Macon’s high unemployment rate and low per capita income helped it land on a list of 22 cities across the country considered at risk of falling back into a recession.
A report published by Moody’s Economy.com, a division of Moody’s Corp. — which provides credit ratings, research and analysis of financial markets — shows that more than half of the “at-risk” cities are in the South.
“Macon’s feeble economy is still in recession,” the March 2010 report states. It was prepared by economist Xu Cheng. “Recent payroll expansions in education and health care and retail trade have been overwhelmed by continuing contractions in other industries.”
The Athens-Clarke County metropolitan area was the only other area in Georgia on the Moody list. Other cities in the south include Gadsden and Mobile in Alabama, Wilmington, N.C. and Anderson, S.C.
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The unemployment rate in Macon was 10.5 percent in June, compared to 10 percent statewide and 9.5 percent nationwide. The rate in Athens-Clarke County’s MSA was 7.9 percent, 7.7 percent in Warner Robins, 8.8 percent in Savannah, and 9.7 in Columbus.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert has been dealing with the effects of the economic downturn since taking office, said Andrew Blascovich, Reichert’s director of external affairs.
“That’s why we’ve had to make some of the moves we have over the past two and a half years,” Blascovich said.
He pointed to the changes passed this week to the health care plan for employees and retirees to cut costs, as well as implementing a hiring freeze and layoffs.
At the same time, the city is working with economic development leaders to recruit new businesses to the Macon area, he said.
Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Chip Cherry said that while the rocky economy has presented some challenges, only two major closures have occurred in Macon during the recession. One was the Wal-Mart return center, which had 400 employees, and the other was Cox Communications’ realignment, which affected 71 jobs.
“We have had really good activity in economic development,” Cherry said.
“We, hopefully, will have a couple of announcements during the month of August which will reflect a growth of stability in certain sectors” including an announcement set for Friday.
Cherry acknowledged that small businesses here and across the nation have been hit hard by the recession.
“The hopes are we will be able to help them grow and prosper by building the overall economy and fortifying the economy through the creation of these new investments and new jobs,” he said.
Moody’s report points to some of Macon’s strengths and weaknesses:
n Favorable location for in-state conferences and conventions
n Low business costs
n Proximity to Atlanta
n Lack of growth drivers
n Low per capita income
n Traditional manufacturing industries disappearing
This is not the first national list Macon has ended up on. In October 2009, Forbes magazine declared Macon was the seventh-most impoverished city in America.
What people earn in the Macon area falls below the state average and the national average in several sectors such as construction, retail trade, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality services, according to the Moody’s report. For all sectors, the average annual income per capita in Macon’s MSA is $31,486, the state average is $34,612 and the U.S. average is $39,392.
Macon’s housing market is expected to remain downbeat in the near future, the report states.
Even with low interest rates and a federal policy promoting home buying earlier this year, “house prices continued to decline in (Macon) in part because the metro area’s supply of single-family houses still exceeds demand.”
Robins Air Force Base is adding jobs and some of those workers are expected to attend local colleges, but these factors “will be insufficient to enable (Macon) to recover this year at the pace of other metro areas in eastern and western Georgia,” the report states.
In the near-term, Macon’s recession is expected to subside.
“Its recovery in late 2010 will be sparked by the improvement in the wider economic environment, growth in health care, logistics, insurance services and the spillover effects from Robins Air Force Base,” it stated.
Long-term, if Macon doesn’t get more high-paying industries, it “will be only an average-performing economy,” the report states.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.