THOMASVILLE — Georgia’s job growth in 2006 is expected to almost double over last year’s figures, amid higher population growth and job cuts from major employers.

Those was a prediction Dr. Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, made Wednesday during the Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum at The Plaza.

Humphreys, also on the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors for the State of Georgia, delivered a one-hour speech on the state and nation’s economic outlook.

The forum was attended by 140 people — the largest turnout ever, said chamber president Don Sims.

Humphreys addressed several points reflecting the economy’s expected health throughout the year, based on indicators already in effect.

“For the last four years, the structure of our economy has been holding us back,” he said before unfolding the layers of Georgia’s outlook.

Humphreys touched upon was that the retail sector in Georgia has been problematic since 2000, noting about a 6 percent loss in jobs in that area.

“That’s really unprecedented in this state,” he said.

Humphreys noted that new store formats and technologies were the problem’s cause, including other factors such as what he called “supercenters,” including the Wal-Mart chain.

By contrast, Humphreys mentioned expanding sectors of job growth in Georgia fell in areas such as hospitality, health care and biotechnology.

He said Georgia has fallen behind the nation in improving employment rates. He cited that in November, the state’s unemployment rate was 5.2 percent, compared with the nation’s rate of 4.8 percent.

“That’s very uncomfortable in this state,” he said, noting the last time Georgia’s figures were higher than the nation’s were about 16 years ago.

The researcher noted that though the national rate is expected to drop in 2006, the state’s rate will still be higher because Georgia’s population is growing faster than the national rate.

Regarding long-term trends, Humphreys said Georgia’s estimated population growth in 2006 will be around 1.7 percent.

“That’s almost double the national rate of 0.9 percent,” he said.

He told attendees only four states — Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Texas — will have faster population growth than Georgia in 2006.

Regarding the state’s demographics, Humphreys said the state ranks as the 10th-largest Hispanic market in the nation and the third-fastest growing one.

Also, it has a fairly balanced population in terms of age.

“Compared to other states, we have more young people coming in,” he said.

Another long-term trend Humphreys analyzed was Georgia’s strength in exports.

“Our exports continue to do very well — they are soaring,” he said.

Humphreys noted the ports at Savannah and Brunswick are operating at very healthy levels.

Meanwhile, Humphreys also addressed recent turnarounds that will affect Georgia’s economy. One of them is that higher corporate profits here suggest companies will be more apt to spend more money in the upcoming year.

Others include increased travel here by black people and Atlanta’s opening of the Georgia Aquarium — the world’s largest — which is expected to boost tourism in the state.

At the conclusion of his speech, Humphreys addressed issues specific to Metro Atlanta. He said Metro Atlanta will be the fifth fastest growing area in the state in job growth in 2006.

In their respective order, Columbus, Brunswick, Savannah and Valdosta are anticipated to score more job growth next year, Humphreys said.

He explained possible reasons Metro Atlanta will suffer a blow next year are because Delta Airlines filed for bankruptcy, Georgia-Pacific is up for sale, General Motors expects to close a site in Georgia and BellSouth is downsizing some employees here.

Humphreys expects Metro Atlanta will not return into being one of the top 10 markets in the nation for a while — a status Atlanta is used to, he said.

“We are not (in the top 10) anymore,” he said. “We’re somewhere in the middle of the pack.”



To reach reporter Blenda Link, call 226-2400, ext. 227.



DID YOU KNOW?

HOW THOMAS COUNTY RANKS:

• 4.4 percent unemployment

• The City of Thomasville and Thomas County governments are jointly working on an industrial development at the Thomasville Municipal Airport to boost economic development here

• The county registers about 43,000 people in population

• Housing subdivisions are exploding in the county, which explains why the county commission has enacted a moratorium on building



SOURCE: Josh Herring, Thomas County Commission chairman

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