Experts predict 2012 to bring stability, not massive growth

Any misstep could trip up economies
Sales associates Jeff Bryan, Edna Martin and Bill Payne handle returns and exchanges at Belk in North Augusta the day after Christmas. Local economists expect slight improvement in the Augusta area's job market in 2012.



With unemployment hovering around 9 percent, most people are hoping for more jobs and a stronger economy in 2012. According to state and local experts, the new year will most likely bring some improvement, but nothing drastic.

Augusta State University professor Simon Medcalfe said it’s likely that unemployment will improve by a percentage point.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any big improvements,” he said. “Slow, steady growth and more of the same is likely to come. We’re not going to get back to pre-recession levels over the next year.”

Medcalfe said this steady uptick is possible only if there is no international catastrophe such as the Japanese tsunami last year, which disrupted auto supply chains worldwide. The European debt crisis could be 2012’s version of that, he said.

“There are so many unknowns going into this year,” Medcalfe said. “It’s unkown factors that could have a nasty effect on the coming year.”

Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo, said the Augusta area has more to look forward to next year than many other metro areas.

“We’ve seen a pickup in industrial activity with the Bridgestone and Vogtle projects,” he said. “Those two projects will create a lot of jobs.”

From a numbers perspective, next year may show only slight increases, Vitner said, but even those small improvements can contribute to improved local morale.

“The numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he said. “We’re seeing some gains in Augusta for sure.”

On the global scale, Vitner said there are several wild cards that could alter the U.S. economy’s upward course. The European debt crisis, he said, is not likely to be resolved soon and will have an impact on the economy.

“There has been no progress made in Europe in solving their financial problems,” he said. “All of that is going to slow down the economy.”

Exports to Asia and Latin America are on the rise, he said, and he hopes that will make up for any European issues.

The University of Georgia Tery College of Business released an economic forecast for 2012, and its numbers suggest 2012 will be slightly better than 2011.

The state gross domestic product is predicted to increase by 1.5 percent, and Georgia unemployment is expected to go from 10.3 percent to 10.1 percent in 2012. These numbers are still behind the U.S. as a whole, with GDP expected to increase by 1.8 percent and unemployment to reach 9.0 percent.

“Things will get better,” Vitner said. “But not before we see a little more pain.”