2013 brought job growth and a housing recovery, and economists expect 2014 to continue to be a rebound year for the local and state economies.
“This year has generally been better than last year. And I see next year being better still,” said Simon Medcalfe, finance professor at Georgia Regents University and caretaker of the Augusta university’s economic index.
From January to November, the Augusta metro area had job growth of 1.5 percent, according to Georgia Labor Department data, which exceeded the employment predictions made a year ago by the University of Georgia and Georgia State University.
“We’ve seen a lot of relocations and expansions in the last year that have produced solid – although not necessarily spectacular – gain in job growth,” said Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo senior economist in Charlotte, N.C.
Medcalfe said housing is also going in the right direction, with more sales, fewer foreclosures and better home prices. According to data from the Greater Augusta Association of Realtors, the average sales price of homes in the Augusta area is up 2 percent compared to last year. Foreclosures are on pace to be down by about 900 filings compared to 2012.
A housing recovery is good news, “and for certain communities, great news,” said Anthony Barilla, a Georgia Southern University economics professor.
Because of the housing recovery in Georgia, Barilla said, there should be job growth in construction throughout the state.
Wells Fargo predicts more and higher-paying jobs will be added in technology and innovation, manufacturing, construction and logistics in Georgia. The growth is expected to have a ripple effect and further assist the recovery in home sales, new home construction and retail.
The state’s gross domestic product should grow by 2.4 percent, according to Vitner.
“I feel more optimistic about the economy going into 2014 than any other time in the last 10 years,” Vitner said. “I feel even more optimistic about Georgia than I do about the U.S. because we’ve seen a lot of new industry come into the state and we’re seeing that some of the mainstays of the Georgia economy have really come on strong this past year.”
Barilla said a bright spot for Georgia in 2013 was the recovery of manufacturing jobs lost in the recession. “A lot of those jobs are starting to come back. We’re not seeing a big drain in the manufacturing sector like it was before,” he said.
In the Augusta area, industrial jobs are getting a boost from the new Bridgestone off-road tire plant and Recleim recycling center, both in Graniteville, and the Starbucks facility opening in the Augusta Corporate Park in 2014.
Projects adding retail jobs to the area in 2014 will be coming from two Wal-Marts, Cabella’s, H&M and Whole Foods.
University of South Carolina research economist Joseph Von Nessen said Aiken and Edgefield counties are among 10 South Carolina counties that reached pre-recession employment numbers this year.
“The areas that sort of broke through that pre-recession ceiling are areas that are going to be the leaders in South Carolina for more growth in 2014,” Von Nessen said. “And Aiken and Edgefield counties have been a part of that.”
Von Nessen said that Aiken County, in particular, has benefited from growth in various industries, including manufacturing, construction, financial services, retail trade. as well as leisure and hospitality.
If there is a knock on the local economy, it is that it is not growing as fast as the national average. “Going back five years, we were doing better than the national average because the national economy was tanking a lot and we didn’t tank as badly. Now we’re on the flip side. The recovery is doing better in other parts of the country,” Medcalfe said.
He looks for the unemployment rate to continue to come down in 2014.
The jobless rate for the metro area was 7.4 percent in November, the lowest its been since the recession started taking away jobs in late 2008. For the year, minus December’s data, which won’t be available until January, the average unemployment rate for the six-county area was 8.4 percent. Compared to 2012’s jobless rate of 8.8 percent and 2011’s rate of 9.1 percent, it shows a steady decline in unemployment in the metro area over the last few years.