Forecast: Augusta economy remains weak

Job seekers talk with employers during a job fair at Augusta Career Fair in Augusta on Oct. 20.

ATLANTA — Augusta’s nine-month employment slide is set to reverse next year with lackluster growth, according to Georgia State University’s economic forecast released Wednesday.

Metro Augusta lost 1,600 jobs between January and September after accounting for new hires in the education/health, transportation/utilities and professional/business services sectors.

“The rest of the sectors in Augusta’s economy were severely hit in the past year,” said Rajeev Dhawan, the director of the Economic Forecasting Center at the university. “Significant job losses were reported in the government and retail-trade sectors with 755 and 1,534 job losses respectively.”

Other areas issuing pink slips were hospitality, construction and manufacturing.

The forecast calls for Augusta’s current year to wind up with a 0.5 percent loss followed by a gain next year by the same amount.

Uncertainty from multiple sources will continue to keep the overall state’s economy from growing significantly for the balance of this year and all of 2012, according to the forecast. It is calling for the state to register 0.4 percent job losses for all of 2011 and a tepid 0.2 percent employment growth next year.

“Things are not shutting down, just moderating,” he said. “But the risks remain predominately on the downside.”

The losses continue in Georgia’s finance, construction and government sectors while recent weakness in the leisure/hospitality segment should improve slightly in 2012, according to the forecast.

For other key segments, the outlook is mixed. Manufacturing is growing at 1 percent, and wood products will decline by nearly 9 percent next year. On the other hand, transportation-related manufacturing is expected to register 4 percent growth in 2011 and twice that next year.

Exports have been rosy for Georgia and other Southeastern states, rising 25 percent here, chiefly to Asia which bought growing amounts of aircraft industrial machinery and paper products. Even sales to Europe increased, but at a smaller rate.

“Net-net, the export performance of 2012 is in jeopardy and will hurt the state’s industries, from chicken farmers in the North to the aerospace sector in Atlanta to timber producers in the South,” Dhawan said.

Uncertainty about Europe’s debt crisis, though, is just one of the factors keeping a brake on Georgia’s economy, he said. Add to that pessimism about the United States’ own fiscal policy over next week’s deadline for the congressional Super Committee’s plans for deficit reduction, high gas prices and dropping consumer spending.

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