by Colton Campbell

The economy in the West Georgia region is like a healthy tortoise, rather than an unhealthy hare.

Dr. William "Joey" SmithThat’s how Dr. William “Joey” Smith put it during the 22nd annual Economic Forecast Breakfast held Tuesday morning at University of West Georgia by the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), a research center in the Richards College of Business.

“The economy has grown over the past several years at a healthy, very sustainable pace,” said Smith, who serves as a professor in and chair of the Department of Economics at UWG. “There’s a lot of good news to share – including the historically low unemployment rate and the high number of jobs created since last year – but there are still a few areas of concern that could hurt residents of our area.”

Smith was the first of three speakers during the breakfast, which brought together business, political and community leaders from six counties in the West Georgia region: Carroll, Coweta, Douglas, Haralson, Paulding and Polk. Also speaking were Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and Dr. Sally Wallace, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

Smith said unemployment rates in the West Georgia region at near all-time low of 3.5 percent. That’s down from 4.6 percent, what Smith reported at last year’s breakfast.

“We’re adding people back to the labor force after many people become discouraged and had checked out,” Smith said. “They started coming back to the labor market and finding jobs.”

As for the housing market, price growth has slowed down but hasn’t plateaued yet, Smith said. Local economists have seen an increase in the number of houses being built, with most growth in the number of permits issued happening in Carroll County.

“The sales prices and the number of new listings are increasing at the same time, which is not something you usually see,” Smith said. “I’ve had people ask if I think we’re headed toward another housing crisis, and I tell them it’s very likely we aren’t. We aren’t seeing the kinds of things we saw in the mid-2000s – the delinquencies, foreclosures and overbuilding.”

Crowd of peopleOne area of concern Smith noted was the historically low unemployment rate and historically high number of jobs being created, which could mean businesses are being required to hire employees who are less than fully qualified.

Clark reiterated that claim, saying the most important issue to be faced by legislators and the next governor of Georgia will be the issue of cultivating and keeping talented workers in Georgia.

“The No. 1 driver of our economy is talent – the people doing the work,” Clark said. “Businesses are making decisions about where to open new plants or branches based on the talent in a community. It’s no longer about location, location, location. Now, it’s all about talent, talent, talent.”

In his remarks, Clark urged the chambers of commerce, development authorities and other community agencies gathered at the breakfast to develop what he called a “talent strategy” – an agenda to train students for the jobs they’ll have when they graduate and enhance the quality of living to make their communities more attractive to younger groups of people.

“You already have great schools and great options for health care, but what you should nail down is how you’re going to make your communities a place where the younger generation will want to live, work and play. Out of all the issues you face, this issue of talent is going to be the life-and-death of your communities long-term. My advice to you is to get a strategy and be proactive about it, or watch other communities pass you by.”

Clark spoke briefly on the “gray tsunami,” the occurrence of approximately 1 million members of the Baby Boomer generation (people born from 1946 until the early 1960s) who will retire in the next seven years. Nearly 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day nationwide.

Wallace also spoke on the “graying” of the population during her remarks, which focused on the nation’s economic landscape and Georgia’s future in regards to taxes.

People lined up at a buffet“The gray tsunami, as it’s called, is a very long-term trend that’s not a surprise to anyone, but it holds significant implications to our tax landscape,” Wallace said. “Policymakers tend to look at senior citizens specifically when designing tax policies, and there will be more senior citizens than ever in the next few years. Baby Boomers will be retiring and moving into a different part of their portfolio, which has implications for the rest of us. It’s neither good nor bad, but it has implications that have to be dealt with.”

Smith described the Economic Forecast Breakfast as giving attendees a “snapshot in time” of what’s happening in the world around them economically, while also giving them a bit of direction as to where the economy may be headed in the next few months to couple of years.

“When everyone walks away from our breakfast every year, I hope they have the information they need to make good decisions about their businesses if they’re business owners, about policy if they’re elected officials or about their daily lives if they’re average citizens,” he said. “We want everyone to be as well-prepared as they can for whatever comes.”

Posted on November 2, 2018