Scuttlebiz: My own Beige Book is a brighter color

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Have you read your Beige Book? You don't need to, because it doesn't tell you anything that you don't already know about the economy: The sky is not falling, but the economic ground is pretty soft from the sand shifting at our feet.

The Beige Book is the Federal Reserve Bank's nearly monthly report on current economic conditions as reported to it anecdotally from its banks. The most recent edition came out Sept. 3.

The Atlanta district report has some form of the word "weak" mentioned 11 times. Construction is weak. Retail sales are weak.

Manufacturing production is declining. The price of their materials is higher. Freight demand was weaker. Fewer travelers are expected this fall. There's still a drought out there affecting farmers.

I can't make many happy headlines out of that without looking delusional. Nor would I want to. I don't live in a sugar-coated world.

(My sons do. They love those Froot Loops.)

I hear from our own bankers, though, that things aren't as bad here as in other places -- but it is those other places that drive the national numbers. California has the fourth-largest economy in the world, so when things go bad there, things go bad in national numbers.

I've managed to pull together my own sunny Beige Book report of what's going right in Augusta's economy.

We've had no company show up on the state's WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notice for permanent mass layoffs.

New residential and commercial construction isn't terrible. The housing bubble deflated awhile ago, yet 619 residential construction permits have been taken out in Columbia County so far this year, and 451 in Aiken County.

The Association of Realtors reports the backlog of homes for sale finally started decreasing.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight has an index based on the purchase price of home. It made national headlines a few weeks ago because it keeps falling by a percent or more each quarter on the national scale.

The folks at First Bank Mortgage pointed out that homes in our area have gained in value an average of more than 4 percent over the past year, placing Augusta 28th out of 292 metro areas in appreciation. Our home prices have increased for 33 of 34 quarters since 2000.

I saw the data, and our index has consistently gone up since the end of 1999. The only stumble was the first quarter of 2008, when the index dropped from 179.96 to 179.79.

It went up again to 180.72 in the spring quarter, however.

If you want to read the real Beige Book, you can find it at www.federalreserve.gov.

JONES CREEK: The golf course is courting another new group of owners. These guys, I'm told, aren't related to a convicted Ponzi scheme operator and didn't get their $1 million down payment from a company being investigated for fraud by the Securities Exchange Commission.

Not long after the eviction of Jones Creek Golf Club's former almost-owners in March, I got a call from a man in Michigan who shares ownership in a golf course in Florida.

He was wondering whether the men who were trying to buy his course were the same men who left Augusta; their names were the same.

UP IN A HURRY: The Automatic Data Processing site on Flowing Wells Road has gone from forest to big building in the past seven months.

At the time they broke ground on the facility in the winter, they wanted people working there in October.

It appears as though Augusta's newest major employer is going to hit that timeline.

Half the building will be done soon, and occupied, while the other half is finished. I look for a grand opening in March.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.


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