The Brookings MetroMonitor for the third quarter listed Augusta as one of 20 weakest-performing metro areas in the United States, a reversal of fortune for the area, which was listed among the top for nearly two years throughout the recession and recovery.
This study looked at job growth, unemployment, GDP, house prices and other indicators to measure economic recovery across the country. With Augusta on the bottom of the list were Atlanta and Columbia. Cities on the strongest-performing list include Detroit, New Orleans and Dallas.
Howard Wial, an economist and fellow at the Washington-based think tank, said it’s not immediately apparent what is keeping Augusta from recovering as quickly as other areas: “It’s hard to tell what the problem is.”
Augusta’s house prices have risen to the national average and the gross metropolitan product is at a good level, but job growth and unemployment are lingering at bad levels.
“Your job growth during the recovery has been extremely slow, and unemployment has gone up,” Wial said.
It is unusual for an area’s gross metropolitan product to be doing well while job growth is slack, he said, and the study did not discover what is keeping job numbers down: “Generally, the two go together, but that doesn’t seem to be the story here.”
Augusta was on the MetroMonitor report’s 20 strongest-performing metropolitan areas list for two years before being listed on the second-strongest-performing list in September’s report. Wial said Augusta’s stable economy is a strength while other areas are struggling, but that same quality makes growth slower during recovery times.
“You weren’t hurt as bad during the recession because of so many government and health care jobs,” he said. “Now that we’re in the recovery, those sectors aren’t growing like others.”
Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he is working to cultivate a technology sector that depends less on federal funding.
“We’re heavily reliant on the federal government in many ways, and that doesn’t allow for much growth,” he said. “What was a strength during the recession has become a drag during the recovery.”
Copenhaver said he believes that Augusta has all the necessary ingredients to attract high-tech companies and that those companies are the ones that hire and grow.