The U.S. economy didn't grow as fast during the third quarter as many analysts expected, but the Augusta-area economy is steadily improving.
Growth in tourism, jobs, professional services and the population helped spur the area's economy, said SunTrust Banks Inc. chief economist Gregory Miller, who was in Augusta this week to give a presentation on the area's economy.
The U.S. gross domestic product grew at a 3.7-percent annual rate in the third quarter, up from 3.3 percent in the previous quarter but falling short of analysts' expectations of 4.3 percent, according to the Department of Commerce.
Augusta's annual GDP growth rate, now between 3 percent and 3.25 percent, has typically been 1.5 to 2 percentage points lower than the nation's, but that gap is narrowing.
Much of Augusta's rebound has been driven by education and health services, which have grown from 10 percent of the economy to 12.3 percent, Mr. Miller said.
Leisure and tourism and professional business services also saw significant growth. Leisure and tourism now represent 9.5 percent of the area's economy, up from 8 percent. Professional business services now account for 14.5 percent of the area's economy, compared to a national average of 12.25 percent. Most promising has been job growth, Mr. Miller said. Jobs are growing at about 1.5 percent, compared to the national average of 1.1 percent.
Net population growth is speeding up, and the population is growing at 1,500 people per year, he said.
Statistics also show that Augusta is considered a good place to live and work, Mr. Miller said. Salaries of those entering the area are about $750 higher than those leaving.
Still, the future of the economy hinges on energy prices, Mr. Miller said. If the cost of oil remains high, consumer spending will likely go down, slowing the economy.
He said current energy prices are overvalued and should at some point decline.
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