Economic forecast: 2018 should look like 2017

Robbie Bennett, left, executive director of the Development Authority of Columbia County, speaks with First Community Bank President Jeff Spears following the University of Georgia Economic Outlook luncheon Thursday. DAMON CLINE/STAFF

Though a recession looms on the horizon, the 2018 economy should be a carbon copy of 2017, University of Georgia’s top economic forecaster said Thursday.


Jeff Humphreys, director of the university’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, said the U.S. is in the “late stages” of its current expansion, and that a downturn is likely in late 2019 or 2020.

“The main takeaway is it’s not too late to benefit and take part in the current economic expansion,” Humphreys said during the annual Georgia Economic Outlook luncheon. “But it’s also time to recognize that the risk of recession has increased, and you need to prepare for it.”

His 3.2 percent growth forecast for Georgia in 2018 – which was the same as last year – exceeds the 2.5 percent forecast for America’s overall gross domestic product, making this year the third year the state will outperform the nation. He said Georgia should log 2 percent job growth this year compared to 1.1 percent for the nation.

Humphreys expects a 16 percent increase in Georgia single-family home permits in 2018, offsetting what he believes will be a slowdown in multi-family construction. He said statewide home prices should rise 4 percent, enabling individual markets such as Augusta, Gainesville and Rome to recoup values lost during the housing downturn; metro Atlanta and Athens already have regained their losses.

He said rising interest rates, tightening auto credit, health care policy uncertainty are “economic headwinds” that could send the country – and Georgia with it – into a recession.

“Some of you may remember when we used to dodge recessions here in Georgia,” he said. “That hasn’t happened in quite a while, and I doubt we’ll dodge the next recession.”

In giving metro Augusta’s economic outlook, Robbie Bennett, executive director of the Development Authority of Columbia County, noted growth in key industries of cybersecurity, health care, nuclear and professional services as the reason for the region’s 20.3 percent gain in employment between 2009 and 2017.

Fort Gordon’s unprecedented expansion – the Army will spend $2 billion on installation upgrades between now and 2028 – positions the region for more near- and long-term growth. The recent groundbreaking on the second phase of the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Center for Innovation and Training, a $100 million state investment, is a direct byproduct of the military’s cyber expansion.

“I think we have many reasons to be optimistic,” he said. “The greater Augusta region is poised for a level of growth we have not seen in many years, quite possibly a generation. Quite possibly ever.”

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