It’s been a long, dry drain, but top state economists predict 2014 will be the year when we will start feeling better about the state of the nation’s economy and particularly the economy in Georgia.
Dr. Charles Knapp, president emeritus of the University of Georgia and now dean of the Terry School of Business, and Dr. Roger Tutterow, professor of economics at Mercer University, were the bearers of the good news at the Economic Outlook Luncheon at the Museum of Aviation. The pair presented slides that visually depicted the results of the storm we call the Great Recession. Georgia was hit particularly hard due to our overdependence on construction -- primarily housing for the large number of people moving into the state, but the construction sector is bouncing back strong. Many of the slides were not pretty. As we all know, the recession was not a gradual decline. Rather, the gross domestic product’s year over year growth fell off a cliff in 2008, according to the Commerce Department. And while there is plenty of economic evidence showing the economy is recovering, albeit slowly for the most part, the uptick has not felt like an uptick. That, according to the experts, will end this year -- and it’s about time.
There are concerns. The experts expect growth in all sectors save one -- and that one is big. While manufacturing, agriculture, life sciences, hospitality, services, retail, construction and other sectors are expected to have large to moderate increases, government spending will be down. According to the Terry School of Business, “In 2012, local governments together with state and federal government provided 17.2 percent of jobs and 13.8 percent of Georgia’s GDP.” Our local economy will be hit hard if more federal cuts come -- and they will come. We are overly dependent on federal dollars that, “provide close to 8 percent of nonfarm earnings in Georgia compared to the 5.3 percent U.S. average.”
While state and local coffers are being replenished, the economists advised more investment in K-12 education. Georgia’s children are falling further behind. They pointed out that we are still using an education system designed for an agrarian society, and that’s not cutting it in the 21st century. Georgia’s economic development efforts will lose out to competing states if it falls behind on efforts to have a qualified, educated work force. Do we have the will to meet the educational challenges? That was one question the experts couldn’t answer.