Macon slowly growing out of recession

mstucka@macon.comFebruary 22, 2013 

New numbers released Friday show that metro Macon’s economy grew faster than the Warner Robins area did recently.

But it’s a tale of two cities, in which Warner Robins’ metro area made up entirely of Houston County never stumbled during the recession, while metro Macon is just recovering.

The figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show that between 2008 and 2011, Macon grew at just a 2 percent pace, with all that growth in the last year. By contrast, Warner Robins grew at six times that rate between 2008 and 2011, but the growth slowed to just 2 percent in the last year.

The figures take into account all goods and services produced in the respective areas.

Greg George, director of Middle Georgia State College’s Center for Economic Analysis, said Robins Air Force Base has been the engine of Warner Robins’ economy.

“A lot of the stimulus spending and a lot of the current military spending on a couple of wars in the past few years has helped keep the funding flowing into Warner Robins,” he said.

But the base has had cutbacks in recent years, and other threats such as sequestration could harm the economy.

Total government spending in Warner Robins reached a record $2.9 billion in 2011, up 16.1 percent from 2008.

Metro Macon’s financial sector has begun to turn around after several difficult years riddled with challenges including bank closures. But that recovery, to $1.537 billion, still remains $18 million under its peak of several years ago. The metro Macon area includes Bibb, Crawford, Jones, Monroe and Twiggs counties.

“The improvements in Macon might start to pick up as the financial sector recovers and we pick up new businesses here and there,” George said. Bright spots include education and health services, up substantially in both metro Macon and metro Warner Robins.

“When the economy goes bad, people still get sick, and when the economy goes bad, people tend to go back to school,” George said. He also noted that his campus formerly known as Macon State College has been among those upgrading or adding facilities.

At Middle Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins, a search for jobs led to an enrollment peak of about 4,000 students in the fall of 2010, said Janet Kelly, assistant vice president for marketing and public relations. Despite state financial aid covering fewer expenses, the campus enrollment has stabilized at around 3,500 students, well above the 2,600 students Kelly saw when she started working a few years before the recession began.

“I hope the economy gets better. I think we all do,” Kelly said Friday. “But I think there’s always going to be a need for education, whether the economy’s good or bad.”

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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