olive Garden, which employs about 130 workers, had its grand opening this summer,” he said. “Steak ‘n Shake and Bojangles also announced plans to build new restaurants in Carrollton, each adding about 40 workers.”
Carroll County retail growth accounted for about 20.1 percent of the growth in service industries. Kroger in the Crossroads Shopping Center on U.S. 27 is doubling its current footprint, with an upgrade that will include a fuel center, drive-through pharmacy, Starbucks coffee shop, Murray’s Cheese Bar and personal chef services.
“Food Lion closed its new Carrollton location in February, but Food Depot quickly restocked the shelves, re-opened the doors and hired about 80 full- and part-time workers, about 30 more than Food Lion employed at the location,” Smith said.
Carroll County also showed an increase in medical services investment with Tanner Health System unveiling a new $61 million emergency department and surgical center. In addition, the Trinka Davis Veterans Village added 130 new workers.
Smith said the index of leading economic indicators is growing in west Georgia, but at a slow rate, about 0.6 percent.
“Even though it’s still growing, we’re seeing a slow down in the growth rate,” Smith said. “It’s not negative growth, but smaller growth going forward.”
Regional population is not growing as fast as it once was, he said.
“We used to hear that Paulding County was one of the fastest growing counties in the nation,” Smith said. “Now, it’s not even the fastest in the region. Coweta County has that claim.”
He said there’s some recovery in the housing market, even though housing starts are way down. He noted that housing starts numbered in the 50s this year in Carroll County, while a few years back, they were in the two thousands.
“They are not likely to come back anytime in the near future,” he said. “However, we’re selling more existing homes now because of good buys. Many are being bought by investors, but that’s how you clear the market.”
Smith said foreclosures across the region are down this year and have been trending downward. He said the reason is that Georgia is not a judicial foreclosure state, where foreclosures can take several years.
“Georgia processes them quickly and puts them on the market quickly,” which Smith said helps keep the market moving.
“Our area is still relatively high in foreclosures, and the state is high for the U.S.,” he said. “We’re not doing great, but we’re doing better. The top 10 foreclosure counties are now on the eastern side of Atlanta.”
Smith said the region has suffered a high rate of bank failures and these have been tied to the high foreclosures. Virtually all of them were community banks, he added, but there’s been no bank failures this year in the region.
He said income and sales tax revenues are up by 4.3 percent, which means the counties will get a larger share to fund schools, fire protection and police.
John B. Jung Jr., of BB&T Capital Markets, spoke on the U.S. economy and financial outlook.
Jung said that we’re living in a different economic time and that nobody 10 years ago would have predicted where we are now.
He quoted famous baseball manager, Casey Stengle, as saying, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”
“How can any of us tell you where we’ll be five years from now?” he asked.
Jung said he sees improving signs in consumer confidence and spending.
“Since 2009, confidence has started to get better,” he said. “It’s not straight up, but it’s an improved trend line. Consumers are starting to spend.”
Jung said America still has a lot to be proud of in its economy: lowest cost of energy in the world, great transportation system, highly educated population and a very hard working group of people.”
He noted this recession has been different from those in the past.
“The leading indicators haven’t recovered as they typically do after a recession.” he said. “The reason is, in the past, consumers spent their way out of a recession because they had debt capacity. Today, the consumer has already borrowed money and is relying on debt for spending. Consumers need to repair their balance sheets.”
Jung said the country is looking at recovery, but a slower recovery.
“We’re looking at limited growth, about 2 percent this year and maybe 1 percent next year,” he said. “We’ll have lower consumer spending and unemployment still up.”
However, Jung said he is confident that jobs will come back from Mexico, India and other overseas locations.
“This is a positive thing in the long term,” he said. “We have the most productive workers, and we’ll bring jobs back to the U.S.”